Is it worth buying antique furniture?

By Geoff Harris

The short answer is yes – antique furniture is affected by trends and fashions, but there are several reasons why this remains one of the most exciting and rewarding areas of antiques collection.

It’s more environmentally friendly

Buying pre-loved furniture can be better for the environment for obvious reasons – however sustainable a new furniture supplier claims to be, you cannot be totally sure of the impact its business is having on the environment. Then there is the impact of transporting the new furniture to you, along with all the packaging. Buyers are becoming more and more aware of the green credentials of antique furniture, which adds to its long-term appeal.

An older piece of furniture generally has les impact on the environment than buying new

You can get lots of help and guidance

There are a wide range of online courses to help you get started with furniture collecting. A great way to start is upcycling – whereby you pick up used furniture very cheaply from a car boot sale or online service such as Gumtree, and then restore and generally improve it. Check out this course from expert upholsterer, Juliette Goggin, here.

It’s a buyer’s market (mostly)

The high water mark in the market for antique British furniture came in the 1970s and 1980s, but has declined since then – particularly when it comes to heavier ‘brown’ furniture, as opposed to furniture designed in the 1960s and 1970s. This continues to have a strong retro appeal, particularly for younger, style-conscious buyers.

As an article in the Antiques Trade Gazette observed, “the more recent decline in prices has been particularly marked among some categories of ‘brown’ furniture – the unlovely term used to describe the fine-quality Georgian and Victorian mahogany chattels loved and admired by generations of English-speaking families.

The Antique Furniture Index monitored the prices of a ‘basket’ of typical pieces of 18th and 19th century furniture. Starting in 1968, it reached a high in 2002, but dropped down 45% from its peak by the time its compiler John Andrews decided to end his annual audit of the trade in 2016.”

This is not to say, however, that these categories of ‘brown’ furniture will always remain unfashionable – you could pick a fine example up relatively cheaply, and it could end up increasing in value.

Examples of 19th century ‘brown’ furniture can be picked up at reasonable prices compared to a few years ago. Picture credit Hemswell Antiques Centre.

Furniture is a practical purchase

If a piece of antique catches your eye and you get it at a reasonable price, it can greatly enhance your home – great examples being a vintage desk (particularly as more and more of us are working from home). Obviously you don’t want to clutter up your living space with old chairs on the off-chance they will increase in value, but a few judiciously chosen items can bring a lot of pleasure – and if they increase in value, all the better. Even if you have a very stylish modern home, antique furniture can still look great.

Check condition and build quality

Now you’ve decided that collecting antiques furniture is still worthwhile, here are a few essential pointers. First, check out how the furniture is put together. Dovetails, for example, would imply the piece is handmade, and slight irregularities and quirks in the fittings and joints are another good sign – if everything looks too perfect, the piece is likely to be machine made. If the dealer suggests otherwise, approach the transaction with a bit more scepticism!

Check for damage, and missing items such as drawers or handles, which can reduce the eventual resale value. The same goes for replacement handles or other fittings. Stay vigilant for signs of rot, damp and woodworm, too.

Recommended course

Collecting Antiques taught by Marc Allum

Learn how to invest wisely in arts and antiques to build a well-balanced portfolio.

View courseAll Antiques courses

Watch out for reproductions

You don’t want to end up paying top dollar for a piece of antique furniture that’s actually a reproduction. Again, signs of wear and tear/patina are a good sign, and be careful of any ‘antique’ that looks too clean and well preserved.

Buying from a reputable dealer/auction house is a safer bet than buying blind from a stand at a flea market or antiques far. Members of The British Antiques Dealers Assocation (BADA) and The Association of Art and Antique Dealers (LAPADA) need to demonstrate that they are knowledgeable and trustworthy, and as mentioned on previous blogs, it’s not in the interest of big online auction sites to feature items from dodgy dealers. Ask for photographs of the item before you commit.

So to conclude, even with the recent ups and downs in the antiques furniture market, it’s well worth getting involved - both as a buyer and a seller. Educating yourself via online courses will really help you find items you’ll treasure for years, or can sell on at a profit.

If you're looking to get into the anqiues market and need advice from a top expert, sign up for one of our online antiques courses and get one-on-one tuition from experts including Marc Allum, Joanna Hardy, Juliette Goggin and more.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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