Good advice is to buy from a reputable dealer. Dealers handle and see large amounts of material. They should research items, know what to look for, be aware of fake types coming onto to the market and exercise due diligence in acquiring stock. However, not all dealers are experts in their field, especially in a field as wide as antiquities, and some dealers are more reputable than others (the same applies to auction houses), so ensure you are aware of a dealers reputation.
Never forget that provenance is king. Well-documented antiquities with an established provenance will always be sought after and increase in value more than undocumented artefacts. It is likely that they will cost more but will increase in value and be easier to sell in the long term. However, in the past provenance was not considered important, and documentary evidence relating to acquisition or find-spot was rarely kept, or subsequently lost. However, even if an antiquity has lost any provenance information, it is often still possible to ascertain if it is from an old collection through the style of mounting, presence of old labels, old inscriptions on the artefact etc.
With collecting comes responsibility. When you buy an antiquity you should carefully keep all documentation that comes with it - receipts, catalogue entries, export licences if present, references, old collector's labels, scientific analysis reports (e.g. for thermoluminescence dating) if available, indeed anything associated with the object. Also ensure that when you pass on into the afterlife that your heirs are fully aware of the importance of keeping these records with the artefacts - they will be easier to sell and attract higher prices at auction if this is done. Auction houses are often notorious in neglecting provenance when they sell items, or often give provenance in the most general terms. No-one benefits from this.
As we have said the key to avoiding fakes and building a fine collection that will give a lifetime of pleasure is knowledge. Knowing what real antiquities look like will mean you will be much less likely to be taken in by a fake. Visit Museums, regularly review stock on reputable dealer websites, look at online auction websites and printed catalogues for the major auction houses selling antiquities, try to build up a reference library on your particular field of interest over time, visit and study reference and museum websites, and seek out reference papers and articles in your specialism. Building a fine collection of a particular type of antiquity and becoming knowledgeable or even expert in that field is a goal to be cherished. Others may prefer a more generalist approach collecting items from a range of cultures - it is harder to become a expert in this way, but one can become very knowledgeable and build an interesting and varied collection.
Here we list references and web resources for particular types of antiquities that may be useful for collectors. This is very much work in progress so please bear with us.
General guides to collecting antiquities
Collecting Antiquities - An Introductory Guide by Charles Ede, published by J.M. Dent (1976), 142 pages with 373 illustrations.
This is the only introductory guide to collecting antiquities and is written by the doyen of antiquities dealers, Charles Ede. Charles Ede, who originally founded the Folio Society, founded Folio Fine Art which sold prints, maps, paintings and antiquities in the 1960's, but specialised exclusively in antiquities from 1971, issuing regular illustrated, often themed, catalogues, which have become valuable resources in their own right. Although Charles Ede died in 2002, his company Charles Ede Ltd, continues but as a high-end dealership, whereas in earlier times the company dealt in a wide price range of antiquities.
Collecting Antiquities - An Introductory Guide is essentially a picture book providing an overview of the field. There is a good synopsis of object types but the text is relatively brief and there is little detail for the specialist. However, it is a classic text and should be on every collector's bookshelf - it not only shows the breath of the market and the range of objects that are available to the collector, but illustrates some very fine examples. Indeed sometimes items illustrated appear on the market today - illustration in 'the book' is regarded as a fine provenance.
Magazines for collectors
There used to be three magazines for collectors of antiquities - Coins and Antiquities (1998-1999), Ancient (1986-1999) and Minerva (1990-2020). Minerva was taken over by Current Publishing in 2020 and the magazine no longer advocated collecting or carried dealer or auctioneer advertisements. It ceased publication in 2023. In our opinion, Ancient was the best magazine and had a specific focus on collecting antiquities, followed by Coins and Antiquities, with Minerva the early issues are the best. Copies of Ancient are hard to find but well worth looking for, sometimes issues may be advertised on eBay. Coins & Antiquities was an excellent magazine, but sadly only published for one year. Like Ancient, sometimes issues may be found on eBay, as may early issues of Minerva.
Collecting ancient lamps
Good quality examples of ancient lamps are plentiful and can be obtained relatively cheaply compared to other types of antiquities. Thus they are a popular collecting area for those wishing to specialise and there are some good reference materials available.
Useful websites dedicated to collecting ancient lamps are:
RomQ reference collection of ancient lamps
- this website presents a private collection with images and details of a large number of lamps dating from the Bronze Age to the Islamic Medieval Period. There is a list of catalogues and references on ancient lamps and also a useful illustrated section on forgeries. A links page lists museum and other lamp collections accessible online.
Ken Baumheckel Collection of Oil Lamps
- This webpage presents a private collection of lamps dating from the Bronze Age to the Islamic Medieval Period, mostly types found in the Holyland and surrounding region. There is also a list of references.
There are a number of good books for the lamp collector. We particularly recommend:
Kelsall, P. 2018. Lighting the Ancient World, Lux Lucerna, Cannock, Staffordshire, 140 pp. + 11 plates. This new book provides a very affordable yet comprehensive introduction to pottery lamps and their development in the ancient world. The art and uses of lamps are discussed together with a range of issues such as lamp sellers, fuels and wicks and what lamps can tell us about the occupations and beliefs of ancient societies.
Dejean H., 2012. Lampes Antiques – à travers les Ages : Le Corpus, Editions Archeo-Numis, 320 pp. with 182 plates. Although in French, this book provides a comprehensive catalogue, with colour photographs of 1900 ancient lamps, classified on period and typology, from French, Belgian and German museums, as well as from private collections. This book provides a wealth of comparative material and there will be few lamps for a which a parallel cannot be found in this volume. Available from Amazon.
Bussière, J. and Wohl, B.L., 2017. Ancient Lamps in the J. Paul Getty Museum, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 512 pp. profusely illustrated. This catalogue presents over 600 lamps from the ancient Mediterranean world, manufactured between 800 B.C. and 800 A.D. A very useful index of signatures, inscriptions and figurative makers marks found on lamps is included. Available on Amazon with the Kindle edition offered as a free download. It is also available free in digital form from here
However the classic work on ancient lamps is the 'Catalogue of Lamps in the British Museum' by Donald M. Bailey, published in four volumes from 1975 to 1980:
Vol. 1. Greek, Hellenistic, and early Roman pottery lamps
Vol. 2. Roman lamps made in Italy
Vol. 3. Roman provincial lamps
Vol. 4. Lamps of metal and stone and lamp stands
Volume 4 is still available but the first three volumes - the most useful to collectors - are out-of-print and very difficult to find and are extremely expensive even second-hand. Expect to pay at least £300-£500 per volume (2020).
An earlier catalogue published in 1914 (H.B. Walters, Catalogue of the Greek and Roman Lamps in the British Museum, British Museum) can still be found on the second-hand and antiquarian book market and is worth getting. It is much cheaper than the Bailey edition.