Antique Russian Lacquered Jewelry Box, signed & initialed by the artist
In today's world, the identification of antique or collectible items and fine art has become more than just a matter of Art and Science; it is now a business. While
the primary purpose of any artistic object is to project a pleasing aesthetic value or provoke a challenging idea, there is a lot of science involved in its making,
including the specific choice of materials, tools, method of production, and other considerations that depend heavily on the artist's conceptual planning. However, for
many potential buyers of someone's work, the solid investment potential of the item is an important consideration. Collectors often take pride in how a particular item
was bought at a certain price some time ago but has now appreciated in value immensely.
This also applies to items beyond the traditional Fine Arts. For example, most homeowners who keep a collection of antiques at home, and certainly all reputable
Auction Houses, purchase insurance on their inventory at full market value. This is standard practice for most business-minded and prudent collectors and dealers, as
they recognize that any of these objets de vertu can be converted to cold hard cash very easily, in some cases at a higher return than stocks or bonds.
Bronze of Mercury and Pandora with Gold & Silver patinas, French, early 20thC
For these reasons, it is important to recognize that understanding the history of an item is part of doing business. Identifying the maker and age of an item, along
with its condition, are the most important criteria used in determining its value. Most items bear a signature or some sort of logo, which tell a significant story of
its making. It is highly advisable to discover what these marks mean and how to interpret this information. Identifying a maker's mark on porcelain, for example, is
vital to its proper authentication and appraisal. This is why most professional personal property appraisers always need to know how or when an item was acquired and,
of course, check for any makers' marks or back-stamps that may reveal the manufacturer. As expected, the manufacturer's legacy also comes into play to determine,
amongst other things, quality.
Antiques and collectibles come in a huge variety of categories or genres, some based solely on the material used to make them, and some according to their style or
period they were made. These material and period or style classifications are important to recognize since they may reveal reasonable clues of where to begin a fruitful
research to identify them. Material-related categories include Ceramics (porcelain, pottery, chinaware), Silver or metalwork, antique furniture, Fine Art (paintings,
lithographs, engravings etc), Antiquities (ancient artifacts), Militaria (antique firearms or US Civil War items), Rugs and Linen (carpets or older Samplers and
needlework), vintage Toys or Games and many others. View more examples of related categories here.
Some makers used different marks during different periods and this helps in determining the year or general timing an item was made. Even if a company marked logo was
used for a long period or throughout their operations by a factory or artisan studio, the style of the piece often gives us clues as to when it was made. Other than
style, an experienced appraiser can also check for signs of wear and tear, such as crazing, oxidation, shrinkage, the method of manufacturing etc, to arrive at a
usually fairly accurate assessment as to its age. Of course, the specific actual provenance of an item in terms of who and when owned it before, whether within or
outside the family, provide for a general time scale and a good starting point for more research, but unfortunately and unless reliably documented, such stories are
often based on faded or exaggerated childhood memories that can be difficult to verify.
However, many times, the general style or period of an item does not match its estimated “age”. This requires careful consideration of all elements as described above,
which must be considered in order to tell whether an item is indeed an “antique” or a generic reproduction or simply a decorative copy of an original masterpiece. For
example, many recent mass-produced imports from Asia and elsewhere of items in recognizable and desirable styles are marked using forged signatures and other techniques
to make them appear authentic. Such makers' marks or logos are applied for the sole purpose of deceiving the unsuspecting collector or dealer and therefore these items
may be of lesser quality, use cheaper materials and methods of mass-production and lack the craftsmanship of a genuine antique or collectible. They may be nice as
decorative or utilitarian items, but are not “antique”
In general, it is commonly accepted that the term "antique" is reserved for items that are at least 100 years old, except for old Carpets or Rugs, where that
distinction applies for those made 65 years or more.
Antique English Chinese-styled Chippendale Mahogany table
Therefore, it is essential that a dealer or collector has the ability to identify their items with precision. While the maker and age of an item are important, an
experienced appraiser can also check for signs of wear and tear, such as crazing, oxidation, shrinkage, the method of manufacturing, and more, to arrive at a usually
fairly accurate assessment of its age. Of course, the specific actual provenance of an item in terms of who and when owned it before, whether within or outside the
family, provides a general time scale and a good starting point for more research, but unfortunately, such stories are often based on faded or exaggerated childhood
memories that can be difficult to verify.
In addition to period styles whose names are derived from concurrent personalities such as Georgian, Victorian, Queen Anne, Federal American etc, most antiques and
collectibles can also be classified by the aesthetic movement they represent, as in the case of Art Nouveau, Arts & Crafts, Art Deco, Modernist etc. Furthermore,
certain styles can be associated with places where a certain manner of their design was first introduced or was most prevalent, including examples of Limoges porcelain,
Dresden figurines, Paris Porcelain, New England antique furniture, Delft pottery and others. In some instances, a secondary attribute such as the “finish” (in porcelain
that would be the glaze) is of importance as in the case of Majolica or Faience ceramics and Blue & White chinaware.
Antique Silver and Garnet Brooch, 18thC
Another important factor to consider when identifying antiques or collectibles is their condition. While some collectors prefer their items to be in pristine
condition, others value the unique character and patina that comes with age and use. In any case, the condition of an item can greatly affect its value. Scratches,
chips, cracks, repairs, and missing parts can all decrease an item's worth. On the other hand, an item in exceptional condition may fetch a premium price.
In conclusion, properly identifying antiques or collectibles and fine art is a complex process that requires a combination of art and science. While the aesthetic
value and historical significance of an item remain important, its potential investment value cannot be ignored. Understanding the history, materials, and methods of
production of an item, as well as its condition and maker's marks, are essential for accurate identification and valuation. Whether you are a collector, dealer, or
simply someone interested in the world of antiques and collectibles, taking the time to learn about these factors can enhance your appreciation and enjoyment of these
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