The Basics of Antiques

The world of antiques can be confusing and seem like an exclusive club to outsiders, not least because of technical terms and specialist knowledge, but it need not be that way. In this article you can learn some of the more basic terms and get a foot into the world of antiques.

Antique
It may seem silly to define the word antique as it is used by so many, but few really take any time to consider how long it is before something becomes an antique. Typically, if an item is more than 100 years old, it is referred to as being an antique.

Original Finish
Dealers love saying proudly that a piece still has its original finish, mainly because it vastly increases the price of an item. The term simply means that the piece still has the original protective coating of wax, varnish or polish as when it was made. This is important as it means the piece has been well looked after and whether the finish is original or not plays a large role in price.

Original Condition
This is another determiner of price and refers to the overall condition of the item. Is the piece intact? Does it still have all the same features and original doors, hinges and drawers etc? If anything has been changed, such as replacing a hinge on an old wardrobe or changing the drawer of a cabinet, it can no longer be said to be in original condition and it loses value.

Patina
The patina of a piece is the result of years of build up of dirt, grease, polish, use and chemical changes. Many say it is what gives antiques their beauty and character. Newly made wood furniture does not have a patina as one takes years to make. It is the small nicks on the arms of a chair or the light wear marks on top of a table that show the piece has had a long and useful life.

Provenance
This is the story of the antique. Who has owned it, where it has been, when it was there, how it got there. It can turn a great piece into an exceptional piece. For example, what would otherwise be a great condition antique dining table can become truly exceptional if it is the same one Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species. To find the provenance of most pieces takes extreme patience and diligent research, and in many cases only leads to a dead end.