Identifying Antique Furniture

antique console table
Antique furniture

When it comes to identifying antique furniture, there are certain characteristics of style and methods of construction that help in distinguishing original pieces from reproductions and fakes.

Antique Furniture Identification

The identification of antique furniture is a subject that covers a very broad area. It is also a subject that can seem overwhelming and confusing to someone with a new interest in antique furniture.

However, learning a few basic tips and tricks used by experienced antique collectors and dealers will give even a novice collector the general knowledge needed to identify a piece of antique furniture.

Tips for Identifying Antique Furniture

There are several things to look for when examining a piece of furniture that help to identify it as an antique.

  • Check for a signature or label from the furniture maker.
  • Make sure the piece is in proportion. For example, if the legs of the piece seem to be the wrong size or the top of the piece is out of balance with the lower portion, it is possible the furniture is a marriage. A furniture marriage occurs when two pieces, or sections, of furniture are joined together and the two are not originally from the same piece.
  • Check the construction of the joints.
    • Until the late 1600s handmade dowels or pegs held the mortise-and-tenon joints together and were slightly raised above the joints
    • In the 1700s glue was used on dovetailed joints. These types of joints became more refined throughout the 1700s and the first half of the 1800s.
    • In the 1860s the machine made Knapp joint was developed and is commonly called a half moon, pin and scallop and scallop and dowel
    • In the late 1800s a machine-made dovetail joint was perfected completely replacing the Knapp joint by 1900.
  • The wood for furniture pieces was hand sawn until the beginning of the 1800s. Visible saw marks up to that time will be straight. After that most wood was cut with a circular saw and any saw marks will be circular.

Resources for the Identification of Antique Furniture

The following websites are excellent resources.

Your Antique Furniture Guide

Your Antique Furniture Guide is an invaluable resource for antique identification. Included on the website are:

  • A timeline of furniture periods, styles and woods
  • A detailed description of the most popular furniture styles
  • A section on furniture anatomy
  • Numerous tips for identifying and recognizing antique furniture using the:
    • Kinds of wood
    • Patina
    • Handles
    • Locks
    • Screws, pommels and nuts
    • Veneers
    • Marquetry
    • Alterations
    • Drawers
  • A section on dating antique furniture
  • Articles on important furniture makers
  • A section of furniture terminology
  • Sections on repairing, buying and selling antique furniture

Common Sense Antiques

Common Sense Antiques by Fred Taylor, author of How to be a Furniture Detective and the video Identification of Older and Antique Furniture, provides a comprehensive article on furniture joints.

I Antique Online

A website for anyone interested in various aspects of antiques, I Antique Online, includes:

  • Articles
  • A member's forum
  • Photographs

Learn the Basic Characteristics of Furniture Styles

It is also important to become familiar with the furniture styles of the different periods and eras. Although this may seem like a lot, all you need is an overview of the main characteristics and features of the period or style.There are many excellent antique furniture identification and price guides that provide valuable information on furniture periods, styles and eras. Many of these books specialize in a specific era, such as Victorian furniture. Some focus on a specific type of antique, such as antique chairs, while others provide a general overview of furniture from various periods or styles.

Identification and Price Guides for Antique Furniture

The following is a small sampling of the books written on antique furniture identification.

Knowing the basic techniques used in identifying antique furniture is an important skill for anyone with an interest in buying, selling or restoring pieces of furniture from years past.

Identifying Antique Furniture