Identifying Antique Furniture

How to identify antique furniture is a question that comes up quite often in emails that I recieve and in various forums around the web.  To the unpracticed eye telling the difference between antique and later or vintage pieces can be quite difficult.

I have visited houses where the people have shown me some wonderful 18th century sideboard they bought for an enormous amount of money and want my opinion. 

Identify antique furnitureNow this is an awkward situation to say the least - what does one say, when one notices that the top half doesn't belong to the bottom piece?

Well, that was a waste of money then!

No - diplomacy rules on this one - very tricky.

It doesn't matter whether the piece is 19th century , 20th century or Art Deco - there are many "made up" pieces out there and one has to keep an eye out for such pieces.  

How to Identify Antique Repro Furniture...

Just to give you an idea - a few years ago a chap came into my shop wanting to sell me a 19th century consol table (a small half round table) in solid cherry.
It was a really pretty piece.

The form was right - but  apart from my "gut feel", there were a few tell-tale things that struck me.  The unusual size, the old worm holes didn't go across the joints and the wood didn't seem to come from the same tree were some of the things that made me ask the gentleman if it was a reproduction.

"Oh yes" he said "made with old wood, lots of the antique dealers sell them - they sell really well - I have photos of other pieces in the car, should I get them?"
I made the comment that I bet that some antique dealers didn't bother mentioning to their clients that they were reproduction.

"No , he didn't think so either" he said!!!!

Needless to say, I did not buy his table and sent him happily on his way.
identiying antique furniture 
It helps to know the forms that apply to different Periods when dating antique furniture.

Some antique furniture styles are really easy to spot, like 'art deco' for example.

Other styles can be somewhat confusing, especially here in Europe as the periods and styles overlap.


Other factors to identify antique furniture

I have added a page on antique furniture parts which might prove useful.

For example : Joints - because the English improved these over time, this can be very useful for dating.

This however, is not always the case with European Furniture.

French country furniture can be really untidy inside, whereas English furniture tends to be nicely finished inside and out. 

Looking underneath and at the backboards can be helpful.  The types of hinges, locks, screws etc can give you a good idea on age and originality. 

Check to see that the decorations/carvings match on pieces with tops and bottoms.

If veneered the thickness and type can help you identify the age of antique furniture.

If the price seems too good to be true - check again.

Whoever you are buying from, ask them if the piece is an original antique.
If you are not sure - get a second opinion. 

If it seems like a bargain and you love it then perhaps it doesn't matter as to how old or original it is.