Online research, antiques guides, local antiques dealers and free identification fairs hosted by auction houses can help to identify antiques and avoid the expense of a formal appraiser. Some appraisers offer free verbal valuations that are good for developing a base of information to pursue, but insurance and business transactions involving antiques usually require a written appraisal.
Free identification of a piece starts with an examination for marks, manufacturing techniques, types of finishes, colors and styles. Collect any information that proves provenance, which is the journey of the article from its creation to the current day. A piece that has been in one family since it was made is easy to date.
Dovetailed joints indicate furniture may predate factory manufacture. Cabriole legs could point to a Chippendale chair. The word "sterling" or the number "925" on the back of a spoon or fork means it is solid sterling and the pattern on the handle reveals the manufacturer and date range.
Browse an online guide, such as Kovels, to check marks and find approximate values for silverware, porcelain, furniture, glass, toys and other collectibles. Online forums, such as Jason's Junk, provide knowledgeable amateurs who work from a description or pictures to identify probable antiques.