How to Buy Vintage & Antiques Online

Alex Gilbert, Vice President, Sales and Account Management of Sotheby’s Home, shares a few tips when it comes to buying furniture online.

Buying vintage and antiques online is wonderful for those who want the experience of browsing an antique shop 24/7. However, you can easily become lost in all the fabulous things for sale — especially for those who are new to buying antique and vintage items online. What are some ways they can focus their search, or perhaps sharpen their eye?

Material is a great way to focus a collection. If you’re naturally drawn to ceramics, glass, or textiles, you can build a collection by learning to differentiate a designer’s work by learning about their process and technique.This question is also geared towards those who are new to buying antique and vintage items online, and might not yet be ready for a stunning 19th-century dining table. What are some “smaller” pieces that might be more approachable for starting a collection, or perhaps not as much of an investment (but no less interesting) for new collectors?

When you’re new to collecting or don’t have a lot of spare space for furniture, tabletop items or “smalls” are a great way to start a collection. Modernist silver tableware, Fornasetti paperweights, miniature bud vases, and Native American baskets are some of my favorite categories.

One thing that I’ve heard from those hesitant to buy antique/vintage pieces online is that it’s easier to assess condition in-person than online — especially for those looking for investment-quality pieces. How can they best get a sense of condition — or perhaps, what questions should they be asking about a potential purchase?

I’m quite confident in our team’s ability to relay condition virtually. You should always feel free to request additional photographs from our client service team if a written description raises a red flag. Stay away from objects that have been overly refinished in favor of vintage pieces in original yet functional condition. I prefer that a vintage or antique piece have patina consistent with its age and use — when something old looks shiny and new, it’s as if it’s been stripped of its soul.

What “trends” are you seeing in terms of antiques and vintage? Are there any specific categories or periods that are becoming unexpectedly popular?

Some great buys can be made for original handmade 19th and 20th century furniture, particularly Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts, which are going through a less popular period, but will surely regain attention. Contemporary designers are obsessed with design of the ’80s and ’90s: Post Modernism’s most difficult furniture by Memphis Group, Shiro Kuramata, and Rei Kawakubo are influencing today’s aesthetic. Navajo blankets are still somewhat affordable, but surely not for long. There is a show at Pace in Palo Alto right now with Agnes Martin’s paintings brought together with masterpiece Chief-wearing blankets.

 

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