Antiquing Frames of Mind


antique frames

What motivates you to buy antiques?

Our Musings this month explore this question as a follow-up to our recent article on Antiques as Slow Decor. We’ll dig deeper into the frames of mind that compel people to diverge from the trend of quick consumerism to shop for antiques, even when it takes more effort than buying mass-produced merchandise with the click of a mouse.

Enthusiasts of antiques and vintage goods approach their pursuit from all kinds of angles, for all kinds of reasons. We’ve compiled a list of 11 of the motivations that we’ve seen underlying the fascinating human behavior known broadly as antiquing.

And just for fun, we’ve put each motivation on a continuum so that you can rate how central each one is to your own attraction to antiques and antiquing.

Antiques show shoppers. (

Motivations for Buying Antiques

   1.  Appreciation of Quality

A somewhat broad, but often accurate generalization, is that old things are almost always made better than new things—due both to the quality of the materials used, and to the craftsmanship applied to their creation. Even everyday objects were made to last “back then,” before a mindset of novelty, plenty and disposability infiltrated our manufacturing and buying habits.

               How motivating is lasting quality in your attraction to antiques and antiquing? 

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

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   2.  Aesthetic Appeal

The classic design or whimsy of an old object, plus its time-worn patina, combine to give antiques a presence that is hard to replicate with something new. Also, finding an antique which appeals to your personal taste that is also one-of-a-kind makes it all the more alluring.

      How motivating is aesthetic appeal in your attraction to antiquing?              

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

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   3.  Appreciation of Design Heritage

Design movements are typically rooted in a place, a time period and often an aesthetic philosophy. Even if you acquire just a single antique, understanding the historical context of its creation can deepen your appreciation of it.

Sometimes exploring the roots and context of a design movement extends beyond appreciating individual objects by inspiring people to recreate an entire, historically accurate setting in their home—such as by decorating an Adirondack Great Camp in the style popularized by Gilded Age rusticators.

       How motivating is appreciating design heritage in your attraction to antiques and antiquing?    

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

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   4.  Connoisseurship

This is where appreciating quality, aesthetics and design heritage come together in a deeper way through sustained study of a particular genre of antiques.

Becoming a connoisseur requires looking at, and often owning, lots of examples of a category of antiques to learn to discern what makes one example different from, and better than, another.

Connoisseurship also entails consulting resources, including both books and people, as part of the learning process. Ultimately, a connoisseur of antiques finds satisfaction in being able to competently recognize and rate how an antique measures up to others of its type, for instance by classifying it as Good, Better, Best, Superior, or Masterpiece—a continuum that antiques dealer Albert Sack developed for evaluating early American furniture.

      How motivating is connoisseurship in your attraction to antiques and antiquing? 

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

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   5.  Story and Provenance

All antiques have a provenance (a story of its origin and life-history) even if most of the time we don’t know all of its specifics. Uncovering who made something, and who owned it down through the years, can be a thrill for some antiques buyers and can also influence the antique’s value.

Even when an antique’s ownership history is not traceable, it is usually possible at least to figure out when something was made, and in what general region. But just knowing that an object has played a role in the lives of others throughout decades or even centuries allows us to imagine its storied past.

               How motivating is an object’s story in your attraction to antiques and antiquing? 

                     Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

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   6.  Emotional Resonance

Time and again we have seen shoppers alight on an antique simply because it speaks to them in some way that is often difficult for them to articulate. We call that resonance.

Sometimes an object directly evokes good memories, perhaps of a grandmother’s home or a childhood summer cottage. But it can also touch one’s core identity by subconsciously striking a chord with who you are or hope to be. Like art, old objects can be inspiring, even if just enough to make you smile. 

                How motivating is emotional resonance in your attraction to antiques and antiquing? 

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

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   7.  Creative Expression

Selecting and arranging antiques and vintage goods can be a form of creative expression. They are the raw ingredients for truly novel room combinations that would be difficult to achieve solely with mass-produced furniture and décor.

