Chances are that you have old pieces of furniture that you think might be valuable. Perhaps they were passed down to you, or you purchased them second-hand. In this post, we’ll provide you with some guidelines to determine if your pieces are truly antique.
Early American furniture
The most desirable pieces are those that were made during the early American period spanning from the mid-1700s through the mid-1800s. The best way to know if you have a piece like this is to know that it ascended through your family for multiple generations. If you have anything from this timeframe, especially if your family has lived locally for 200 years or more, it is likely desirable and valuable.
If this is a piece you purchased second-hand, and you do not know its provenance, you will need to have it authenticated in order to get the best price possible for it.
How to authenticate furniture
Authentication is not a simple task for a novice. There are many factors involved, and going by appearance alone is not enough, since most classic period styles have been near-continuously produced throughout the last two centuries. Starting around America’s centennial (1876), furniture craftsmen began making reproductions of early American pieces using antique wood, tools and techniques. Old reproductions are still antiques, but do not hold the same value as the originals, and it can be very difficult to separate a true original antique from a reproduction.
Usually, it is easiest to start by looking for signs of modern construction techniques. There are a few things you can look for to determine if your piece is not antique.
First, look for the screws. The use of any screws at all rules out 18th-century construction, and if there are any Phillips head screws that appear to be original, then the piece is post-1940s. If you see nails with round heads, this indicates 20th-century production as well.
Next, see if there’s any writing on the underside or back of the furniture. If it’s stenciled, the piece is no older than the late 1800s, and most likely much newer. Printed paper labels, applied plaques, or logos stamped into the drawers or elsewhere usually indicate 20th-century production.
The next thing to look for is signs of individually hand cut carvings, dovetails or mortises, which indicate antiquity. Carvings and joints that are obviously machine-made can’t be older than the late 1800s.
Finally, check the wood. Most antique pieces were made from wide, hand-planed single boards, while newer pieces were made from multiple glued slats.
Verify with the experts
If after inspecting the piece yourself you believe it may be authentic, have a qualified dealer look at it to rule out reproductions. It’s absolutely worth the effort, as locally made pieces have sold in excess of $20 million.
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