You’ve just uncovered some furniture from the attic or been gifted some pieces from a relative’s will. Maybe you’ve even picked up a beautiful wood table or set of chairs from a yard sale or flea market. How can you identify an antique piece of furniture to find out if it is a treasure or just a reproduction? Not only can antique furniture be worth considerable money, but you may want to hold on to family heirlooms for sentimental reasons. Wherever you’re looking to identify an antique furniture piece, be wary of imitations. It’s easy to make something look old, so don’t pay a lot of money to refinish a piece that you aren’t sure about.
By following these tips on how to identify antique furniture, you can learn how to tell whether a piece is truly an antique and worth saving (or purchasing)—or whether it’s just an imitation that can be thrown away.
What’s Considered Antique?
In the United States, most older furniture you’ll find will be in traditional English and American colonial styles. While there is certainly a variety of antique furniture styles to identify, from ornate to traditional, and large pieces to delicately carved, you won’t likely find antique pieces from 16th century France or 17th century Italy.
While there isn’t an official classification of antique in the U.S., there are various definitions based on where its being sold and its value. An antique is a piece of furniture with special value due its age, especially one with fine artistry or craftmanship. Many antique stores will say that items 50 years or older are considered antique, while antique dealers might define it as 150 years or older.
How Can You Tell If Your Piece is an Antique?
The first clue when identifying antique furniture is that most machine-made pieces date post-1860. If your piece is handmade, it should show some irregularities on the bottom or back, as opposed to the perfect finish of a machine-cut piece.
You can also check the kind of wood used to attempt to determine age: oak was very popular pre-1700, while in the 18th century, mahogany and walnut were all the rage. In the 19th century, maple and cherry took over, until rosewood and mahogany were back in fashion. Then oak became popular again. You can’t solely tell age based on wood type, but if you can match style and wood type, you can estimate the period of a piece, which is critical to antique furniture identification.
If you determine the style as well, such as Chippendale, Rococo revival, William and Mary, etc., it can help you determine a piece’s age. Very popular styles, however, are recreated consistently over time, so it’s important to look for signs of age in the wood, the fixtures, and other aspects of the potential antique.
Refurbish Your Antique
Once you’ve identified your furniture as potentially antique, have it officially appraised and refinished at a reputable furniture repair shop. With the right professionals taking care of your treasure, you can bring an antique back to life and keep it in your home for years.