Most of us spend a little time and money each month, fortune hunting. We buy lottery tickets. We fill out that sweepstakes card with Ed McMahon's picture on the envelope. Some of us enter radio contests, or play bingo, or go to casinos and add to Steve Wynn's, Donald Trump's, or some Indian tribe's wealth. Additionally, often without being aware of it, we keep our eyes open for that big "strike" in antiques: The quarter million dollar tea table purchased for a few thousand dollars by a Litchfield, CT resident last year. The recently sold, $229,500 Shaker "gift" drawing of a tree. It was one of two tucked away inside a picture frame-purchased by an elderly couple at a tag sale in the Berkshires.
The advantage to antique prospecting, compared with all those other activities, is that, done properly, the odds are not weighed against you. They are in your favor. This is because, when you buy something "old with class," in preference to spending comparable money on a quality new object that loses value immediately after purchase, the antique is an investment. You can further enhance your odds of striking old gold one by employing the following principles:
1. Make the determination to save money and enhance the beauty of your home by becoming an antique collector. I know what you're thinking: "I don't want a whole bunch of antiques in my house!" That's true of many collectors. Don't let that deter you. Antiques are often set into ultra-modern environments. Just as modern art is introduced for its enhancing contrast to antique settings. Today's designers are introducing those things that make a family tick into their living environment. If your husband's a stock broker, put an old ticker-tape machine in his office. If your daughter likes movies and writing, frame-up one of the fourteen Wizard of Oz books written by Frank Baum. Be it Beatles, birds, books, or baskets; you can find your passions at tag sales, auctions, flea markets, consignment shops, antique shops, and shows.
2. Frequent your favorite antique hot spots, early and often. Antique shopping, especially with a friend, is fun. Remember too, that, except for shows, there's no admission charge.
3. Read up on antiques. Focus on one (your favorite) category and familiarize yourself with the kind of things that can fetch big prices. Subscribe to the industry trade papers. Antiques & Arts Weekly (203) 426-3141 and the Maine Antique Digest 1-800-752-8521 will send you free trial copies. Visit your library and Books About Antiques on New Milford Turnpike in New Preston. Proprietor, Greg Johnson (860) 868-1611, has books geared toward your interest. Most importantly, (of course) look for this column every week.
4. Seek "Fresh" Antiques. Dealers describe an item that has been traded back and forth several times between shops, auctions, etc., as something that's "been around." While such antiques are often sold for bargain prices, because insiders are tired of them, they seldom turn into "gold." For hitting antique pay-dirt, look for dirt. Old, grungy, moldy, musty, varnish-crackled, green-patined, dust-laden, attic-smelly, un-restored, un-auctioned, unkempt antiques often bring premium prices because they have added integrity and they look "house fresh." Buy that which looks old, not antique. Buy what feels right. All other things being equal, purchase that antique that has yet to have its value tested in the market. The downside risk is probably greater, but so is the upside potential.
If you want to have some fun gambling this year, play the "antique lotto." It's the oldest and best game in town.