Antiquing is a verb. It’s perhaps a made-up verb but it’s a verb nonetheless. And it means to go out antique shopping. Pretty simple. Pretty straightforward.
Yet all the time I — or one of my staff members — hear from friends or acquaintances that they’d love to go antique shopping but they don’t know how. Now to us that seems crazy because we’re out there all the time hunting down finds to bring into the store. It’s just in our blood you could say.
But for people newly considering jumping into going antique or vintage shopping, either to be more green, to add the charm and gravitas of some “rust and dust” to their homes, to find something very specific like designer of Mid Century Modern furniture, or just to save money by sourcing gently-used goods, it does seem daunting! Where do you start? What do you look for? How do you know if it’s a good deal? Can you haggle? And what if you strike out?
So I thought I’d give you a quick guide on how to go antiquing to help demystify this world and make it more accessible to you.
1. Make it a Date
One of my favorite tips for newbies is to make antiquing a date. It can be a romantic date, a “girls day out,” or a family date — just grab a friend and go.
Because antique and vintage goods (vintage is usually defined as things 20 years or older and antique as 100 years or older) are just plain FUN! There’s history, pop culture, changing design looks, all kinds of styles, oddities, and nostalgia out the wazoo. Talk about conversation starters. You’ll be so engaged with what you’re seeing that sharing it all in a spirit of fun comes super easy.
And when it’s a romantic date it can be a real ice breaker because you find things, point them out, joke about it, and find yourself unleashing childhood memories of old packages or styles — it’s a great way to get to know someone in a low-pressure setting.
And antiquing gives you plenty to talk about afterward over lunch or a brewery stop.
2. Go Solo
What? Didn’t I just now say to make it a date? True. Yes, I did.
But in those situations where you’re “on the hunt” for something super specific, and you just want to cut to the chase and try to find your thing, sometimes it’s best to just go it alone. That way you can let your eyes dart left and right as you whiz through any given antique shop and not waste time on the things you’re not there for.
This isn’t necessarily as fun — but when you have a very targeted goal in mind, sometimes efficiency is the best bet. This way you can save your sauntering and surveying antiquing outings for your time with a friend or loved one, and your laser-focused hunts just for yourself without risk of alienating anyone.
3. Make a List
If you’re trying to replace things in a greener way, vintage and antiques are your top bet. Even if you just “want” but don’t “need” something, finding it as a vintage or antique piece has so much appeal.
But can you constantly be running around looking for something? And if you just try to keep it all in your head, might you forget what you’re looking for?
I recommend making a list that includes several things:
A. Gift ideas and interests of friends and family members for special occasions. That way if you see the things they collect, or happen upon their favorite whatever, you can grab it and check it off your list.
B. Not totally urgent things you need/want for your home. It can be as simple as a cachepot for your favorite potted plant, some new tongs for the kitchen, a pillow for the living room, a bottle opener for the back porch cook-out spot, or even a leather wingback chair. If it’s on your list, and you find it while antiquing, more better!
C. Interests you have but maybe haven’t acted upon yet. If you’re out antiquing and you find that old book on the language of flowers or Matthew Brady’s Civil War photographs, you can finally pause and give it some time. See if you want to bite. You might have wanted to teach your kids Monopoly and then lo, there’s a board from when you were a kid! Unlike surfing the Internet and getting “instant gratification,” antiquing lets random things come into your life and if they’re already on your list, you kind of feel like it’s kismet!
4. Tackle a Geographic Area
One way to get the most bang out of your antique-scouting buck is to “bundle it.” That is to say, hit an area or whole region of antique shops in a day or a weekend. Doing this means that if you don’t find “it” in one place, you might in another. It also gives you a quick flavor guide to different antique shops — is it curated or messy boxes strewn about? Is it well lit or dingy? Was the staff responsive and helpful or gruff and inaccessible?
I wrote a free downloadable guide to antique shopping in the Staunton-Waynesboro-Augusta County region. This will at least help you with this part of the Shenandoah Valley for antiquing. You can look for similar guides in other regions and map out a day or weekend strategy for both antiquing and hitting other local watering holes and attractions.
5. Don’t Hesitate
I can’t tell you how many times I — and everyone else I know who goes antiquing — have lost out on something that in my heart I knew I loved, but I just got all on the fence about it and hesitated, leaving without that special something.
Antiques aren’t like mass-produced goods. I mean sure, there are duplicates of things because many have come from the industrial level economy that began in earnest after the Civil War. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to be easy to source. It why people join those “questor” sites — because when you want to find something it doesn’t mean you will.
Whether you see that perfect gift or you simply fall in love with something surprising, trust me, it’s not likely to remain there for long. Antique and vintage goods are in demand, and more and more so with so many people becoming aware that they are the greener choice. So if you love it and you can get it, get it. You’ll be glad you did!
6. Have fun!
This is so basic, and just built into the whole aesthetic of antiquing. You don’t need to be reminded. But I’ll remind you anyway because it’s one of the best parts. Even if all you want to do is browse, even if you’re broke and bummed out, even if you don’t need anything but just want to look — have fun with it because antiquing is fun!
So get out there and see what all the buzz is about.
— Ellen Boden, Proprietress, Staunton Antique Center
*For more insight into antiques shopping, download my FREE e-book guide to shopping antiques in our region: