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Vintage shopping questions

Antiques experts answer common questions.


Stuart Grannen, owner, Architectural Artifacts (4325 N Ravenswood Ave, 773-348-0622)
What’s the difference between vintage and antique?Antique is 100 years old–plus. I would say vintage is the latter half of the 20th century. Vintage is such a catchall word…[but] I guess it depends on what category you’re describing. A vintage computer or pair of Nikes might be only 30 years old. Vintage is an early form of something that is often still being produced or made.

Trent Marinelli and Carlos Lourenco, co-owners, Knee Deep Vintage (1425 W 18th St, 312-850-2510)
When should you refinish a piece and when should you leave it alone?
If you plan on reselling the piece, never refinish. Real collectors usually look for a good patina and other indicators of age and character. I can’t tell you the number of times we have put things into auction that look worthless—stained, torn, etc.—yet, because the finish or upholstery was original, it went for more. That being said, if you plan on hanging on to a piece, then do whatever you think looks best. It’s going to be in your house, so you should make it work for you.

Juli Sherry and Marjie Woolard, team thrifters who run online resale shops and
What are telltale signs that an item of clothing is valuable?
For clothing, it’s all about the tag. I can spot fonts that were used during certain eras; that’s usually a good clue. Generally, small and thin tags indicate the item is not vintage. Look for a woven tag with single-color lettering on a white background. The other thing is: research, research, research. The Internet knows a lot! Get a smart phone and use it while you’re at the thrift store. Check Etsy, then search Google Shopping. They can help you decide about buying an item.

Richard Wright, owner and president, Wright Auction House (1440 W Hubbard St, 312-563-0020)
Where can you find vintage items at the best prices?
The very best place is from the original owner. It’s always exciting to get access to material that is, as we say in the business, fresh to the market. There’s an old auction cliché that the three Ds drive material to the market: death, divorce and debt. If you don’t know much [about what you’re collecting] and you’re looking for fairly high-quality items, you’re better served going to established dealers and established auction houses. The more you know, the lower you can go down the food chain. There’s always the digital flea market—eBay, Craigslist—going on.

Sarah Kraut and Carlos Chavarria, co-owners, Carlos & Sarah’s Surplus of Options (3664 N Lincoln Ave, 773-827-1330)
How do you haggle at a vintage store or flea market?
Haggling is one thing that separates the resale experience from the corporate/mainstream shopping experience. It gives the seller and buyer a chance to genuinely interact. When haggling, do not sucker punch a merchant with low-ball offers. Being kind and respectful will always land you in the right place. It’s probably not a good idea to ask for more than 20 percent off unless there is something seriously wrong with the item. Always remember: Most of the time, the more you buy, the more of a discount you’ll get.

Cathleen Marine, flea-market and antique-mall maven
How do you get that thrift-store smell out of vintage clothes?
I think it’s a weird combination of b.o., dust and mothballs. I’ve never had a problem getting the odor out, provided the item is cleanable—either machine-washable or dry-cleanable. If the smell is just mothballs, you can generally get that out by hanging the item in the sun. For me, underarm stains are a deal breaker. I can’t get them out of my new clothes; why would I ever think I could get them out of old clothes? When it comes to other defects, broken zippers, ripped seams and missing buttons are all fair game; those repairs are not too expensive.

Karl Vogel, runs a booth at Edgewater Antique Mall (6314 N Broadway, 773-262-2525)
What’s the most money you’ve ever made buying and reselling?
I bought a Herman Miller couch in 1997 for $15 at a garage sale. I peed my pants as soon as I saw it. The guy wanted $20, I offered $10, and he sold it to me for $15. I sold it a couple years later through an auction house for $3,500. Another time, I literally picked a sculpture out of the trash in Lakeview and sold it at the Antique Mall for $500.

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