How to identify antique furniture

How to identify antique furniture

In this era of new gadgets, new trends, and new conveniences, fewer and fewer people have time for the old things of the world: timeless art, 16th century poetry, horses and carriages, and antique furniture. However, since there is a limited amount of antique furniture left in the world that simply leaves more treasure for collectors to find. If you are new to antiquing, especially in the realm of antique furniture, then it’s important that you know how to identify the real from the imitation. It’s not to say that imitations are bad, per se (a lot of furniture has been reproduced from the old times because it’s simply not possible to go back and make more of it), but it should never be confused with the real thing.

Here’s your guide to doing an antique furniture appraisal:

Antique styles

It’s possible to discern a style of antique; either by the date inscribed in the furniture or by the style of it: Louis XV, Queen Anne, Chippendale style, Hepplewhite style, Rococo, Sheraton style, etc. Some people will distinguish American Colonial from Traditional English antiques, and then filter through the unique styles per era, on either side of the Atlantic. If you’re not familiar with the nuances of each style, it might be worth it to enlist the help of an antique appraising professional to help you get all the facts.

Many people have many interpretations of what classifies as “antique”, and will argue that it’s furniture that’s 50 years or older, 100 years or older, or even 150 years or older. Some people will tell you that it’s only antique if it was made by hand – before the advent of machine-cut furniture.

Take note of the joinery

There are a few ways you can discern hand-made from machine-cut furniture. The first is the unevenness of the joinery of hand-made furniture. It’s not to say that it’s untidy, but that the angles of the dovetails that “stitch” drawers and other joists together aren’t as perfect as machine-cut furniture. Machine-cut furniture will have many neat, evenly spaced dovetails, while hand-made dovetails are larger and less even, and probably indicate that the furniture is pre-1860.

Take note of any nicks or cuts

Machine-made furniture – especially drawers – will have arc-shaped marks if cut by a circular saw, but straight cuts will indicate that a piece was hand-made. You’ll need to look very carefully for these marks.

Take note of the finish

Before the end of the Victorian area, shellac was the finish of choice for furniture. It was a clear coat that allowed the qualities of the wood to stand out, much as lacquer and varnish do nowadays. However, lacquer and varnish were only produced in the mid-19th century. A piece of antique furniture older than the early 1900’s may even have a wax, oil or milk-paint finish. Get a professional antique furniture appraiser to help you identify the different finishes.