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How to spot a bargain
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How to spot a bargainWhether you're after a fine antique, a gap in your collection or a yet to be discovered masterpiece, the same basic rules apply, advises Angela Linforth, editor of BBC Homes & Antiques magazine. So read her ten-point plan and brave the throng...

1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Most dealers have a good idea of the value of what they're selling and price accordingly. But they're rarely all-knowing. Your surest route to making a killing is to be more knowledgeable than them. The best way to do that is concentrate on one particular area. Read a specialist book, magazine or catalogue to gear up for your bargain safari and 'get your eye in'.

2. GO EARLY
For the real bargains, try to get there first thing. It's when the dealers scour the stalls and when you'll have the best chance of spotting a hidden gem before they do.

3. ACCESS AN EXPERT
Bringing a pocket guide (to hallmarks, makers, periods, styles etc) can offer instant expertise and clues to authenticity or value. Similarly a crafty web-check or comparison via your iPhone or Blackberry while you are on the move can be invaluable.

4. FEEL THE QUALITY
When you see something you like, pick it up or touch it to judge its authenticity. Look for makers' marks and signs of wear - if it's old, it should show it. If it is a pair check the pieces match and reflect each other; if it's a set, it's worth taking the time to ensure that it is complete.

5. LOOKING THE PIECE
In antiques and collecting, condition is everything. The right patination on metal and furniture can make a huge difference in value. Damage - even tiny chips on enamel or glass, cracks in porcelain - can have a devastating impact on value, as can poor restoration. Ideally all parts should be original, toys should be in their boxes and books in their dust jackets. Never forget that Provenance always adds value to an item.

6. SEEK OUT THE LESS OBVIOUS
The more popular a style is, the less chance you have of coming across something special, so think outside the box. It's well known that Steiff teddy bears are valuable. But other Steiff animals - squirrels, monkeys, dogs, mice, elephant pin-cushions - can be overlooked. Similarly, we know vintage Rolex and Omega watches are expensive, but what about Tudor, which are watches made by Rolex under a different name?
"The phrase 'What's your best price?' is indispensable"

7. ON GIANTS' SHOULDERS
For most of us, pieces by the great names in any arena are beyond our purchasing power. But the next in line - especially contemporaries of the greats who also sum up the era in which they were made - can be surprisingly affordable. In Georgian furniture, for instance, while prices for Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite are stratospheric, they spawned many contemporary imitators whose pieces represent very good value today.

8. BEAT THE RECESSION
Financial giants Deloitte recently tipped antique furniture as a recession-buster. Ian Stewart, chief economist, said that prices have been falling for years but are now bottoming out and beginning to look undervalued. "The best argument is that antique furniture is better made and cheaper than new furniture," he said. With hand-crafted antique pieces retailing at half the cost of mass-produced new these days, there's never been a better time to buy.

9. IT NEVER HURTS TO HAGGLE
The phrases 'What's your best price?' and 'What have you got on this?' are indispensable to the hardcore bargain hunter. Most dealers are happy to discount by five to eight per cent (and even happier to pocket the full price if you're too shy to ask). Anything more, you'll have to work hard for it - charm is usually more effective than bluster. And if you are refused then just smile.

10. BUY WHAT YOU LOVE
Wherever possible, buy the best you can afford but never forget that poor condition can also be an opportunity - if you're willing to put the time and effort into a restoration project. Most important of all is to buy only pieces that you adore yourself. That way they'll always keep on giving - regardless of the vagaries of price and fashion.

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