10 Brilliant Tips to Spot Hidden Gems in Antique Stores

Updated: Jun. 13, 2024

The hunt is half the fun when shopping for antique furniture and other vintage items. To make sure you find the best of the best, read and take these 10 great tips to heart.

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Check the Furniture Hardware

If you’re looking for an older piece of wood furniture, take a look at the hardware. The pulls and knobs are some of the easiest parts to replace when someone refinishes a piece of wooden furniture. Do the handles, knobs and pulls look like they belong on the piece? The best pieces are ones that have been well taken care of and that have their original hardware.

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Look at the Joinery and Nails

To make sure a wooden piece was made by a craftsmen and is not a mass-produced piece, look at the joints and nails. If the nails are older and dull that’s a clue that they are probably original to the piece. If there are dovetail joints that’s a sign something was individually made.

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How to Determine if a Rug is Antique

To determine the age of a rug, look it over carefully. One of the first things to examine is the weave. If a rug is made by hand there will be irregularities in the weave. Fold and move the rug to see if the color goes to the base of the tufts and the knots. When it comes to Oriental rugs, the more colors used, the higher the value.

Another characteristic to check is the knot density. Take a look at the back of the rug and focus in on a 1 inch x 1 inch patch. Count the horizontal weave and vertical run, and multiply the two together. The higher the density, the higher the quality.

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Examine Frames

One of the biggest giveaways to a newer art piece is the frame. Take a look at the back of the art. Is the wood stained? Do the nails in the frame look new? Sometimes you’ll even find a sticker from the manufacturer, which is a giant clue the frame is new.

When looking at frames without artwork, go for solid construction and make sure the size will work with whatever you want to put in the frame.

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Depending on how you want to use your tools you can look for different conditions. If you want something to display, you probably want it to look rustic and worn. If you want to actually use the tool, take your time examining it. Planes (used for shaping wood) are popular pieces at antique stores. Many were handmade and have the makers initials carved in them.

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Is it Real Silver?

When on the hunt for sterling silver pieces, be aware many items are sterling plated and there’s a big difference. Sterling silver is more expensive and last hundreds of years with proper care. There is a trick to telling the difference between the real sterling silver and silver-plated. Bring a small magnet with you and if the magnet adheres to the piece, it’s not sterling silver. Magnets won’t cling to precious metals such as real silver or gold.

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Is it Real Porcelain?

Bring a small flashlight with you and hold it up to a porcelain piece, if the light shines through it is real porcelain. Also, do some research on what marking porcelain manufacturers used so you can quickly tell if it’s what you’re looking for by glancing at the bottom of the piece.

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For vintage textiles and clothing, look for uneven stitching and hand sewn buttons and closures. These are signs the item was handmade. Also, look closely for stains. Many older fabrics have some yellowing and stains which can be removed, with great care. Examine wool items for moth holes.

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Before buying a real (not costume) piece of jewelry at an antique store, investigate the seller. What are their online reviews like? Do they have any paperwork to go with the piece? Ask about the refund policy ahead of the purchase.

Check the maker’s mark (a sign of authenticity)and see if there are other indications as to what type of metal the jewelry is made from. Check the prongs, look at the back of the piece, examine stones, looking for chips and cracks. If it is a real pearl, the shiny pearl exterior can’t be rubbed off.

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Stained Glass

When you examine a stained-glass piece look for chips, cracks and loose glass. Also, check the leading between the glass to make sure there are sharp, clean lines. If you’re lucky, you might find a gem, like this Tiffany lamp!