The popular term “curating” is applicable here. It implies both to mindful selection of objects to live with, and to creatively arranging them. If you have curatorial inclinations, it is likely that antiques inspire you to indulge them.

     How motivating is creative expression in your attraction to antiques and antiquing? 

                     Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

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  8.  Instagrammable Interiors

We decorate with antiques for personal reasons, both aesthetic and functional, but also to create spaces that other people will enjoy.

Social media allows us to reach beyond our immediate family and friends to share our aesthetics with people who will never set foot in our homes.

While it’s easy to be cynical about the self-marketing dimensions of beautiful Instagram posts, a more positive view is to appreciate how easy it is to share one’s pride of place and taste with others. If someone garners even a little inspiration from seeing how you use and display great old objects in your home, then you’ve made the world a slightly happier place.

                How motivating is inspiring others in your attraction to antiques and antiquing?               

                       Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

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   9.  The Thrill of the Hunt

We’ve known many antiques collectors and dealers who refer to the process of shopping for antiques as “treasure hunting.”

The scarcity and uniqueness of most categories of desirable antiques provide endless opportunity to hunt for treasures. When dedicated and even arduous hunting yields a find, the reward is not just the object itself, but also an intoxicating feeling of euphoria.

For those who are competitive by nature, there is an added thrill of being the one among many hunters to find a really good, one-of-a kind or scarce object. If you regard antiquing as a sport, then your goal is of course to be a winner.

Finally, when finding just the right antique entails a multi-step or multi-months hunt, the story of how you acquired it becomes part of your and its history, giving it all the more meaning in your life.

           How motivating is the thrill of the hunt in your attraction to antiquing?                

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

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   10.  The Thrill of a Bargain

The thrill of getting a bargain when shopping for antiques has two dimensions.

The first is tied to finding an object “under the money.” It might very well be an expensive object that costs thousands of dollars, yet is priced hundreds or even thousands of dollars below its current market value. (Caveat emptor: The marketplace has a way of defaulting to the truism that you get what you pay for, so be extra cautious when you think you’re getting an inordinately great deal on an antique.)

The other dimension of bargain hunting for antiques is the thrill of finding really good things that are inexpensive. These objects might be priced exactly at their true market value, yet are a good value in every sense of the term, usually because they cost less than a new object of similar quality. Solid, well-designed antique furniture for example, can often be obtained for a fraction of the cost of similar pieces that are handmade in limited production by contemporary cabinet makers.  

               How motivating is the thrill of a bargain in your attraction to antiquing? 

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

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   11.  Social Connection

Finding camaraderie among fellow antiques enthusiasts heightens many people’s enjoyment of antiquing. We’ve known collectors who are as motivated by getting together with members of their collecting clubs as they are by the material they collect.

Chatting with others who share your interests and understand the significance of your discoveries, often the same people with whom you have good-natured rivalries and jealousies about who acquires what, adds a social dimension to the hobby of antiquing.

Another aspect of making social connections around antiques is the seemingly old-fashioned practice of developing a close relationship with an antiques dealer whose recommendations, advice and merchandise you trust. Especially at higher levels of connoisseurship and budget, a dealer’s vetting and curating roles, as well as gaining access to first-pick offerings, can be essential to serious collectors.

               How motivating are social relationships in your attraction to antiques and antiquing? 

                        Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

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Antiquing as Nonconformist Consumerism

Human behaviors, even one as seemingly basic as shopping, are complex in part because of the multitude of motivations that factor into our decision making.  Now that you’ve discovered a bit more about what motivates your own shopping for antiques, let all of that complexity take care of itself and just have fun doing it!

What all of these dimensions add up to for us is a profile of someone who appreciates beauty, is intellectually curious, and prefers to forge their own creative path as a consumer and home decorator.  

As a small business specializing in antiques, we rely on people like that—people like you—who embrace the process of shopping for antiques. Despite the convenience of online and mass-market shopping, thankfully there are still many people who are enthusiastic participants in the endlessly fascinating world of antiquing.  

Crowds rushing through an opening gate at the Brimfield Antiques Market. (