by Jennifer Blau- Owner of Oak Street Antiques, Downtown Baraboo
Collecting antiques is one of America’s favorite pastimes. For some, it is a great way to preserve the past, a way to show future generations a piece of how our ancestors lived. For others, it is a way to spend time with loved ones, traveling the countryside with friends or family, stopping along the way in out of the way places for lunch and to scour antiques shops or malls. And for others, it is a way to relax, to create your own adventure and find your own treasures.
Whatever the reason, there are many things to remember as you are antiquing:
- Use crocks for garbage containers, to hold sidewalk salt, hold kindling, or store magazines (hint, buy a crock with a little chip or crack – it’ll be a lot cheaper, it’ll still work great as a useful decoration, and it’ll look more “vintage”!).
- Use that beautiful glass punch bowl to hold a collection of vintage Christmas ornaments, Easter eggs, white lights, pine cones, or as a nest for a favorite doll.
- Use a cute old cigarette ash tray (or a flowered teacup with an adorable little chip) to hold rings by your sink.
- Decorate your next Christmas tree using old fur stoles for garlands, and strings of vintage jewelry and those fun clip-on-earrings-that-hurt-your-ears as tree bling-bling.
- Use a shabby chic candelabra on your porch to add atmosphere on a special evening.
- Turn an old enamel coffee pot with a missing cover into a vase.
- Collect by color or theme – example, collect only Fiesta pitchers in every color of the rainbow and varying sizes or collect place settings in only yellow – either way, the fun of collecting is in the search! The ideas are endless!
TIP: Bring a flashlight and measuring tape when antiquing. Remember to look under tables and inside cabinets.
- Carry cash or a checkbook—dealers will usually offer you the best price if you’re not paying by credit card, since they won’t have to pay the fee to the card company.
- Don’t try to negotiate a better price by denigrating the quality of the piece. Pointing out that “the leg is wobbly and there’s a scratch on the surface” will not endear you to the seller, and your motives will be pretty transparent. Better to ask, “Can you do any better on the price?” or “Will you accept $250?”.
- Coins should be left in “found” condition. Cleaning makes them less desirable to collectors. Patina adds to their value.
- Ceramics can be washed with soap and water, but only wipe gently with a damp cloth if they are repaired, damaged, or have cold-painted decorations.
- To polish brass make a paste of equal parts of salt, flour and vinegar. Rub on brass with a soft cloth. Rinse completely. Shine with a clean, dry, soft cloth.
- Store plastic toys or other plastic items away from the heat, not touching one another. When storing old toys remember to remove the batteries first.
- Don’t use plastic bubble wrap to store silver and ceramics. Heat and humidity can cause discolorations.
- Rearrange lamps and decorative items on wooden tabletops. If you don’t, exposed wood will lighten and unexposed wood will remain dark after time.
- Clean mildew on wooden furniture with a cloth moistened with one cup water mixed with one tablespoon bleach and one tablespoon dish washing detergent. Dry with a clean cloth.
- To remove unpleasant smells from an old chest of drawers, use baking soda, cat litter, or charcoal chips to absorb the odor.
- Tin signs or cans will fade in ultraviolet sunlight, or fluorescent light.
- Marble sculptures will discolor from pollutants if near a window or an active fireplace. They may scorch or crack near a heater.
- Lemon juice will remove the remains of gum, adhesive tape, and other sticky tapes.
- If you scorch a textile while ironing, rub a cut onion over the scorch, and then soak cloth in cold water for one hour. Rewash and try again.
- If displaying paper items, remember- light of all kinds (electric & sunlight), eventually harm paper.
- Glass Christmas ornaments should never be stored in a damp basement. Mildew causes damage.
- Antique clocks must be cleaned and lubricated every 5 years. To set most clocks, hold the minute hand in the center, turn it clock-wise, and wait for each strike. Wind fully each time, but do not over-wind.
- Never display grandfather clocks near a heat register or radiator. Be sure to attach them to the wall for safety. Most old grandfather clocks have a small hole for a screw inside on the backboard.
- A signature on a piece of cut glass adds at least 25% to the value, but it can be difficult to find.
- Don’t polish dark antique bronze. Just like coins, destroying the old patina will lower the value.
- If collecting Coca Cola, remember that in 1970, the new logo was created with a twisting white ribbon under the Coca Cola trademark. This is one indication to tell how old your item is. Many collectors use this as a cutoff date to collect either before or after that date.
Antique: Generally means over 100 years old.
Vintage: Generally means about 25 years old or age unknown.
Collectible: Generally means 25-99 years old.
Circa: Approximate age, i.e. circa 1880 means the items was made about 1880.
Japan: Items marked “Japan” were made approximately between 1921 and 1945.
Made in Occupied Japan: Items were made during the occupation of Japan until April 18, 1952.
Made in Japan: Items made after 1952.
Carnival Glass: Pressed glass first made in America in 1905. Various lustrous colors.
Depression Glass: Made as inexpensive glassware primarily during the Depression era in colors of amber, green, pink, blue, red, yellow, white, and crystal.
Arts and Crafts: Simply designed furniture first made in the 1850’s. Primarily made of heavy oak and squarely built. Later called Mission Style.
Celluloid: In 1869, John Hyatt invented a plastic material to replicate the look of ivory. This is a term used to encompass all types of early plastic.
Bisque: Unglazed earthenware or porcelain fired only once.
Czechoslovakia: Items marked with this were made between 1918 and 1948 when it became the communist controlled Czech Republic.
I hope you have enjoyed your first lesson on collecting antiques in Wisconsin and are ready to become a part of America’s favorite pastime!