Greg’s 3 Tips on How to Identify Antique Furniture

Spacious room with antique furniture

Hey there! One of the most fascinating aspects of antique collecting is antique furniture. That is primarily because most people who collect antique furniture typically only purchase pieces that they like. That is why it is so important to know how to best identify antique furniture.

The majority of antique furniture pieces are purchased by the average enthusiast and collector. In other words, antique and vintage furniture is typically purchased for its function and beauty and not so much for its profit potential.

With that said, it is important to be knowledgeable about how to identify antique furniture and this requires research. The purpose is that you can find vintage furniture that has a function and beauty that you like and can even be profitable if you want to sell it in the future.

Consider The Joinery

Keep in mind that furniture was not manufactured by machines until around 1860. So, if you are considering a potential piece of antique furniture that has drawers such as a dresser or nightstand, take out one of the drawers and carefully inspect the front and back of the drawer.

Focus on the sides of the drawer where it is fastened. If these joints were dovetailed by hand, there should only be a few dovetails and they should not be exactly even.

On the other hand, if the dovetails are closely spaced and accurately cut, the cuts were made by a machine. Handmade dovetails are almost always indicative that a piece of furniture was made prior to 1860.

Perfect Symmetry

Another tell-tale sign that an ‘antique’ piece was actually made by machine is perfectly cut features. With handmade furniture, slats, rockers, spindles and certain other components are never uniform.

Be sure to inspect these parts carefully. It is not always easy to spot the tiny differences in shape or size. However, a reproduction piece will have symmetrical components because they will be machine cut.

Wood Finish

Before Victorian times, the only clear surface finish that was used on furniture was shellac. Varnish and lacquer were not created until the mid to late 1800s.

If the piece is extremely old, it may have a milk paint, oil or wax finish. However, old works are usually French-polished. French-polish is another variation of shellac. So, if you see a piece of vintage furniture that has a varnish or lacquer finish, it is very likely a manufactured piece.

It is not always possible to test a finish if you are in a showroom, but try to identify the finish before you decide to buy the furniture. You can check an inconspicuous area on the furniture with some denatured alcohol. If the finish begins to dissolve, it is shellac.

These are a few tips that you can use to identify antique furniture. It is important to research and do your due diligence to ensure the piece you want is handmade and not manufactured. You can buy a manufactured piece of antique furniture, there’s nothing wrong with that. But handmade pieces are more valuable and become a good long-term purchase.

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