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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Trawling for Treasures

The early days of post-Soviet Russia's antique markets were characterized by suspicious-looking men standing by parked Volga cars near metro stations, bearing cardboard signs saying "Will purchase clocks, icons, gold."

After almost two decades of ups and downs, the market finally appears to have matured. Antique hunting now attracts lovers of old things as well as investors wooed by the prospect of a 20 percent appreciation in value per annum.

Where to Buy

Similar kinds of items are sold through auctions as through shops.

"Going to an auction is helpful for beginners, because you can see how prices form collectively during bidding," said Oleg Stetsyura, director of the Gelos auction house. "However, there is also a danger of overpricing if you get carried away by the energy."

Gelos, founded 20 years ago, has auctions every Wednesday and Friday, with more expensive items saved for monthly, seasonal and annual events. A year ago, its Auction of the Year made headlines by selling a 200-year-old letter from Napoleon to his wife Josephine, for $120,000. Bidding for less expensive items such as gravures and postcards starts as low as 500 rubles.

Some antique scavengers choose to browse at the Vernisazh flea market at Izmailovo, where you can bargain for items of lesser value. But if you need to be sure of an item's authenticity, it is better to shop at auctions or accredited stores. Respectable antique dealers will not only provide certificates of authenticity for every item, they will often give a refund if a different expert proves the certificate wrong. Such assurance comes at a price, of course. At the Stariye Gody antique salon, for example, only a few items are under $1,000.

"For $1,000 you can purchase simpler jewelry and small silver items," said a Stariye Gody representative.

Courtesy of Gelos
Gelos holds auctions twice a week but saves the best for major annual events.
In Moscow, antique salons at the Central House of Artists have become a regular affair, with the next one starting this weekend. Held three times a year, the salon attracts professional dealers, buyers and antiques lovers. Russian and European galleries, museums, antique stores and famous collectors exhibit all kinds of expensive rarities, mostly Russian fine and applied art. Seminars and other special events are also held as part of the salon.

How to Buy

"Buying antiques has some similarities to buying wine: You hope that it will age well and increase in value over time," Stetsyura said. "You pay attention to whether it was a sunny year, who the vine-grower was, and whether the vine itself has a good reputation and quality. If these factors coincide positively, the wine will age well for 100 years.

"In buying antiques, factors to consider are who the craftsman was, whether the item is made masterfully and corresponds with the dominant style of the period."

Good antiques are one-of-a-kind, and with each passing year they become more and more precious, increasing in price by as much as 15 to 20 percent per year, Stetsyura said.

When considering buying a more costly item, it might be helpful to call upon the expertise of a private consultant. One way is to find art and antique specialists who work for a particular museum and consult them privately. Private experts normally take commission of 3 to 7 percent based on their level of involvement, from looking at a photograph of the item to accompanying buyers while they shop and bid.

"At least do some online research before choosing an expert," advised Denis Lukashin, director of Art Consulting firm. "Even the most famous museums have all sorts of people working for them."

In general, however, art is more likely to be fake than objects. Something to watch out for is recent additions to antique items. "There are some restoring magicians who can buy one old commode and make three out of it, or insert new mechanisms into antique clocks, which makes them less valuable," Lukashin said.

What to Buy

The antique market is susceptible to the influence of fashion trends.

"Right now, prices for contemporary art of the mid-20th century have probably reached their peak," Stetsyura said. "At the same time, Russian lacquered miniatures are underpriced, as is narrative and documentary photography."

Special items such as antique weapons are popular among collectors as well as wealthy individuals looking for the perfect gift, said Vasily Khramov, a manager at World Arsenals gallery and salon, which deals in antique swords, guns and other items of military history. A set of 19th-century dueling pistols is for sale at World Arsenals for 325,000 rubles.

Unless a weapon is registered as part of the Defense Ministry inventory, it becomes an antique after 50 years for cold steel and 100 years for firearms, even if it is still in working order.

"If a weapon is legally an antique, it should legally be treated just like an antique chair," Khramov said.

However, Stetsyura said buying and owning antique weapons carries some additional constraints: "There are unwritten ethical rules, where certain weapons have to be deactivated even when they are antique," he said. "For example, the now-antiquated Maxim machine gun that was used by Chapayev is usually deactivated, since it is still highly dangerous."

One can only hope that antique weapon buyers are more responsible than one businessman who came into Stetsyura's store in 1991, saying: "I saw a TV special on antiques. Could you wrap everything from this corner to that corner -- my wife could use them to redecorate the apartment."


The 22nd Russian Antique Salon, April 14-22, Central House of Artists (TsDKh), 10 Krymsky Val, 238-9634, M. Oktyabrskaya.

Art Consulting, 28/2 Ul. Petrovka, 726-2345, 728-2345, 772-2628, M. Chekhovskaya,

Gelos, 2/6 1st Botkinsky Proyezd, 945-4410, 946-1171, M. Dinamo,

National Art Expert Organization, or NOEXI, 642-3474, see for a list of accredited members.

Stariye Gody, 24/1 Kutuzovsky Prospekt, 243-3586, M. Kutuzovskaya,

Vernisazh at Izmailovo, 166-4118, M. Partizanskaya. Go north from the metro toward the hotel Izmailovo to find the flea market.

World Arsenals, 37/3 Leningradsky Prospekt, 226-7511, M. Dinamo,