If you look at things objectively, buying an antique means you’re buying used furniture. Sometimes the antique is so old or valuable that you cannot actually use it for its intended purpose, or its intended purpose is obsolete. They can also be more expensive and hard to take care of. Having said all that, antiques are often prized because of their high quality: durable materials and quality assembly help them stand the test of time; they are also more valuable than ordinary secondhand furniture.
Taking all of this into consideration, could you not go to a secondhand store or a flea market and see what you can find? Antique stores sound dusty and expensive, don’t they? The term secondhand shop, on the other hand, makes you think of discount prices, with aisles packed with merchandise and people. I can say that the two types of stores do not always live up to the stereotype.
For what it is worth, my opinion on this matter depends on the person, their budget, and their needs. Allow me to explain:
If you know exactly what you are looking for, like maybe a Tiffany lamp, you can do research before you shop so that you have a better idea how a real Tiffany lamp is made. You will discover, for one thing, that knocking gently on the shade should make a slight rattling sound as the wax used to hold the stained glass together dries out. Knowing these types of things will give you more confidence when you are shopping. Of course, a good antique store will tell you these kinds of things as you shop, and will show you what to look for to confirm its authenticity. However, you are likely on your own in a secondhand store. If you trust your ability and don’t really care if you’re wrong, then by all means, shop there.
If you’re in love with the style but maybe not the price, a secondhand store or a flea market can be a real lifesaver. It is entirely possible that the previous owner didn’t know what he or she had, for one, and for two the store might not know they are sitting on something valuable (there’s nothing saying the employees have to be trained in spotting antiques). At a secondhand store, you may find a cheaper reproduction, a forgery, or a piece that has been refurbished – and likely pay only a fraction of what the real thing would cost. If you’re fine with that and just like the look or the reasonable price tag, more power to you! However, if you want to be really sure that the piece you’re buying is what you think you are buying – maybe you want an Edwardian bookcase with the original beveled glass, say – an expert who studies these things will go a long way toward easing your mind.
I don’t concern myself with certificates of authenticity too much. Sometimes they aren’t worth more than the paper they were printed on. If the same store who is selling it to you is the one who authenticated the antique, there is always a possibility that they only did it for the extra profit. Taking it to an expert who confirms its authenticity in front of you is a more secure assurance.
Lastly, if you want the piece to be functional, you may have better luck at a secondhand store. Some antiques are fragile or so expensive you are afraid to use them – the aesthetic is more important than the actual use of the piece. Whereas you probably wouldn’t think twice about reinforcing a wobbly table leg you got at a secondhand store, or even possibly reupholstering a chair. So take that into consideration as well.
Like I said before, it depends on the person. How much are you willing to pay? Does it matter if it is real or a very good reproduction? Will it stand up to the purpose you are buying it for? Once you have your answers to questions like these, you can figure out the type of stores to start your search.