How to buy antiques online
Antiques expert and author Mark Hill helps you get the best deals from online antiques auctions. Illustrations Polly Fern
No matter how long you’ve been buying antiques, it can still sometimes be an overwhelming experience for even the most ardent of collectors. In an increasingly digital age, with new auction sites popping up all the time, it almost feels like we need a trusted tutor on hand to help us avoid the pitfalls when searching for a genuine piece at a fair price.
Although at first shopping for antiques online may feel like a minefield, there are actually many benefits – for one you can fill your home with beautiful pieces from the comfort of your sofa, and you can browse the stock of dealers, shops and auctions you usually wouldn't be able to reach.
Before you start buying antiques online, there are a few things you need to know, from making sure you're getting a good deal and spotting a reproduction to adapting your antiques shopping habits and being savvy online.
Whether you're buying antiques as an investment or using them to furnish your home, antiques expert Mark Hill shares his expert tips built up over 20 years in the antiques business...
How to buy antiques online
Find good websites through recommendations
There are so many antiques shopping websites nowadays, especially since the lockdown years, so it can be tricky to figure out which websites are the best places to shop. Luckily, there are plenty of people, in person and online, who are keen to recommend their favourites. With a quick Google search, you'll be greeted by a host of reviews, plus, most search engines have a review system that will let you know at a glance if a website is reputable or not.
Check out our antiques fairs and auctions guide for online fairs and auctions this month
Buy antiques from different country's websites
Learn how something you're looking for is described and how it is spelt in different languages (hello Google translate). A search through country-specific online auction sites such as ebay.fr or aukro.cz can be very rewarding. This is partly down to the fact that certain antiques that are seen, desired and collected in one country may not have the same desirability in another. It's also helpful if you are looking for a specific antique derived from another country, as sellers from different parts of the world will be using their local websites.
Make sure you look at photos of the antique in a room
For inspiration, do look at people's rooms when they show up in photos of an item for sale. But, be aware that this is often intentional, partly to show off and sometimes to make you think that if you buy the piece for sale, you may ‘earn’ a chance at buying that rarity in the background. There’s often no intention to sell that, so don’t fall into the trap by letting your bidding go over the top.
Check out our guide on how to buy antiques on Instagram
Don't be afraid to ask for extra pictures
Consider colour carefully when bidding online, particularly with regard to what may appear to be a rare colour-way in relation to objects such as glass, die-cast toys or vintage pens. Equally, be aware of the effect of toning or ambering that comes with age, affecting items such as textiles. Colours and colour tones show differently on different computer screens and from different cameras and lighting conditions. If in doubt, ask for more photos taken outside in natural daylight.
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Measure before you buy antiques online
This is more important if you are purchasing larger antiques such as furniture, but always measure before you start shopping if you are purchasing an item for a specific space, or if the antique you have spotted is likely to take up a a lot of space. The last thing you want is to end up with a beautiful antique that you can't actually fit in your home. On the flip side, always check the measurements of the antique on the listing. If they are not included (which they should be), it's a good idea to contact the seller – they are usually more than happy to provide extra information to potential buyers!
Use a separate email account for all of your online dealing
From payments to auction sites to dealing with dealers, it proves helpful to have a dedicated email account for all your antiques purchases. That way you can keep and archive all of your buying emails in one place and also see how your email address is being used for the inevitable newsletters. It’ll also help you to avoid phishing and other scams.
Look out for reproductions
Spend some time browsing websites that offer reproductions or new objects made in an antique style. As quality improves, knowing what ‘repro’ is around helps you spot real deal antiques.
Check out our guide on how to spot fake antiques
Ask about delivery charges before you buy
When buying antiques online, you'll need to factor in the additional costs of post and packaging, particularly if you are buying from overseas. Check the product information on the website first, as the delivery costs might be noted here, otherwise contact the seller directly for an estimated delivery cost.
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