HOW TO IDENTIFY ANTIQUE FURNITURE

By: John Hogan

First of all we have to ask ourselves the question what age qualifies an antique. Technically an item regardless of what it is qualifies as an antique if it is one hundred years old or older.

CANADIANA CHERRY WOOD DRESSER CIRCA 1830-1840

EARLY CANADIANA CHERRY WOOD DRESSER

CANADIAN OAK SIDEBOARD CIRCA 1880-1900

CANADIAN OAK SIDEBOARD CIRCA 1880-1900

CANADIANA COUNTRY ANTIQUE PINE CUPBOARD C. 1880

CANADIANA COUNTRY PINE CUPBOARD C. 1870-80

This is a matter of opinion that can vary depending upon what country we are talking about. Certain countries only consider items to be antiques when they are well over one hundred years old. This somewhat depends on how staunch the collector and or dealer is. Maybe the dealer is almost as old as the antique which he is selling. Remember many antique dealers actually die in the business because it has been a life-long vocation for them.

The younger set of collectors and dealers seem to have been qualifying items as antiques that have gone beyond fifty years old. I personally would qualify such items as vintage and not antique. However times have changed and people are always pushing the boundaries. Today items that were produced 1910 and backwards are technically antiques. Items produced during the early Art Deco era 1920s to 1930s are quickly approaching the antique status in a decade or two. Items from 1950-1960s are not antique and are classified basically as vintage collectibles. Such items are not to be shunned depending on quality of craftsmanship and caliber of artisan. Such items may hold even a much higher value than a typical antique item, especially if they were designed by a renowned designer. Just because something is classified as an antique does not necessarily mean that it has great monetary value. Value is determined by a number of factors, for example the quality of craftsmanship, kinds of materials used, rarity of object, etc. Sentimental value does not determine monetary value. There is definitely a difference between the two values.

Now that we have some of the preliminaries out of the way we can now approach our original question of how to identify a piece of antique furniture. This is a very loaded question seeing that in today's marketplace there are so many reproductions manufactured deliberately to take on the character of a true period piece. On the other hand we also have doctored or cobbler pieces which are also misleading that are assembled to represent an older piece. These usually are pieces that have been married together or assembled from older pieces to form look-a-likes and are usually a combination of older pieces that were not originally produced as such.

Then we have the Shabby Chic which is another world on to itself. With this category almost anything and everything goes. This is a modern trend that is not necessarily always affordable if found in this presented renovated state. Sometimes these pieces are old and sometimes not. This is a style where a stressed weathered look prevails with faux finishes and other chemical and painted treatments are applied to attain a real old look to a piece of furniture. Sometimes it gives new life for decorative purposes to an older piece that probably would have ended up in the dump. Many reproductions of old French country are also peddled off in this way.

When we speak of Early Period Furniture whether it is American, European, English or French Canadian furniture we generally look for hand-built identifications with no machine made features. Of course it will not not have exactness and precision in its dove-tailing as will a piece which was machine-made. Straight saw marks also indicate an old piece. If the wood shows circular or arc-shaped marks, it was cut by a circular saw which was not in use until about 1860. Uniformity is only a feature of machine made furniture. Certain craftsmanship and wood finishes usually indicate older pieces. Again some people seem to like the factory made pieces over the really older pieces. This depends on what kind of decorative look one is trying to attain in his environment. The more learned furniture buff and collector who enjoys the truly antique museum quality pieces will always sway toward the hand built  and primitive pieces. Again this kind of furniture is not for everyone. This is why factory built pieces had a great upswing. It really was not a labor of love to create a factory built piece as was that of the great furniture makers of pre-1860.  Besides now labor costs began to rise and each furniture maker had to look at monetary gain and the only way was to find a way of quickly producing more furniture for market demand. This was when furniture makers looked to the machine tools to produce furniture giving way for more precision and less hands-on  work in creating the end product. The more quickly furniture was produced, the more monetary gain. Therefore out went the local craftsman and in came the mass production of factory machine made furniture.

Since this is a very involved question with many diverse answers, one should if he or she decides to purchase true antique and vintage furniture start educating himself by reading and researching either by purchasing books or visiting the library. Talk with experienced antique furniture dealers. Go to museums. Go to antique exhibits and sales. And do not forget that the internet is full of resources and information about any subject of ones choice. With the internet there is no need for stupidity. If one knows how to read, there is a wealth of information available at a click. 


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