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The Art of Collecting Antiques: A Timeless Pursuit

Looking to start your own antique collection? From fine art to watches, read our guide on the types of antiques people buy and why.

Why do people collect antiques?

I have a vivid memory of sitting in my grandparent’s sitting room as a child completely mesmerized by the sun's golden rays as they danced from the wood of an intricately carved Victorian bookshelf, through to the kaleidoscopic Brilliant Cut Glass bowl on the mantle, where it then rested on a 19th-century painting of the Last Supper. As I studied these plays of light and the delicate faces in the painting, I felt a tangible connection to history and was transported to a bygone era.
From ancient relics that whisper of civilizations long past to heirlooms that evoke memories of generations gone by, people collect antiques to capture a piece of history and celebrate the legacy of human ingenuity. With each acquisition, a collector becomes the next guardian of this shared history, preserving the treasures of the past for the future generation to cherish. For many, this passion for antique collecting becomes an art form in itself, an ever-enticing pursuit of beauty, history and the allure of the past.
Tiffany & Co. Vine Dessert Service, 49 Pieces. M.S. Rau.
Tiffany & Co. Vine Dessert Service, 49 Pieces. M.S. Rau.

How to start your own antique collection

  • Educate Yourself: Study the different eras, styles and materials used in antique craftsmanship to familiarize yourself with the marks, artist signatures and characteristics that denote authenticity and quality. You can also take an advantageous deep dive into market trends, pricing and valuation techniques.
  • Start Small: Begin your collection with modest acquisitions that align with your interests and budget. Visit a local antique shop or an estate sale to hunt for hidden gems, and always seek advice from a reputable antique dealer and collector and ask questions about provenance and condition.
  • Develop a Focus: This is entirely optional, but many collectors enjoy defining their collecting niche based on their passion, be it fine art, furniture, ceramics, jewelry or any other specialty.
  • Care for Your Collection: Proper preservation and maintenance are vital to safeguard your antique treasures. You should always handle your items with clean hands, avoid exposure to direct sunlight and extreme temperatures and use appropriate cleaning techniques.
  • Keep Learning and Enjoy the Journey: The world of antiques is ever-evolving, and continuous learning is essential. Attend lectures, seminars and workshops to expand your knowledge and network with fellow collectors. You can even join antique societies and online forums to exchange insights and expertise. Last but not least, take joy in displaying your collection so you can share it with those you love! Curious? Check out our library tab for countless webinars, blogs, academic articles and virtual exhibitions!
  • Enjoy the Journey: Collecting fine art and antiques is a labor of love, a passion that transcends material possessions. Embrace the joy of the chase, the thrill of the find and the stories that unfold with each acquisition. Share your collection with others, and revel in the history, artistry and allure of antiquities that have stood the test of time.

What types of antiques do people collect?


Although I have yet to receive an original Matisse from a family member, I feel incredibly lucky to have been gifted a print of Goldfish by Henri Matisse. This masterpiece once hung on my mother's wall throughout her childhood, college years and early adulthood, and she would often tell me how the bright, mesmerizing colors of this painting brightened even her toughest days. Each time she gazed upon it, she saw something new and different.
While I understand that a print cannot replace the experience of seeing the original artwork in person, the intimate and personal nature of this painting has become a fixture on my wall and in my heart since I was a teenager. The transcendent power of fine art, a testament to human ingenuity and creativity, is truly remarkable and will continue to inspire and move people for generations to come.
A Pompeian Lady by John William Godward. 1904. M.S. Rau.
A Pompeian Lady by John William Godward. 1904. M.S. Rau.
To build a fine art collection without breaking the bank, do your homework. Besides top tier artists, there are still plenty lesser-known and extraordinary works available. Successful collections require effort, diligence, love and understanding of the art. Research is key, so be sure to use museums, galleries, an auction house, art publications and other collectors as valuable sources of information. This will help you develop an understanding of quality, marksmanship and an "eye" for exceptional antique pieces.

Condition & Quality:
Proper restoration work does not decrease the value of a fine painting, and often brings artworks back to their former splendor dimmed over decades, if not centuries, of natural degradation. However, an antique collector should be cautious of pieces that have been excessively retouched or overpainted using outdated techniques. Early restoration methods were often overly aggressive and are now considered unacceptable. To avoid issues, seek pieces from an antique dealer with a team of professional restorers, like M.S. Rau. We always make sure paintings reflect their original grandeur and magic.

