Mark Shaw knows what he likes. And he likes what he knows.
"For me, it's 17th- to 19th-century furniture," said Mr. Shaw, who owns the Antique Market in Augusta. "But ask me about Barbie dolls and depression glass, I don't know much."
Buying antiques isn't like shopping for groceries. Everything's different. Prices are negotiable. The choicest, rarest items often come available only once in a lifetime. And they can be expensive.
So you have to be ready.
But how do you know if what you're buying is truly valuable?
If you're not an expert, find someone who is, Mr. Shaw advises. Some certified appraisers charge fees for their opinions. And sometimes the money is well spent.
"A lot of people are afraid to ask," Mr. Shaw said. "Some people will just buy blindly, then be disappointed later when they find out something isn't what they thought."
Mary Capes, a veteran dealer who owns the Broad Street Antique Store, said smart buyers research their purchases before making an offer. "You need to have good information about what you're buying," she said.
And there is plenty of information. If you're looking at art, find an art expert. Furniture? Ask a specialist or someone who has collected for many years. Be mindful of reproductions and repairs.
Want something nice? Mr. Shaw suggests English furniture. It's often "busier" and more ornate in design. American counterparts are a little less sophisticated but offer a primitive aura that some clients crave.
Mr. Shaw pointed out an English mahogany secretary, circa 1810. Nicely made with fine, subtle inlay, it was priced at $12,000. "It's also sold," he said.
In addition to consulting experts, there are reference books and clubs. Almost every collectable - from paper weights and fishing lures to toys and vintage bottle caps - has its own hobbyist organization.
There are also plenty of references available. At Augusta's Barnes & Noble bookstore, for instance, there are more than 470 different books in stock on antiques and collectibles, from art and cameras to furniture and jewelry.
"The books can't even come close to giving you the knowledge you need, though," Mr. Shaw said. "Some people will buy a lot of books, and just look at the picture without even reading the information that's in there."
Who buys antiques? There are collectors, investors, decorators and other dealers.
Dealers, by most estimates, account for up to 70 percent of most dealers' sales. The reason: A dealer often has a buyer who will pay more for an item than the first dealer is asking. It's called free enterprise.
Ms. Capes said some people buy simply for a certain look that can't be found elsewhere.
"They want it pretty - and the right color. They want a house no one can copy. They want unique," she said.
What should you avoid? Manufactured collectibles, according to Ms. Capes. Most commemorative plates, collector's dolls and other new items made to be collected - not used - are rarely worth more than their initial price.
Buying from reputable dealers makes shopping easier. But you'll pay the price. If you don't mind long drives and long waits, estate auctions can yield low-priced treasures. These diamonds in the rough, however, attract competition among the knowledgeable collectors and dealers.
Myrtle Wheatley, an Augustan who has peddled vintage items for three decades, advises a buyer to ask a lot of questions. If you don't get answers, it's OK to be suspicious.
Historic Augusta Antiques Show and Sale, Bell Auditorium, 712 Telfair St.
Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Gala Patrons Preview Party
Thursday, 7 p.m. black tie preferred.
Tickets: $75 ($35 for people 35 and under)
Includes unlimited show access.
More information: 724-0436
Luncheon and lecture
Friday, 11:30 a.m.
Joseph McDonough, Atlanta art dealer
"Antique Prints and Maps - Collecting for Pleasure and Value"
Old Medical College Solarium
Tickets: $25, by reservation only.
More information: 724-0436
Complimentary lectures (free with show admission)
Friday, 2 p.m.: Arranging Natural Materials in Antique Containers. Mary Moretz and Bonnie Thurmond.
Saturday, 11:30 a.m. Antiques and Techniques: Restoration of your treasured pieces. Steve Sherwood.
Sunday, 2 p.m., Exploring Antiques with an Expert. Rex Pruitt.