Art & Antiques with Dr. Lori: Tests to identify valuable antiques

Bakelite, an early plastic, was commonly used for costume jewelry. Photo credit: the staff of
Bakelite, an early plastic, was commonly used for costume jewelry. Photo credit: the staff of

Did you ever buy an antique and the seller left the identification up to you? Oh, the excitement of paying a lot of money for something unknown! When put in those terms, it sounds kind of foolish, doesn’t it?

When you go to Wal-Mart to buy something, you know exactly what you are buying. There is no guessing game. The Wal-Mart cashier doesn’t give you tips on how to research what you bought. You know what it is, she knows what it is, everyone knows what it is. That’s the end of it. It should be that way in the antiques world too. You should know what you are buying.

Many of the proposed testing methods may damage your antiques and could even cause you bodily harm. My favorite antiques testing methods are those that so-called experts suggest, like, “Take a match to it,” or, “Pour acid on it.” So tell me, what is supposed to happen once you put a match to that piece of Bakelite jewelry or carved ivory?

If it doesn’t burn, is that good? Does it mean you have a piece of ivory or bone? What happens if it burns? How do you stop the fire from destroying your object? Did that wise person suggesting fire as a testing method reveal that bit of pertinent information when he advised you to “take a match” to your antique?


Well, I can tell you with confidence that if your antique burns, then you have a damaged antique! And that damage will decrease its value. Also, placing a match to an old material like a hand mirror made of French Ivory could set off a fire that will not only burn the hand mirror, but all of the bedrooms on the second floor of your house, too. Of course, after the fire department shows up at your house, then you’ll know for certain that your charred hand mirror was in fact a piece of highly flammable French ivory!

The one test that never fails is taking your questionable antique to me for an honest evaluation — no fire, no acid, no nonsense.

Celebrity Ph.D. antiques appraiser Dr. Lori hosts antiques appraisal events worldwide. Bring an antique for a FREE appraisal at Dr. Lori’s events listed at Dr. Lori is the star appraiser on Discovery channel. Visit or Lori Verderame on Google+ or call (888) 431-1010.