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The Question is: “How do you know what it is?”

The most asked question I get is “How do you know what something is worth?”

That question leads to the “hours of research and years of study” answer. It’s kind of boring.

The question should be: “How do you know what it is?”

Now that’s a fun question, because sometimes we really have no idea…at all. I will frequently purchase something (if it is inexpensive enough) just because I don’t know what it is and want to research it more thoroughly.

Through recent conversations with other dealers, I have discovered that I am not the only one who does this. To a certain extent, the “Need to Know” seems to run fairly deep in the Antique Dealer species.

Sometimes, we don’t actually buy the unknown item on purpose. At auctions, for those of you who haven’t been, there are box lots. A box lot is literally a box of items. Before the auction, you have the opportunity to look at, and frequently pick up the items. Usually a box lot has one or two nice items and a good deal of stuff the auctioneer knew he couldn’t sell by itself. I bid on the good stuff, and have to take the funky stuff with the good.

Recently I purchased a box lot because it had a beautiful vintage bar pin in it. The pin was marked 14K gold and had a small diamond in the middle. For this reason, I purchased the box.

The Bar Pin which caused me to buy the lot.

The Bar Pin which caused me to buy the lot.

I did not purchase it for the gold teeth (Ewwwwwww! Probably first on the list of worst things I’ve discovered in a box lot) nor did I purchase it for the small pins that were also in the box.

These are the pins that showed up in my box lot.

These are the pins I found in my box lot.

However, the small pins were intriguing. They were obviously old. One was sterling, the other some form of gold (plated, filled, or 10K but no markings). They were simple in design and very small, less than 1 inch long.

Side view of the pins

Side view of the pins

I put them aside, in the When-I-have-a-moment-to-research pile. A short while later, serendipity stepped in to give me an assist. I have a twitter buddy, aneD, who has a very nice store, Gardenartus Antiques –  http://www.rubylane.com/shops/gardenartusantiques. Occasionally, as we all do, she will post a link to an item in her store. As a good twitter buddy, I go check out the item and then usually spend more time than I should wandering online through her other items. One of the items she had online was a lingerie pin which, in form and in size, bore a striking resemblance to my little pins.

Gardenartus Antiques Lingerie Pin

Gardenartus Antiques Lingerie Pin

It turns out these little pins were used in Victorian times to decorate/hold together a woman’s lingerie. Currently they sell very well as vintage Doll pins because they are of the right age and the right size to decorate a Victorian Doll. From now on, when I am looking at box lots, and small jewelry items at a sale, I will be looking for the lingerie pins, because now I know to do so.

This is how we know what to buy, and what things are…first, we study a lot and try to learn as much as we can; next, if we don’t know we may take the chance and buy the item, then we work hard and research the item…and sometimes, we just get lucky.

But, there is a lot of hard work behind that lucky.

If you want to play the “Mystery Item” Antique guessing game, Barbara Crews has a new item every Wednesday.  Her archive is here:  http://collectibles.about.com/od/quizzesforcollectors/tp/MysteryItems.htm


June 1, 2009 - Posted by | Antiques


  1. I Love to research things as long as I can find the information otherwise it is frustrating because I want to know everything about the piece.

    Antique & Collectible dealers eat, breath, and live for the adventure of the hunt and to find not only a good buy but things that are new to their eyes. Something they have to find out it’s origins, what it is called, what it was used for, when it was made, all get the juices flowing and the excitement begins.

    I love these pins and the history behind them. Thank you for the link to my shop you are a sweetheart as always!

    Comment by Dena | July 4, 2009 | Reply

  2. I have learned something.I too should look for

    Gardenartus Antiques Lingerie Pin.

    Thanks for sharing

    Comment by Silver | June 1, 2011 | Reply

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