Members of the society are known as fellows and are entitled to use the post-nominal letters FSA after their names. Fellows are elected by existing members of the society, and to be elected persons shall be "excelling in the knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other nations" and be "desirous to promote the honour, business and emoluments of the Society."
The society retains a highly selective election procedure, in comparison with many other learned societies. Nominations for fellowship can come only from existing fellows of the society, and must be signed by at least five and up to twelve existing fellows, certifying that, from their personal knowledge, the candidate would make a worthy fellow. Elections then occur by anonymous ballot, and a candidate must achieve a ratio of two 'yes' votes for every 'no' vote cast by fellows participating in the ballot to be elected as a fellow.
Fellowship is thus regarded as recognition of significant achievement in the fields of archaeology, antiquities, history and heritage.
The first informal meeting of the modern Society of Antiquaries occurred at the Bear Tavern on The Strand on 5 December 1707. This early group, conceived by John Talman, John Bagford, and Humfrey Wanley, sought a charter from Queen Anne for the study of British antiquities; its projected ventures included a series of 35 books to be issued. The proposal for the society was to be advanced by Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, but his dismissal from government caused it to become idle. The formalisation of proceedings occurred in 1717, the first minutes at the Mitre Tavern, Fleet Street, are dated 1 January 1718. Those attending these meetings examined objects, gave talks, and discussed theories of historical sites. Reports on the dilapidation of significant buildings were also produced. The society was also concerned with the topics of heraldry, genealogy, and historical documents. In 1751, a successful application for a charter of incorporation was sought by its long-serving vice president Joseph Ayloffe, which allowed the society to own property.