20 ways to find a brilliant antique bargain

Four experts provide their top tips for snapping up affordable antiques

Collection of Items in a London's antique shop

There are myriad places to hunt for antiques from multi-dealer antiques centres to fairs and car boot sales, and whether you’re seeking out a particular item or just browsing for unusual finds, it’s hard to resist a bargain.


But how do you get the very best price for your one-off find?

Four experts from different areas of the antiques trade here give us their expert tips and wiliest ways to bag a bargain in any of the various places you might find yourself on a hunt…


Catherine Southon, Antiques Road Trip specialist and auctioneer

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In big antiques centres avoid the glitzy cabinets and head for the dusty corners and shelves where the best bargains hide.

Don’t just look at things at eye level – look underneath tables and on top of cabinets, shelves and dressers.

Ask if there’s anything new that’s just come in, but do it in a friendly way.

If a price ticket is faded, the item has been kicking around for too long so negotiate on price. The dealer will probably
want to get shot of it.

Centres often give a standard discount of 10 per cent on items, but ask if they could give you a better deal. If the piece is worth a few hundred pounds, the centre may be prepared to phone the dealer to check their best price.


Katherine Higgins, vintage expert and television presenter

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I prefer to go to small local auction houses to bag the best bargains. Find a few you like and keep an eye on their websites to see what’s coming up.

Make time to go to the sale preview to check out what’s what and the condition of items you’re interested in bidding on – the beauty of auctions is that you have time on your hands.

Look out for boxed lots of a variety of items – ceramics or vintage accessories, for example – as you never know what you might find when you rifle through, and your outlay is relatively low, from £30 to £50.

Have some vision. If you like vintage posters but can’t afford them, look for illustrated sheet music instead. These were often designed by the best artists of the day and look lovely framed on the wall.

Remember that on top of the auction hammer price the winning bidder has to pay a buyer’s premium of between 15 and 20 per cent on average of the hammer price, so factor that into your budget plan.




John Foster, Antiques Roadshow miscellaneous specialist and auction consultant at Cheffins

Get there as the cars arrive – the early bird catches the worm, after all. I’m talking 6am, not 9am, when all the best stuff will have gone. It’s an early start but it’ll be worth it.

Assess the type of car before you approach – is it a wily dealer in a small van or a couple clearing out their home that might yield some bargains?

Don’t think too much, go with your gut instinct and make a quick decision when you buy.

Be open to anything, whether it’s walking sticks or mirrors. If you spend a fiver on something and it turns out to be worthless, it’s all part of the learning experience. On the other hand, I recently bought a Fifties malachite cigarette box for £3, worth £80, and a Georgian glass comport for £10, worth £100.


Paul Martin, Flog It! presenter and dealer

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Be first in the queue when the gates open. It’s the best way to get the pick of what’s available.

If you’re looking for jewellery at a fair, always take a jeweller’s magnifying loupe with you so that you can see the item in detail. And look for hallmarks – there are a lot of fakes around, which can be a costly mistake.

It pays to get to know dealers – if you can’t afford to pay for an item in one go, ask whether they will take instalments. Chances are they’ll say yes if they trust you.

Look out for decorative furnishings at fairs as they’re usually good value and there’s lots to choose from – country chairs, dressers, furniture that might benefit from a lick of paint or the odd repair. It might be brown when you buy it but you can transform it at home.

To get a bargain price, ask in a friendly way what the dealer’s best price is, then what their best price is for cash. Don’t push it any more after that, and don’t be rude.



Pay cash and be prepared to spend five to 10 minutes negotiating. Build up a rapport with the seller – ask about the provenance and so on and give something of yourself too, if the piece fuels a particular memory perhaps. Be friendly and ask the dealer what they would like. If it’s too high, ask if that is a reasonable price and what they would pay for it.

Always hold your nerve. If the price is inflated, walk away. There’s nothing to stop you trying again at the end of the day when everyone wants to go home having made a sale!

The full feature on buying affordable antiques appeared in the May 2016 issue of Homes & Antiques.


Images iStock/Jason Ingram