Antiques-Shopping Etiquette

Feb, 04, 2013


Learn the right things to say to get the item you want at the best possible price.

There are certain rules of etiquette that should be respected when shopping for antiques at flea markets, garage sales, antiques stores, and market stalls.

Antiquing is a fun way to spend an afternoon, but remember that the people who work in the industry are trying to earn a living. While it may be a leisure activity for shoppers, sellers and dealers are working hard. Don’t waste their time: Be respectful of their merchandise and don’t try to buy an item for an unfair price. When everyone respects the guidelines, shoppers get wonderful items at fair prices and sellers make a sale and keep earning a living.

Experienced antiques hunters know the rules of the game. As with everything else in life, there are do’s and don’ts. If you want to be taken seriously as a buyer, here are some clues:

• People who sell antiques for a living often have a good deal of knowledge about their products. They are also small-business owners who have to put up with a lot. Treat them with the respect they deserve.

• Making small talk with a dealer is fine, but hold your cards close to your chest. If the seller knows you’re dying to buy a specific item, you have just lost your ability to negotiate for a lower price.

• Don’t ask a dealer to hold something for you unless you’re prepared to pay before you walk away. It’s not fair to ask him or her to miss a potential sale.

• Don’t insult the seller by using garage-sale tactics, such as offering a few dollars for an obviously valuable article. Instead, ask if the price is firm or if there is room for negotiation.

• Don’t say anything that questions the integrity of the dealer, such as, “Is this table really that old?” If you have doubts, a better way to phrase your question is, “What can you tell me about this table?”

• Don’t show up at an antiques shop or booth and ask the seller to appraise an item for you. They’re not appraisers.

• Don’t burn your bridges. If you feel a price is too high and the dealer won’t negotiate, just say it is out of your price range and walk away. Some dealers have “firm only” pricing.

• Don’t insult the dealer by complaining about the quality of his or her merchandise. Antiques dealers know all the nicks, scratches, and flaws on the piece, and an item is normally priced to reflect any obvious flaws.

• A dealer usually knows the level of demand for and the value of an item in the market. If an item doesn’t seem worth the price, don’t buy it.

• If you want more information, don’t be afraid to ask about the style, provenance, age, or anything else about your purchase that piques your curiosity.

• Follow the golden rule of antiquing: Buy what you like when you see it, because it may be gone when you come back.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler’s Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (, certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on and

Follow Lisa Mirza Grotts on Twitter.[/author_info] [/author]

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