Portrait de Coco et Fleurs by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Circa 1905. M.S. Rau.
Portrait de Coco et Fleurs by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Circa 1905. M.S. Rau.

With the resurgence of interest in 19th-century art, collectors must address the issue of forgeries. Fortunately, authentication practices have become more stringent, making it harder to pass off fraudulent artworks, especially for renowned artists. To avoid pitfalls, we provide the necessary information for the authentication or evaluation of every piece of fine art that graces our gallery.


Interested in more? Read on to discover expert insights on collecting and displaying artwork.


I will never forget the day my mom called me into her room to browse and select a few antique pieces from my grandmother’s collection of heirloom jewelry. My grandmother, thankfully still alive to this day, wanted her descendants to enjoy the tangible familial love within these jewels while she was still alive. As I carefully chose a few cameo rings and necklaces, I imagined the pride I would feel wearing these pieces on special occasions. Even to this day, this jewelry never fails to fill me with pride, awe and love for the great women who have come before me.
Far more than just a piece of jewelry, antique jewelry often feels like a talisman of historical beauty. Whether it be whimsical brooches, nostalgic cocktail rings or sparkling diamonds, antique jewelry offers limitless opportunities for joyful encounters with timeless elegance.

Step #1: Identify the Piece
Whether investigating a ring, a bracelet, a watch or a necklace, knowing exactly how a jewelry item is to be worn is critical. Moreover, sometimes, the item has been altered in some way, or it is not necessarily what it appears to be. For instance, this tiara is actually a multi-functional creation that serves as a bracelet, necklace and tiara.

Convertible Diamond Necklace, Bracelet and Tiara.Circa 1810. M.S. Rau.
Convertible Diamond Necklace, Bracelet and Tiara. Circa 1810. M.S. Rau.
Convertible Diamond Necklace, Bracelet and Tiara.Circa 1810. M.S. Rau.
Convertible Diamond Necklace, Bracelet and Tiara. Circa 1810. M.S. Rau.
Convertible Diamond Necklace, Bracelet and Tiara.Circa 1810. M.S. Rau.
Convertible Diamond Necklace, Bracelet and Tiara. Circa 1810. M.S. Rau.

Step #2: Identify the Material
What is the item made of? In many cases, this question can pose a challenge for the untrained eye; however, there are still accessible methods of identifying material. The simplest material identification is the metal type, which is often indicated with a stamp or inscription, particularly in rings. For instance, platinum rings will often be stamped “PT” or “Plat” within the band to indicate that they are set in platinum. For gold, often, the numbers 583 or 750 will be stamped to show either 14K or 18K gold.

Tiffany & Co. Platinum Band. M.S. Rau.
Tiffany & Co. Platinum Band. M.S. Rau.

Step #3: Identify the Date
While jewelry is not typically stamped with a date, there are other methods to approximate how old a jewelry creation is. One important indicator is the decoration style. Recognizing different jewelry styles takes some practice, but here are some general periods to look for:

  • The Victorian period is named for Queen Victoria, who ruled from 1837 to 1901. The style of this period was opulent, and it often used ancient motifs of the Greco-Roman age. Pieces were dramatic, sometimes even Gothic in style.
Victorian Chalcedony Bangle Bracelet. Circa 1830. M.S. Rau.
Victorian Chalcedony Bangle Bracelet. Circa 1830. M.S. Rau.

  • From the end of the 19th century to the outbreak of World War I, Art Nouveau was at its height. Art Nouveau was internationally recognized and is characterized by its whimsical forms, often incorporating floral or foliate motifs. Colors were often muted, romantic and evoked the beauty of nature.
Art Nouveau Black Opal Brooch. M.S. Rau.
Art Nouveau Black Opal Brooch. M.S. Rau.

