Antique Periods: A Timeline of Key Eras

Published May 4, 2021
Antique Periods

An antique periods timeline can help you place specific antiques in the context of their historical and cultural surroundings. Learn what makes an Art Deco piece different from a Victorian antique, and find out how to tell the difference in various styles and antique eras.

Using an Antique Periods Timeline

A timeline of antique eras can help you identify an antique or establish a date for antique furniture and other items. While it can't tell you specifically what your antique item is, it can give you some very important clues about when it was made. Often, periods overlap with one another, so having a visual antique periods timeline can help you see how they are related to each other.

Antique Periods Timeline

William and Mary - 1685-1720

This antique period at the turn of the 17th century included a strong Dutch influence, since British monarchs William and Mary had strong ties to the Netherlands. This style included elaborate carvings and turnings, both curves and straight lines, and lots of decoration. Surfaces were gilded and painted, and many antiques from this era include a mix of woods. This design movement was most notable in furniture, such as chairs.

Queen Anne/Louis XV - 1720-1760

The Queen Anne style was simpler and much more delicate than William and Mary, and it overlapped with the Louis XV style in France. It featured cabriolet legs on furniture, as well as sweeping curves and less ornamentation. Woods like walnut were very popular. Again, these design elements were most noticeable on furniture, but you can also see this delicate simplicity in smaller items like decorative boxes.

Chippendale - 1755-1790

The Chippendale period is named after famous furniture designer Thomas Chippendale, who popularized the style. Many pieces from this era feature elaborate carvings with acanthus leaves, scrolls, and other motifs. You can see these design elements in furniture of the era, which was often made of mahogany, walnut, and other fine hardwoods. Frames, boxes, and other smaller pieces sometimes show elements of Chippendale style.

Federal/ Hepplewhite - 1790-1815

Popular motifs during this period included urns and acanthus leaves, but the overall style was simpler than Chippendale. George Hepplewhite helped to popularize this movement, particularly in furniture. Fine woods included walnut and mahogany, and most pieces included carving, but not a lot of ornamentation.

Sheraton - 1790-1810

The Sheraton style is a variation on the Federal period, but the lines are simpler. Wood furniture had fewer carved elements, although turned legs were still popular. Upholstered furniture was simple in form but had beautiful proportions. This style was mainly limited to furniture, but you may also see it in decorative items like frames.

Empire - 1805-1830

The Empire style was all about dark woods and the contrast with gilt accents and hardware. Lines were simple, and empire furniture and design was famous for its substantial and heavy feel. These are powerful and significant pieces. Empire style sofas and other antique pieces included motifs like eagles, bees, and scrollwork.

Victorian - 1830-1901

The Victorian period in antiques encompassed many different design elements, but the general feel was ornate. You'll see Victorian influences on everything from small pieces like antique silver to larger items like dressing tables and other Victorian furniture. This was a long antiques era, encompassing several decades during the reign of Queen Victoria, so its influences overlap with many shorter periods.

Rococo Revival - 1845-1870

The Rococo revival era in antiques was all about ornate decoration. Marble-top tables were especially popular during this time, and dark woods were also in vogue. You'll see Rococo revival elements in almost everything from furniture to decorative pieces like mirrors and picture frames. Swirls, curves, fans, leaves, and other rounded decorative elements were an important part of this antiques era.

Naturalistic/Aesthetic - 1850-1914

The naturalist and aesthetic era took inspiration from nature and sometimes from Asian design. You'll see birds, animals, leaves, trees, and other natural elements in pieces from this antiques era. This style of design was especially popular for jewelry, silver flatware, and other fine items, although it also made its way into furniture, interior designs, and clothing.

Neo-Greek/Eastlake - 1855-1890

Inspired by ancient Greek architecture and the geometric motifs present in some of those designs, the Neo-Greek movement was a major presence in Victorian furniture and decoration. Designer Charles Eastlake created a variation on this style with carving, rectangular and square brackets and motifs, and other geometric features.

Arts and Crafts - 1895-1915

The Arts and Crafts movement was especially important in architecture and involved handmade touches and artisan finishes. Geometric lines and simplicity were an important part of this antiques period, and natural motifs and materials were also integral to this time. You'll see the influence in antique stained glass windows of this era, as well as textiles and rugs.

Art Nouveau - 1896-1914

Coinciding with the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau was an antique period that influenced everything from furniture to jewelry. It's characterized by natural motifs that break out of geometric barriers, as well as graceful curving lines and lots of color. This antique period was a reaction to the confined and controlled Victorian era, and you'll see elements of it in most antiques from the turn of the 19th century.

Art Deco - 1920-1945

Following the nature motifs of the Art Nouveau era, Art Deco was all about geometric designs and repeating lines. You'll see these features in architecture of the era, as well as fashion, jewelry, furniture, and household items like radios. This was the design movement of the roaring 20s and has a very modern, futuristic feel that's still glamorous.

Mid-Century Modernism - 1945-1970

Mid-Century Modernism followed on the heels of Art Deco and had some of the same futuristic elements with a simpler design. You'll see Scandinavian influences in furniture, such as very clean, uncomplicated lines and minimal carving or ornamentation. This design era also shows up in jewelry, architecture, household items, and many other pieces.

An Antique Timeline Can Help You Shop

You'll see many of these eras represented as you shop for antiques, and an antiques timeline can be a handy way to date the items you see. If something has lots of geometric elements, it might be from the Art Deco period. If it's very substantial and dark, it could be from the Empire era. The more you know as you browse in antique stores, the better you will be at making decisions about buying and selling antiques.

Antique Periods: A Timeline of Key Eras