Before you think of parting with your money, read our foolproof guide to avoiding the crooks, and getting yourself onto the collecting ladder the right way...
RESEARCH: Begin by studying books, price guides and magazines. Take note of detailed photographs and authenticating water marks. Learn as much as you can about materials, craftsmanship and style variations.
GET FAMILIAR: To differentiate between the genuine article and a piece of junk, attend as many auctions, shops and flea markets as you can. Visit stores that specialise in reproductions and compare to what you have seen elsewhere. Once you become familiar with the real thing, you won't be fooled by a fake.
EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION...: Gaining in-depth knowledge of your collectible takes years. Subscribe to a quality magazine, such as BBC Homes and Antiques, which includes articles on fakes and forgeries.
CLUB TOGETHER: Clubs are an excellent means of meeting other collectors, old and new. Get to know the members and learn from their blunders and breakthroughs. Attend local meetings, the annual convention and keep abreast of any information by reading their newsletters.
LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP: Avoid antiques stalls that carry crafts, late collectibles and reproductions. Even the most innocent of sellers can unwittingly mix the old with the new.
WORTHY OR WORTHLESS?: Scrutiny of an item often reveals its true age. For example, examine furniture to determine if the manufacturing methods are consistent with the piece's alleged age. Ask yourself, what type of wood was the piece made from? Are there signs of shrinkage? Does the piece show signs of authentic wear or age? Is there evidence of modern tools or construction methods? Has the item been glorified, altered or converted from something else? Does the interior smell old? Are there signs of repair or refinishing? If the item passes these preliminary tests, consider the purchase.
IF IT'S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT USUALLY IS: David Dickinson abides by this motto, religiously! There are cases of collectors stumbling upon a masterpiece in some little shop in rural Wales or, even more unlikely, at a car boot sale. As a rule, these occurrences are rare, so if an item is priced below its value, check it over like your life depends on it before digging out the wallet.
IT COSTS NOTHING TO BE NICE: Most antiques dealers are honest and hard-working. Treat them with respect and you will gain valued partners who will nurture your basic knowledge and growing collection. Nobody likes an arrogant old duffer!
ASK THE EXPERT: Get to know a local dealer. They'll have honed their skills and will know of every conceivable pitfall. That way, you'll save money, time and effort by learning from their mistakes.
AVOID THE COWBOYS: Ethical dealers do not knowingly sell reproductions. If you suspect you have purchased a fake, obtain a second opinion or appraisal. Present the proof to the dealer who sold the piece. Reputable dealers will always take back the item.
GET A WRITTEN RECEIPT: Authentic sellers will provide written documentation, which details the age of the object and the price paid. If you've been duped, the receipt will help establish your case against the forgery.