  • Jewelry from the Edwardian era reflects the growing wealth of the upper classes. Designs were often incredibly sumptuous, and the period lasted from the beginning of the 20th century to the outbreak of the First World War. At this time, jewelers were becoming increasingly specialized. Cartier began using platinum in its jewelry during the period, thus creating the timeless and clean look of “white on white.”
Edwardian Colombian Emerald Bracelet. M.S. Rau.
Edwardian Colombian Emerald Bracelet. M.S. Rau.
  • The famed Art Deco style emerged following World War I. Highly popular, even today, this style focuses on clean lines, geometric aesthetics and highly linear designs coupled with vibrant displays of gemstones.
Art Deco Diamond and Sapphire Bracelet. M.S. Rau.
Art Deco Diamond and Sapphire Bracelet. M.S. Rau.

Interested in more? Read on to discover expert insights at collecting antique jewelry.

Collectible Items:

At our gallery, we hear a comment every single day along the lines of, "They don't make them like this anymore." And it's true — before the Industrial Revolution, artisans dedicated themselves to perfecting their crafts through years of training and apprenticeships. Whether silverware, pottery, globes, watches, clocks or other objects, the meticulous manual labor required came with a high price tag that only the wealthiest members of society could afford.
In today's age, where most of us have little knowledge of the origins and production processes of our goods, antique objects hold an ever-present allure. Owning and admiring a true masterpiece-level item is like having a direct connection to the brilliant makers of the past. And while we may be limited by time and space, we'd love to share with you just a few examples of the fascinating objet d'art that collectors covet. Trust us when we say that this category of antiques knows no bounds!
John and William Cary Table Globes. 1821. M.S. Rau.
John and William Cary Table Globes. 1821. M.S. Rau.
The oldest known terrestrial globe was created in 1492, when Spanish and Portuguese explorers pioneered the circumnavigation of the world. For many years, globes were precious and available only to the nobility. Today, antique globes offer a glimpse into the past, a virtual snapshot of the world as it was, or was known to be at the time.
As with most antiques, the condition is very important. Small defects, such as minor scratches and repairs to the paper, are expected in all antique globes for they are extremely fragile. Look for any major cracks, breaks or signs that the globe has been dropped or seriously damaged. Many stands also have a compass in the base, so be sure to check that these are complete and working as well.
Next, who was the maker of your globe? Many believe that some of the finest antique globes and scientific devices were crafted in London during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Royal Cartographers George Adams and his son George Adams, Jr. are among the most talented makers of this period. Other notable London makers include John and William Cary, James Senex, James Ferguson, Newton & Son, William Bardin and George Wright.
The date of your globe is also important, and how important, of course, depends on your interests. Pre-World War I globes are ideal for a great majority of collectors. Seventeenth century globes are among the rarest and most decorative, and typically the most expensive, exhibiting features that no longer exist today. Read more expert insights on collecting globes.
Patek Philippe Diamond Watch.M.S. Rau.
Patek Philippe Diamond Watch. M.S. Rau.
Watches, initially a symbol of wealth and class, evolved from essential tools for business during the Industrial Revolution to everyday accessories by the 20th century. Today, antique watches, particularly from Swiss firms like Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet, are revered as symbols of luxury.
When collecting antique watches, collectors often look for artistic expression, technical innovation and rarity. However, it's important for new collectors to be cautious of misleading factors, such as the exterior condition not necessarily reflecting the movement's condition. Trustworthy sources are crucial, especially as collectors are still developing their own taste, interest and budget. Read more expert insights on collecting antique watches.

Are you convinced? Take a look at our tried and true collector checklist to help jumpstart your collecting journey.

Rau’s Collector Checklist:

Considering your next antique purchase? Make sure to ask yourself these seven simple questions:
  • Is the item in question aesthetically pleasing? Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but no matter what, an item must appeal to you aesthetically no matter how important or rare it might be.
  • Is it in good condition? In most cases, chips, cracks and missing pieces will certainly detract from the value of an item, unless the item's provenance or rarity is outstanding.
  • Is it rare? Remember, value is often directly proportionate to an item's rarity.
  • Was the item crafted by a well-known or respected maker? If the maker is not known, is the quality of the work exceptional?
  • Is there a known provenance? Knowing who owned a piece in the past, especially if that owner was well known, can add a great deal of value to a piece. Ask for documentation to prove authenticity.
  • Is the item something a museum would be proud to own? The words museum-quality, when used appropriately, are very strong words to a collector.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the item one that you would be proud to own? Pride in acquiring and owning a high-quality object is the key ingredient to keeping the passion for collecting alive.


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