Antiquities are one of the art world’s niche markets of the moment. Prices in auction rooms have soared exponentially over the past few years with prices in some London auction rooms even reaching millions of pounds and setting new auction records for their category.
The rise in sales of stellar objects from Egypt, Greece, Rome and other ancient civilizations can be attributed in part to their timeless appeal. They’re attracting purchases from contemporary artists, impulse buyers from other collecting fields and steadfast antiquity lovers alike. The diversity of this client base, as well as the museum-proven quality of the artefacts themselves, make antiquities consistent sellers at international art fairs and at auctions.
In terms of investment, almost all benefit from appreciating in value. The larger, more artistically pleasing and rarer items can appreciate at levels well above inflation and as such this is certainly both an interesting and profitable area to start collecting. A recent but well felt hit on ‘middle-market’ of antiques and a decline in specialist dealers of this type means that the buying pool remains relatively small, and it is possible to start to build a good collection by buying auction, and often for very reasonable prices.
However, to the inexperienced, collecting antiquities can be filled with expensive pitfalls. Antiquities have been forged for hundreds of years; the Romans in particular forged Greek sculpture and with advances in modern technology, it is becoming much easier for those who seek to profit from deception.
That said, for those who want to get more seriously into collecting, there are a number of ways you can be sure that you are safer in doing so. Antiquities cover many periods, cultures, materials and styles. The most popular antiquities are often sadly the most widely faked: Egyptian (almost everything) Greek pottery, Roman lamps and glass are good examples. Fakes are detected through experience, research and analysis – which is something as a specialist, we do a LOT of here! Many are instantly recognisable to the experienced collector, but others are not, and ultimately we all have to start somewhere.
There is no substitute for knowledge or experience. I would suggest choosing a field which captivates you and one you are happy to lose more than few hours to from poring over reference books. A feature of ancient pottery and glass is that naturally, time hasn’t always been so kind to these objects. The
one advantage to this is that fragments and sherds are abundant, and can be picked for easily and at minimal cost. Building up a reference collection of these broken pieces will allow you to get a feel for what’s right, and what isn’t. Of course, if you aren’t confident in your ability to detect fakes – take an item to a museum or auctioneer with an antiquities specialist for no-frills advice and peace of mind.
One of the major things to also look for when buying is a reputable seller and reputable provenance. Items or collections formed over long periods of time are often a good bet. Even modest provenance details like ‘from a deceased estate’ will be valuable to a collector in future, so make sure you keep a hold of any paperwork. Items retaining provenance will generally have higher value in future should you ever decide to sell.