Perhaps you delight in old kitchen things--from wooden bowls and butter molds to early ice-cream scoops--and would like to decorate your kitchen with them. Or maybe you're looking for a wonderful Currier and Ives print that you remember from your grandparents' home. Or a Disney toy or Gene Autry record like the one you played with as a child. You might want to develop an entire collection, or perhaps just buy the occasional item. Where do you start?
Here are some ideas:
Enjoy "Antiques Roadshow" on PBS--it's a lot of fun--but don't be intimidated by the rare and very expensive pieces you may see there. Antiques and collectibles vary widely in rarity and price. Some old items are quite reasonable because there are still many out there. And you may be perfectly happy with something that is beautiful but not too pricey.
Ease into collecting by visiting several antique shops and malls to see what's out there and to get an idea of current prices. You may want to check eBay, the online auction, to get an idea of national prices. But when it comes to actually buying something, there is nothing like examining a piece before you buy it.
It's great fun to go antiquing with a friend or two, especially if they have been collecting for years and know the ropes. You may even want to think about making your next vacation an antiquing junket. (See "Antiquing Vacations" on this website.)
Be aware that there are many reproductions out there and that some are very well-done. Most antique dealers do not buy or sell them. Those who do handle them should always label them as such and price them down accordingly.
If you're doubtful about an item--say, a jug or butter churn--look at the bottom and edges to see if it has any wear-and-tear. If it is made of wood, does it have that wonderful new-wood smell? (Whoops--a dead giveaway!) If it has nails or hinges, are they all new? After awhile, you may detect repros at a glance, except for furniture, some of which is exceptionally well-faked. When you can't resolve your doubt, it's best to pass on the item or have an expert look at it.
Reputable dealers who are aware of major flaws or repairs on an item mention this on the tag and lower the price accordingly. If you see something major that a dealer has missed, it's okay to mention it and ask for a discount. (Just don't do this accusingly; always assume it was a matter of oversight. Unless, of course, it happens repeatedly in the same shop.)
Should you try to bargain in a shop? You can always try, but don't be surprised or offended when dealers say they can't come down on their prices. They have to spend a lot of time and money to find things, haul them home, clean, polish, price, and display them. And they must pay rent, utilities, and other costs. Plus, of course, they do have to make a living.
You may find that antiquing, whether in shops or at auctions, solves many of your gift-giving problems. The person who seems to "have everything" may be charmed by something special you find.
Always remember that the joy of the hunt it at least half the fun. But when you also acquire something that makes your heart sing, you may remember what John Keats wrote: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."
See you out there in the shops!