Investing in antiques
Investing in antiques is generally regarded as a mid to long-term undertaking. But while investors must learn to be patient, they can take much enjoyment from their collection while waiting for their antiques to reap rewards. This is why it is important to buy only what you like. The term antique is a fluid one. The most accepted definition is that of the US Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which states that an antique is an item such as a piece of furniture, decorative item or tool that is over 100 years old. However, the phenomenon of "military antiques" collecting is very disproportionally about World War II material, despite that war having been started just over 70 years ago. (One of the most important shows in this genre is the Military Antiques Xtravaganza (MAX) show, which is dominated by WWII material.)
There are a number of antiques price guides that provide invaluable advice for people investing in the area. Miller’s is one of the best known. It produces a number of publications each year and much of its material is online.
The Antiques Collectors’ Club’s Annual Furniture Index (AFI) supplies a furniture index which tracks 1400 typical, as opposed to exceptional, products, from across seven categories or periods of furniture. The AFI index fell by seven per cent in 2009 to a level last reached in 1998, the biggest single year drop in its 42 year history. The index peaked in 2002. Since that year the index has failed to keep pace with house prices in the south east of the UK.
How to invest and where to buy
As with many areas of alternative investment, most experts agree that specialising in a particular department is key to investing successfully. Collections tend to appreciate more in value than a mixture of items. In addition, specialising ensures that you become proficient at spotting trends and discrepancies in your chosen market.
When it comes to antique furniture, its very uniqueness is often its most saleable asset. Antique furniture is also well known for holding its worth as an investment, or even increasing in value.
Antiques can be bought from a wide range of places. These include:
• Flea markets and jumble sales
• Charity shops
• General dealers - general dealers will often perform house clearances and sell items that they know little about, providing savvy investors with the potential for picking up bargains.
• Antique dealers - buying from a dealer may require you to pay a higher price initially but your investment will be safeguarded with a guarantee of authenticity, especially if they are a member of an association.
• Auction houses
• Antique fairs - the largest in the UK is at Newark in Nottinghamshire. It has around 4,000 stalls.
Most valuable investments
Condition is one of the foremost considerations. Ceramics and glass that are chip and crack free are worth much more than marred items. Maintaining items in perfect condition is also highly important.
Fine craftsmanship is another important aspect to consider when buying an antique. Everyone has their own budget but buying the best you can afford continues to be a sound mantra. This is because the best pieces appreciate more in value than less attractive items.
Provenance is vital as it ensures that you are buying a bona fide item. Sound provenance improves the price and makes your antique that much more attractive to potential buyers.
While it may be tempting to buy items that are in vogue, the chances of this being a successful long-term investment are highly debatable. If possible, sell when a sector is popular and buy when it’s not. Public opinion may well come round in your favour.
Most expensive items
The most expensive item of antique furniture ever sold at auction is the Badminton Cabinet, a 14-feet-high ebony and gilt bronze, commissioned in 1726. Christie's has described it as probably the finest Florentine art work of its time. It sold for £19m in 2004.
The most expensive vase ever sold is the Pinner Qing Dynasty Vase which achieved £53.1m in 2010.
Main article: List of notable antiques
Researching the markets
Before investing in a piece it is vital to do as much research as possible and to compare past prices from auctions of similar items.
Gleaning advice from dealers and experts at auctions is another vital method of gaining insights into the sector. Viewing pre-auction displays is an enjoyable way of building knowledge.