The art of picking the best antiques

Tastes are changing in terms of what people are seeking out in terms of antiques and collectables.

And that means some items are being hotly sought, and others are simply not.

That was the message for those attending a presentation at the Grain Millers Harvest Showdown Friday by Sheldon Smithens co-host of the television series Canadian Pickers.

Many of the antiques that are now little valued were covets only a decade, or two ago, said Smithens, starting with traditional furniture.

Often made of oak or walnut, made in Ontario or Quebec in the late 1800s and often referred to as ‘brown furniture’, has fallen out of favour.

“It’s very fine furniture,” said Smithens, but a dining room set that would have brought $1500 in 1990, struggles to fetch $500.

Coal oil lamps are also no longer coveted.

And the same is the case with most china.

“It used to be every woman’s dream … but now almost all of it has a nominal value.”

Silver plate falls into the ice cold market too, with the exception of a few rare pieces, said Smithens.

“Nobody wants to clean it. Nobody wants to own it. It’s valueless,” said Smithens.

By contrast silver items remain of interest, always buoyed by the silver content, since an item can be melted down for its silver content.

So what are collectors today looking for?

Smithens said the best examples of anything remain coveted.

“Quality is always desirable, the best of the best,” he offered.

Canadian art is hot right now as well, led by the works of the Group of Seven, but also from others such as the Emma Lake group from the 1960s and ‘70s, said Smithens.

The interest in art is buoyed by wealthy Canadians seeing the potential of a better return on art which reminds them “of a Canadian scene they love”, than they get with a GIC, said Smithens.

Nostalgia is hot, but it is the nostalgia of a younger generation. As an example Smithens said a Model T Ford was once highly coveted because it was grandpa’s car. That generation has passed and now car enthusiasts are looking at a new generation of vehicles which illicit good memories, in particular muscle cars of the 1970s.

Other areas of growing interest are smoking paraphernalia as people turn away from smoking, and oil and gas sector advertising material, said Smithens.

Smithens said when it comes to finding that special antique or collectable there are a few tried and true places to look, adding he made a list in preparation for the presentation.

“The first one I jotted down was yard sales … It can be a prime place to find things,” he said, adding his host partner Scott Cozens is an avid proponent of hitting sales. “Scott and his mother have been doing it for 20-years.”

Smithens said his business allowed less Saturdays to yard sale, but he too likes to take them in when free.

“My heart still gets a flutter when out driving and I see the right sign,” he said, adding the right sign is more homemade indicating a one-time sale effort as opposed to someone who sets up yard sales almost as a small business.

When heading to yard sales Smithens said there are a couple of things to consider.

“You want to be the first one in,” he said, noting that gives you a look at everything on sale before others pick it over.

“And I like to be loaded with cash.”

Having a pocketful of money gives the buyer immediate funds to grab a deal on an unexpected find, he explained.

Estate sales are popular in Calgary, and Smithens said they are a good source of antiques and collectables, and anything else you find in a home as they are generally selling off the household effects in their entirety.

Antiques shops, increasingly a rarity, antique malls, flea markets, and auctions specific to antiques and collectables are also good places to seek out whatever a collector may be after.

When attending auctions, Smithens had a couple of simple hints in terms of increasing the chance of getting a good deal.

The first is to arrive early in order to take advantage of a crowd not yet settled in their seats, reducing the possible people bidding against you on an item.

And then prepare to stay late.

Smithens said typically people don’t like sitting for more than three hours “unless it’s overtime in the hockey game”, so as a sale moves into the later hours crowds thin out, so some bargains can be found.

No matter what the source, Smithens said a key is knowing as much about what you seek, and its value, as possible.

“In all cases remember your knowledge is your power,” he said. “There is no substitute for knowing what an item is, and what its value is.”

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