Antique Furniture is one of the most fascinating sections of antique collecting. Primarily because so many of us naturally do what’s most important when collecting antique furniture. We buy what we like. Looking at the joinery, or the way a piece of antique furniture is put together, will provide many clues that help in determining the age. But there are a number of other factors to consider as well, including the tools that were used to craft a piece and what the individual components look like. Examining these elements individually, as well as furniture pieces in their entirety, will help you learn to correctly date them.
Perhaps it's a cabinet or a mahogany dining table that you found at aa-gallery.com picked up at auction, or inherited from your great-granduncle? Or maybe it's a chest of drawers or dining chair that you found in a dusty antique shop? When valuing a piece of furniture, our experts consider the item's age, style, size and origin. The condition matters too: an item in exceptional condition is typically worth more than an item that has become a bit wobbly or has some conservation issues. No matter the condition, age or type of your piece, our antique furniture experts will be able to give you an appraisal.
Antique stores are a good place to find furniture to refinish, but expect to pay for these pieces. If you're interested in antiques, recent or old, research before you buy anything. Real antiques and many reproductions are extremely valuable, but there are also many imitations. If you aren't sure an antique is really antique, pay for an expert opinion. Never buy an antique, or try to refinish it, until you know what you have. Antique stores are a good place to find furniture to refinish, but expect to pay for these pieces. If you're interested in antiques, recent or old, research before you buy anything.
Real antiques and many reproductions are extremely valuable, but there are also many imitations. If you aren't sure an antique is really antique, pay for an expert opinion. Never buy an antique, or try to refinish it, until you know what you have The basic English and American styles run the gamut from ornate to severely functional, from massive to delicate. Just remember, if you like it, the style is right. Technically, an antique is a piece of furniture with special value because of its age, particularly those pieces embellished with fine artistry.
The age factor is subjective: general antique stores label objects 50 years or older as antiques. Fine antique dealers consider objects 150 years and older to be antique. Looking at the bottom or back of a piece, or inside its doors and drawers, can provide important clues about whether or not a piece of old furniture was machine cut or crafted by hand. Most handmade pieces will show some irregularities to the surface such as minor nicks indicative of a hand plane being used to smooth out the wood, and this is sometimes even more evident on the back than on the finished front surfaces.
Exact symmetry is another sign that the piece was machine-made. On handmade furniture, rungs, slats, spindles, rockers, and other small-diameter components are not uniform. Examine these parts carefully; slight differences in size or shape are not always easy to spot. A real antique is very rarely perfectly cut; a reproduction with the same components will be because a machine will have cut it. The finish on the wood can also date the piece. Until Victorian times, shellac was the only clear surface finish; lacquer and varnish were not developed until the mid-1800s.
The finish on furniture, made before 1860, is usually shellac; if the piece is very old, it may be oil, wax, or milk paint. Fine old works are often French-polished, a variation of the shellac finish. A lacquer or varnish finish is a sure sign of later manufacture. The type of wood is the final clue. Very early furniture, from the Middle Ages until the beginning of the eighteenth century, is mostly oak, but since the end of the seventeenth century, other woods as walnut and mahogany became the preferred choice among the cabinet makers.
Keep in mind, however, that some styles have been prolifically reproduced over the years, like both Chipppendale and Queen Anne among others. It is very important to look for additional signs of age beyond your first glance at the style. As you examine the piece, sleuth for clues that support your initial theory that you have a piece of authentic period furniture. And, realize that those masterpieces are actually few and far between. More than likely, you will discover that you own a later revival piece although it's awfully fun to dream big when you begin your research.
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