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Good Antiques and Collectibles Questions = Better Answers

by Sandra Lee Stuart (08/21/08).

At WorthPoint, we get questions, lots and lots of questions about art, antiques and collectibles. And we are dedicated to providing the best possible answers.Sometimes, however, we run into problems—we’re not sure what exactly the writer wants to know or haven’t been given enough information.

Granted, there is an art and science to eliciting information. Reporters and detectives are specially trained. Still, it’s not rocket science. So let me give you a few tips on asking good, better, the best questions.

Simplifying the process

This takes a little more work on your end. You must look at the antique or collectible that you have a question about (and ultimately want to know the value of), and tell us what you see after using these simple steps.

One: Provide an image (aka a picture)

By sending an image with your question, our community and Worthologists have a visual picture from which to make identification along with a valuation of your item. Images are particularly helpful if you haven’t a clue what the item is. If it’s a piece of furniture, include images of the top, front, back and sides. And don’t forget the drawer construction. Slide out the drawer, paying close attention. Take closeups of to how the drawer is put together with closeups of the dovetailing (that’s where the sides are jointed to the front.)

Two: Provide information about the object

As Joe Friday of “Dragnet” fame used to say, what we need here is “just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.” By this, we don’t mean who owned it previously and for how long, although this can be useful information if we need to establish an historical timeline for the piece. More useful is what you see, feel, touch and smell. Identifying a piece brings all the senses into play.

Let me give you an example. A painted chest of drawers. You may have purchased it at a sleepy, rainy auction and got a great deal or got what you paid for. Provide us with dimensions—height, width and depth. Try if possible to identify the wood by looking inside, particularly at the underside of the top. Check the sides and back of the drawers to determine what they are made of. Most furniture has primary (the frame) and secondary (the sides and back of the drawers) wood. Finally, describe the back of the piece. Again, it helps tremendously if you include images with your description.

Three: Significant details: Becoming the detective

This is a grab-bag category with all sorts of cross references. Sticking with the chest of drawers, add details of the hardware (the drawer pulls or knobs) or escutcheons (decorative piece that fits around the keyhole). What are they made of—brass, glass, steel, wood? Are there castors on the feet—brass or porcelain wheels?

Are there any decorative details such as moldings or wooden trim that have been applied to the piece that would help us in the recognition/decision process? Are there any identification numbers, manufacturers’ labels or signatures either in chalk or pencil? Does the back have hand-cut nails (they look rectangular)?

Is the piece pegged (dowels that hold the piece together, usually found in the corners of the frame)? Is there any significant wear to the surface or structural damage to the piece? Do you suspect, upon close examination, that it has been significantly restored (new wood where old wood should be)?

So that’s it. You can apply these three steps—image, information and details—to all your questions whether they are about furniture, silver, porcelain, china or that telescope your great-uncle left you. The more concise, detailed information you provide, the better WorthPoint can evaluate your antiques and collectibles. In the details alone, there may be a real find.

Keep those questions coming in, and we’ll keep the answers going out.

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