- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Deborah Gore Dean bought French chandeliers a few years ago from an antiques dealer who said the ornate iron pieces had come from a French nunnery and were about 300 years old.
Ms. Gore Dean, herself a Georgetown antiques dealer, later heard of other people who had bought the same kind of chandeliers from the same man.
"It just didn't make sense," Ms. Gore Dean says. "The nunnery would have had to have a ballroom full of chandeliers to account for all of them and what nunnery has chandeliers anyway?"
Her story illustrates what antiques customers mostly lay, but even professionals are bound to face at one point or another: a not-so-sincere, or just not-very-well-informed, seller.
The best way to avoid such unfortunate events is to increase one's knowledge, Ms. Gore Dean says.
"You want to look at tags in antique stores," she says. "Things should be well-marked and priced, and there should be a description of the piece that includes the date and the style."
In Ms. Gore Dean's store, which she has named Gore-Dean, a tag might announce, for example, that the item is a 19th-century French pine worktable available at a certain price. Sitting next to it might be an 18th-century Chinese stool for a certain price.
"I can't think of any legitimate reason [for a store owner] not to have price tags," she says.
The interest in antiques and interior decoration has grown dramatically since Ms. Gore Dean opened her store in 1988. She believes the interest is spurred by such shows as PBS' "Antiques Roadshow" in which viewers can bring items for appraisals by professionals and the ever-expanding empire of interior decoration's grande dame Martha Stewart.
Hand in hand with the growing interest among consumers, the District, Northern Virginia and the southwestern tip of Maryland have seen the arrival of an increasing number of antiques and decorative-arts stores in the past decade. There are at least 50 such stores in this area.
Also, dozens of antiques shows are held in the area every month, with fall being the high season. One of the larger shows this fall is the D.C. Winter Antiques Fair in the D.C. Armory, where about 180 dealers will have booths.

Antiques basics
In addition to the tag information, a customer should be able to ask the antiques dealer probing questions about a certain piece.
"If you are not satisfied with an answer, then walk away," Ms. Gore Dean says. "You should be able to say, 'Show me how you know this is an early-20th-century American chest of drawers.'"
Another way to learn more about antiques such as style, age, country of origin and a reasonable price on a certain item is to read the auction catalogs, such as those of Christie's and Sotheby's, says Joe Miller, co-owner of Miller and Arney Antiques in Georgetown, which opened in 1973 and is one of the oldest antiques stores in the area.
"The catalogs estimate a price [range]. They give you the low and the high," Mr. Miller says. "It can also be useful to actually go to auctions."
While customers can discover real finds at flea markets, such as the Georgetown Flea Market and Capitol Hill's Eastern Market, most high-quality furniture is under a permanent roof in antiques stores, antiques store owners agree.
In fact, the flea markets are less likely to have actual antiques, which by definition are at least 100 years old, and more likely to have decorative-arts items, which don't have a date attached to them, Ms. Gore Dean says. It's very important for a seller to distinguish that difference, she adds. She sells both types of items in her store.
Other sources of information are libraries and bookstores. A quick search on Barnes & Noble's Web site shows close to 17,000 titles on antiques.
Occasionally, local historical societies will have appraisal days, during which residents can come in with one or more items and have them appraised by professionals. The next such event is Nov. 3 from 9 a.m to 3 p.m. at the Historical Society of Frederick County.
"We will have 14 different appraisers," says Duane Doxzen, a society spokesman. "Some specialize in furniture; others do linen, clothing, silver, jewelry; and some are generalists."

Spotting the fakes
If you still crave more information, Walter Ritchie, a Philadelphia decorative arts consultant and appraiser to museums, recommends one of many courses in antiques appraisal and identification offered at George Washington University, where he teaches..
"I teach several courses and spend some of the time dispelling misconceptions and myths," Mr. Ritchie says.
One myth, for example, surrounds the word "fainting couch." During the Victorian age, daybeds were called fainting couches because Victorian women were supposed to be subject to fainting spells.
"They were just daybeds," Mr. Ritchie says and laughs. People did not faint on them.
In his courses, he teaches students to identify the real thing as well as the fake, or reproduction.
One example is the work of the famous French cabinetmaker Charles Cressent, who made chests of drawers in the early 1700s of materials such as rosewood and tulipwood. As was the custom back then in France, Mr. Cressent never stamped or signed his name on any of his pieces.
"So, if you see a chest of drawers, and the name Cressent is stamped on it, that's reason for suspicion," Mr. Ritchie says.
Another giveaway that something is misrepresented is curved saw marks in a piece that is said to be more than 170 years old. The curved saw was invented in 1830, so if someone claims a piece is from the 1700s and in superficial appearance it may look as if it is, that's also a reason to be concerned, Mr. Ritchie says.
A third giveaway: machined perfection before there were machines. If the drawers in a chest of drawers, for example, are the exact same size and the "pegs" that hold the drawers together are perfect, they probably were made with the help of a machine, which tells you the item was manufactured in the mid- to late 1800s, during and after the Industrial Revolution. So, if someone says a chest of drawers like that is from the 1700s, there is, again, reason for suspicion, Mr. Ritchie says.
In a more advanced course in antiques connoisseurship, students learn how to tell a real from a fake piece just by looking at furniture superficially.
"You can look at proportions and quality of craftsmanship, and that can tell you a lot," Mr. Ritchie says.

A little etiquette
A first glance at prices in antiques stores can be a bit overwhelming: Prices are high. The antiques market is not the realm of mass production to which we are accustomed. Instead, this is a world of scarcity, and of course, you pay more for what is scarce and exclusive.
There is nothing wrong with inquiring about a lower price, but you have to do it the right way, or the store owner is unlikely to give you a break, Ms. Gore Dean and Mr. Miller agree.
"The worst thing you can do is bad-mouth the piece," Mr. Miller says. "You won't get anywhere with a negative attitude."
Another absolute no-no is to say you will "give" the dealer, for example, $1,200, Ms. Gore Dean says.
"As far as I am concerned, you are not 'giving' me anything. You are purchasing something. I don't think people really realize how insulting they are sometimes," she says. To ask whether the dealer will "take" $1,200 is preferable, she says.
If someone asks for a discount and is friendly and professional, Ms. Gore Dean and Mr. Miller agree, they very well may knock 10 percent off the price, which is what they do with established customers and interior decorators.
It also is not out of the question to get a second opinion about a certain price, Ms. Gore Dean says.
As with any purchase, the bottom line is that you have to like the item you're buying, because if you like the way it looks, you can't lose, Ms. Gore Dean says. You will enjoy the item whether the value goes up or down. If you buy something for investment purposes alone, your chances of getting a bad deal increase, she says.
"If you're not having fun when you're buying something, then stop immediately," Ms. Gore Dean says. "And never let anyone pressure you into anything."

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