Spotting Real Antiques, Fake Antiques and Reproductions

wood door
3 section Rococo Armoire Year: 1840 - 1870
Rococo Armoire
Year: 1840 - 1870 Huge, Hand carved and crafted, Rococo, 3 - section armoire, from the mid to 1870's.

The high level of skill and expense required to create a fake antique means that you probably won't ever encounter one in your shopping rounds; they aren't very common. What you're much more likely to encounter are reproductions with a good many years of use on them. Furniture styles of past periods and designers are still manufactured and sold new today.

Charles Pharr Jr. Of the respected antiques firm Aardvark Antiques & Estate Liquidations, says that visual inspection is the first step in detecting a restored, faked or reproduced antique. "The overall view, which I call 'aspect,' should be appropriate for the period and for the area in which it was made," he says. In your inspection, look at the wood, joints, tool marks and hardware and oxidation on the wood made by the screws and other hardware during aging.

Wood is an important indicator of the age of a piece. Different woods were favored during different periods -- and by different makers. Prior to 1720, walnut, a dark wood, was popular with Europeans and colonists. It was used for elegant Queen Anne tables and chairs, and for pieces of utility such as colonial benches and cupboards. Mahogany was the prime choice for mid-18th century formal furniture, such as dining and drawing room pieces. It was also prominent in Chippendale styles. Cherry, a paler red than mahogany but just as strong, was abundant in North America and widely used to build sturdy, durable furnishings for rural dwellers.

Many antiques, new and old alike, are made from oak. It was often the first choice for European furniture before 1700, and enjoyed renewed popularity in circa 1900s American furniture especially for mission furniture and the Arts & Crafts period.,

Pale, fine-grained, strong, heavy, and hard maple provided country craftsmen with wood for functional furnishings. The beauty of grain patterns in bird's-eye and tiger-striped maple encouraged cabinetmakers to apply maple veneers to plain furniture made of other woods.

Finally, humble pine was disguised or hidden in most antique furniture. Mostly, it was used for the backs, undersides and interiors. If the entire article was constructed of pine, it would have been painted or stained to look like a more expensive wood.

Also keep in mind that manufacturers of pre-20th century furniture never used plywood or particle board, it did not exist then.

It's important also to look at the color and condition of the wood. Wood darkens and shrinks as it ages. Thin panels used as door inserts and drawer bottoms shrink faster than the thicker frames that support them. This shrinkage causes splits or cracks in panels that were nailed to the frame. Panels that were loosely held in place may no longer cover the full space of the frame. Where this is the case, the exposed edge should be slightly lighter in color than the rest of the wood composing the furniture.

How the wood ages over time could also help you spot not only whether it's real, but also how old it is.

Determining the Age of an Antique

Because wood shrinks across the grain but not along it, very old furniture may appear to be misshapen. A tabletop that was round when it was crafted becomes slightly oval with great age. Wooden pegs that jut out just a bit from the surface of a chair leg or cabinet side are also indicators of age-related shrinkage.

The way furniture is put together is an important indicator of age. Early craftsmen used hand-cut mortise-and-tenon joints, dovetail joints and wooden pegs. Hand cut dovetails are wider and cruder than dovetails made with machines starting in the mid-19th century during the Industrial Revolution. Nails tell their own st´┐Żory. Rose Head nails were forged individually by blacksmiths in the 1700s. After shaping the nail, the blacksmith placed it in a heading tool and delivered several hammer blows to form the distinctive head. Cut nails were prominent from 1790 to 1890. Sharp-ended wire nails with flat, round heads began to be machine produced around 1880. Staples are hallmarks of 20th-century manufacturing.

Different cutting and sanding tools leave distinctive marks on wood and give clues to the era during which a piece of furniture was made. Look for saw marks on unfinished backs and undersides. Straight, irregular marks indicate pre-1830 hand cut wood. Around 1830, sawmills cut wood, leaving straight, even marks. Circular cuts are post 1850. Exposed surfaces of antiques were hand-sanded. They're less smooth and even than machine-sanded surfaces. My uncle owns a sawmill in Mississippi and could expain the different cuts to you well.

Now that you know the difference between a reproduction and an authentic antique, where's the best place to buy antique furniture.?

Aardvark-Antiques & Art Gallery
4316 Mundy Mill Rd
Oakwood, Ga. 30566
Charles Pharr Jr. AAI/ISA
Aardvark -
International Society of Appraisers
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