Tools of the Trade

a sextant, one tool of the trade

While sailors, carpenters, doctors, masons, and farmers all have tools designed specifically for their needs, spies and detectives seem to have the best tools. Like James Bond or Sherlock Holmes, you too can have a set of tools that will help you be a sleuth – as a furniture, art and decorative arts detective.

You’ll need to prepare and take the time to read about the items you’re interested in acquiring. Resource material is the most important tool and second only to your eyes. To know the value of an antique or a piece of art, you must first understand how the item was made, when it was made and what materials were used. You’ll have a lot of reading to catch up on!

Attending auctions and shows also has to be a part of your strategy. Pick other people’s brains, ask questions, and feel and touch items at shows. Just remember, when picking brains, pick wisely, as some may not be ripe enough and some may be spoiled. You may have to look for a while to find one that has just the knowledge you need and is still able to share a fresh outlook and expertise.

Then, when you think you are prepared and you’re ready to get serious about learning more, purchase the following items:

1. A small but powerful flash light – no matter how good your eyes are you will miss something.

2. If you are interested in art, porcelains, bisque dolls or similar items, get a small, portable black-light (no it isn’t the 1960’s again! But we can wish). A black-light will really bring things out, as it shows where a painting or other fine work has been retouched or painted over. Additionally, it shows whether there have been repairs made to the item. In bisque and porcelain, repaired areas glow and flaws pop with color. Always ask for permission before you remove anything in order to check it with a black light. Also, it only works in dark areas (just like in the 1960’s).

3. Purchase a loupe, a type of magnifier, at about 10X. A loupe will make it easier to look at items very closely to gauge age and condition. With a loupe, you can easily determine if a piece of art is an etching or a print. It’s also handy for seeing silver marks and other details.

You are now prepared to start your hunt and create your great adventure. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and that the wise learn from theirs. In the old days, your tools were a pocket knife, lighter, your nose and a paper clip. The tools have certainly changed, but our desire to learn remains the same. Luckily we now have a little more help from the tools of the trade devised for our particular kind of detective work.