Is It Real Or Is It Fake?: What To Know Before You Hit Up The Flea Market

Is It Real Or Is It Fake?: What To Know Before You Hit Up The Flea Market

Abby Stone
May 22, 2009

052109-realfake.jpgThe Rosebowl, Pasadena City College, Long Beach, Santa Monica Airport, Fairfax High School -- oh, how we love our flea markets in LA. We go armed with small bills, an idea of how much we want to spend, our negotiation skills are sharp. And, we've been lucky, we've often walked away with some great deals. But then there are other times we wish we'd been a little more careful...

It's true that good old-fashioned knowledge can make the difference between walking away with a great deal and regretting that you spent half of this month's rent on a piece that turns out to be made in China. Unfortunately, most of us don't have the time or the patience to become experts on all the different kinds of stuff that catches our eye from silver to furniture to textiles. We've got to rely on our gut. But that doesn't mean that you need to rely totally on luck:


  • Examine the piece carefully, inside and out. Don't be shy about opening drawers and doors, unfolding a piece of fabric to look at its reverse or turning over a pot. Here you'll often find manufacturer's markings, signs of whether a piece has been refinished or repaired and other details of construction that you may not see at first glance.
  • Look for signs of wear and tear. Especially along the top and along the feet of a piece of furniture, a little wear is a good thing. You'd expect a mid-century dresser to show a few rings on top, wear on the feet, lack of finish on the drawer pulls. If it looks too good, it's probably too good to be true.
  • Is it consistent with the time period? You don't have to be an expert to know that plywood, particleboard and plastic weren't used 100 years ago. Here's a place where imperfections can serve you; chips, especially on feet or other places that receive wear and tear, can show you the construction of a piece and that underneath the thin coat of silver, that silver is all brass.
  • Know your limits: Sometimes, maybe you fall in love with a piece. And who cares if it's the real thing or a good copy. Ask yourself this question before you hand over your cash: If I found out this was a fake, would I still be okay with what I'm paying for it? If the answer's yes, go ahead. If not, walk away.

What are your tips for telling the real deal from a fake? What's your biggest flea market score?

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