20 Tips To Help You Navigate Summer Antique Markets
Sure, summer means pool time and trips to the cottage, but for some of us it signals that antique market season has finally arrived. Weekend antique fairs are usually filled with hundreds of wares both big and small, not to mention plenty of bargain hunters all looking for the ultimate find. There are tons of antique markets and vintage shows worth checking out, and the Christie Antique & Vintage Show is one of them. H&H‘s assistant editor Emily Evans decided to check the show out for herself and shares the tips she picked up along the way.
1. Get an early start. You may begrudge it at the time, but waking up early (we got up at 5 a.m. and arrived at the antique market by 6:30 a.m.) will help you beat the line and be one of the first ones into the show. It also means that you can get plenty of browsing done before the afternoon sun gets too hot to handle.
2. Bring a friend. There’s lots to see at antique markets like this, so bringing a pal means you can divide and conquer. If you’re in the market for heavier pieces like desks or dressers, having a partner in crime with some muscle can really come in handy!
3. Dress comfortably. Chances are the weather will be hot and shade might be hard to come by, so wear something loose and breathable. If you end up schlepping around your haul, you don’t want to be wearing anything too precious either. If your T-shirt happens to intimidate the competition, bonus!
4. Come equipped. Some of the bigger shows will give you maps to make navigating around easier and will often offer home delivery services if your car doesn’t have a big enough trunk. Make sure your phone is fully charged, so if you get separated from your friends (as we did) you can meet up after.
5. Start big. Larger items are the first things most people lock eyes onto, so it’s no surprise that they’re usually the first to go. Scour the market for those things first. Then, loop back to check out the smaller bits and bobs later. Within the first 10 minutes of getting into the antique market I sat down on this chair and dithered for a minute about whether I really needed it, but before I knew it another passer by said “I’ll take it!”
6. Look for markings. Seasoned antique shoppers know right off the bat what certain brands and products should cost, but if you’re unsure or the price seems high, simply look up the manufacturer online and see what similar items are going for. Markings can also tell you a lot about a product — like that this vintage Rose & Laflamme crock jug was made in Montreal, Quebec.
7. Look for like-minded sellers. If shabby-chic is your style, look for a booth that screams just that. When an antique market has hundreds of booths, you can save time by sticking to the ones that speak to your personal style the most.
8. Stop and smell the lilacs. It’s so easy to get caught up in the thrill of the hunt that we often forget about enjoying the process itself. When you come across a beautiful vignette like this one, take a moment to take it all in, and yes, maybe snap a photo or two.
9. Look for groupings. We’re not all designers and stylists and often once we get home our magical antique market finds don’t look quite so magical. Luckily the really good sellers have already done the work for you. If you find something small that you like but aren’t sure if you’ve got anything at home that will mix well with it, consider buying a couple of small objects that have already been arranged together — like this collection of vintage baking accoutrements.
10. Consult the experts. Certain sellers specialize in one thing and do it really, really well. This booth was dedicated to beautiful crystal. The seller had everything from miniature salt shakers to decanters that looked destined for royalty.
11. Be realistic. I was drawn to this desk lamp’s brass patina and the price was reasonable, but the seller admitted the wiring needed repair. I had to ask myself if I was willing to do the legwork to get it working again, and in the end I decided to say sayonara to the lamp.
12. Trust your gut. My friend and photographer for the day Kieran Darcy spotted this weathered medicine cabinet and was immediately drawn to it. We’d gotten separated in the crowds so she called me in a panic to come check out her find, “I’ve found something you just have to see!” Minutes later (after my friendly seal of approval) Kieran was the proud new owner of this beautiful cabinet.
13. Think of prices as a starting point, but don’t get carried away haggling. The prices are a guideline and you can often get a better deal, but don’t get hung up haggling over a couple of dollars here and there. When we bumped into designer Tommy Smythe at Christie’s he cautioned, “Bill Blass [an American fashion designer] had a philosophy about buying antiques and vintage things. He considered haggling to be very déclassé. I’d have to agree.”
14. Know when to bite the bullet. After the disappointment of losing the first chair I found I knew I wasn’t going to let another one fall through the cracks. When I stumbled upon this vintage Italian-made Aarben chair with a polished brass frame and dreamy tan leather seat I scooped it up on the spot!
15. Save your spot. For larger items, most sellers will let you pay for the item and come back at the end of your visit to retrieve it. It saves you carting around heavy finds, but it’s easy to forget which booth you left them at. To help jog your memory take a shot of the booth and surrounding area that you can refer to later.
16. Test out the merchandise. Some sellers don’t like you sitting on their furniture and if that’s the case they’ll usually have a sign telling patrons to keep off, politely of course. If there’s no sign, feel free to take a seat and see if a chair like this one still seems “So cool!” once you’ve sat in it.
17. Know when to let go. I loved these 19th-century Persian tiles, but at $900 a piece they were way out of my price range — even with some negotiating. Instead of being heartbroken about it I snapped a picture of the tiles. Now I can frame this picture and still feel like I brought the tiles home with me.
18. Get to know the sellers. When you come across a seller you really like, be sure to ask them for a business card. That way you can get in touch after the show to see where else they sell their wares. Many of the more serious sellers will have their own tags attached to each item so it’s easy for you to get in touch after the show.
19. Bundle. Designer Michael Penney (who we ran into at the show) recommends buying a few items from the same seller to get a better price. “Go to a booth where they have quite a few things that you like. You usually get a better price when you’re getting a bunch of things together.” I was able to get a better price on these vintage botanical prints by buying six, plus I think they’ll look nice framed en masse.
Michael also recommends shopping with your heart. “Don’t be waiting for the next best thing. Grab what you love because by the time you circle back it may be gone.”
20. Enjoy your finds. I’ll admit, I don’t have the perfect spot picked out for my new chair and botanical prints just yet, but that’s okay. You may not know exactly what you’ll do with your antique market finds either, but after a long day of hunting for treasure in the heat, give yourself a pat on the back and know that sooner or later you’ll find the perfect place.