Tips for Antique Shops and Flea Market Shopping

white wooden cabinet near table inside room

By Christina

When I was a little girl I was given a lot of hand-me-downs. The sad part of being the baby. 

Since then I had absolutely no interest in anything old, vintage, or used. I had to have new things. 

Fast forward to the last few years, life changed dramatically. I left the States and moved to France. 

Suddenly second-hand furniture (not beds or couches-I still have my boundaries) seemed like something I needed. 

So, as I needed furniture and different elements in my home I found myself wondering through flea markets and antique shops. 

There were a few things I picked up that I would like to share with you, in hopes it helps you all in your hunt for that perfect piece. 

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assorted-color jar lot

The first time I encountered a French flea market I was intimidated. I’m not going to lie.

Sure I speak French but the haggling and the negotiation thing was a challenge for me. How on earth was I going to do that the same way I did in America? While I didn’t buy furniture in the States I did buy a few vases and mirrors at the flea markets.

That was when I pulled up my big girl pants and go over my hesitation. 


Tips for Antique Shops and Flea Markets

painting of natures

Tip #1 

Make a list, and measure the space you’re looking to fill. Trust me. Just because you find the right piece doesn’t mean it’s going to fit in your space. 

In addition, you want to make sure you look for what you need. The reason is mainly to keep you focused. If you didn’t have a plan things could become a little overwhelming. And trust me no one wants that when you’re shopping. 

Tip #2

Look over the items carefully. Make sure that it is in tip-top shape before you buy. If you do find something wrong with the piece you could negotiate the price. 

I once bought a floor vase that had a chip in it, I was cool wtih the chip because I thought it gave the piece character however, the person who sold it to me wanted me to have the piece without a chip.

So, she ordered me one without the chip and charged me. the price of the vase with the chip. So. I got a new vase, at a discounted price. 

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Get your dose of tips, advice and lessons learned at my expense. Grab a cup of coffee, get cosy and let’s do this! 

You also want to pay attention to the nails and how the piece is put together. Often if the nails look shiny and silver they are new, not antique.

Next the type of joints. Here is a list of joints you want to pay close attention to.

Mortise and Tenon Joint

antique tips and tricks

This type of joint you’ll see on pieces dating around  the 18oo’s

Butt Joint and Dowel Joint

antique joint

This type of joint you’ll commonly find because there are no nails involved. Not a lot of carpenters had access to nails. 

Lap Joint

antique joint

For this type of joint you’ll want to check to see if it was made my hand or with a machine. Look for uneven cutting and guides made with a scribe. With a machine the cutting will be even and clean. 


antique joint

This type of joint is seen on pieces dating around the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. Be on the lookout for uneven spaces between the dovetails, and varying sizes and lengths of the dovetails. If it looks too perfect it was probably done by a machine, which would date the piece around the 1900’s. 

Tip #3

Negotiate whenever possible. I know I mentioned that I was afraid to do just that, but negotiating is a good thing. You’ll find that the seller is going to try and get as much as they can but their main goal is to make a profit. 

So, if you negotiate but don’t insult them then you’ll get a great price. 

My tip: Easy yourself into the negotiating, it can be intimidating but don’t let it. Once you get more comfortable you’re going to see it is a lot of fun. And hey, if I can get over the language barrier to negotiate you can negotiate in your neighborhood. 


Tip #4

If it comes in bulk it is probably not vintage. Sometimes you’re looking for a specific lace textile or whatever you need. But the shop you’re at has hundreds of the same one. That could mean the textile isn’t from the past but was made in the more modern times. 

Sure you’re going to run into shops were the proprietor has two or three of the same textile. This is probably normal after all a woman of means who entertains a lot is going to commission the same piece. But look it over, and see if there are subtle differences. Handmade items are going to have sublte and unique differences,  

Never miss a post!

Get your dose of tips, advice and lessons learned at my expense. Grab a cup of coffee, get cosy and let’s do this! 

Use these tips to help ease you into antique and flea market shopping. Once you get unique vintage pieces and learn how to shop you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it sooner. 

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Hi, I’m Christina

how i'm managing my anxiety

I’m the coffee-addicted creative behind Christina Q. Writes. As a full-time writer and lover of history, I share insights into my crazy wonderful life.  Christina Q. Writes is where I share tips and advice to help you live simply and in the moment, and do it your way. Don’t be afraid to laugh at my mistakes!