A guide to buying antiques

Buying antiques can be something of a minefield for the uninitiated. Unless you are an expert in antiquities and maker's marks, it is possible to get ripped off or sold a fake. Here are a few tips on where to look for antiques and what to do when making a purchase.

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The first tip is to only buy something that you really love and want to look at every day as it adorns your living room mantelpiece. Don't buy something just because you think it will increase in value, unless you plan to sell it on immediately.

When you've chosen an item, make sure you ask lots of questions about it such as whether it's been damaged or restored. Don't be afraid to handle the piece yourself and look very carefully for any flaws.

Always ask for a discount and, if possible, don't offer to pay cash until you've agreed a price paying with plastic. Then offer cash to see if there's a further discount. If you don't ask, you don't get.

If buying in a shop check that it has a trade association membership such as BADA (British Antique Dealers Association) or LAPADA (London and Provincial Antique Dealers Association). These will give you a greater degree of security and protection in your purchase.

Do research into the types of antiques that you are interested in, read antiques and art trade publications, visit museums, antique shows and flea markets. The more you know about antiques, the less chance there is that you'll be fobbed off with a forgery or reproduction.

Go to your local auction house for the real bargains. This is where all your research and newly-gained knowledge will pay off.

Antique fairs at your local exhibition hall are likely to be very expensive and you probably won't pick up a good bargain here. But if you find something that you love, don't worry too much about the price. Just remember to set yourself a limit before you go shopping - this also applies to auctions.

If you plan to go to an antique centre such as the Antiques Centre York or Edenbridge Centre in Kent, bear in mind that the dealers are not present in the centre but it is instead staffed by salespeople who tend not to have expert knowledge of the stock. However, these centres are a good place to look for antiques as they are vast and often have stock from hundreds of dealers in one place.

Always get a receipt that lists the item's age, material, date of purchase, value, the dealer's contact details and any damage or restoration it's had.

And finally, although it is very easy to buy antiques online, being able to see and touch the item before you buy is so important that it's usually better to stick to buying antiques in person.