Antique furniture can be very valuable. However, you have to be able to identify the pieces that are real from the fakes and reproductions. And that’s often a job you’d better leave for the specialists. Still, unless you’re a serious collector looking for super rare pieces, sometimes it’s pretty easy to identify antique pieces of furniture if you possess some basic understanding of the subject.
It can be unclear what antique furniture is since most general stores identify it as being 50 years or older while fine antique dealers consider real antiques to be 150 years or older. This distinction can also range depending on the region.
When analyzing a potential piece of antique furniture, there are certain clues to look for. For example, the joinery. Take a good look at the details and try to figure out if the pieces were machine cut or not. If you notice precise cuts, then the piece was machine cut and made after 1860.
The way the wood was cut, if you can spot this detail, tells you a lot about the furniture. For example, if you notice circular or arc-shaped marks, then a circular saw was used to cut the wood and that only happened after 1860.
If you notice that everything is perfectly symmetrical, that’s another clue that the piece was machine-cut and hence doesn’t fit the category.
The type of finish can also offer information about when the piece was crafted. In the mid 1800s, lacquer and varnish were used most of the time. Before 1860, shellac was a very popular finish. But if the piece is really old, you might find finishes such as oil, wax or milk paint.
If possible, try to check and see exactly what type of finish is on the piece. Shellac dissolves when it contact with denatured alcohol while milk paint can only be removed with ammonia.
Another clue can be the type of wood used, although it’s not a very precise method of finding out the age of a piece of furniture. Before 1700, oak was usually used. After that, walnut and mahogany started being popular.
And then there’s also the style. You can usually tell how old a piece is by its legs. Fluted legs were popular in the second half of the 18th century as well as in the 19th century. Spider legs appeared in the late 1800s and were popular in the early 1900s as well, especially o candle stands and tea tables. Spiral legs come from India and they became popular in Europe in the mid 17th century.