How to Tell if Your Furniture Really is Antique
Antique hunting is a fun hobby for many. Antique furniture, if properly cared for, can last for centuries. The use of older, denser wood and handcrafted manufacturing methods found in antique furniture is often lacking in modern products. The greater variety of skilled artisans means looking for antique furniture will have plenty of options if the shopper knows where to look.
Still, not all the “antiques” out there are authentic. Some might be fakes meant to swindle the unwary, but more often than not, a non-genuine antique can also be an innocent reproduction meant to copy an older crafting style with modern methods. Either way, for those on the hunt for authentic antiques, differentiating the real from the fake or reproduction is an important task. Fortunately, there are relatively easy ways to determine if a piece of antique furniture is authentic or not.
One simple method, though not necessarily foolproof, is to look at any drawers the furniture might have. If the dovetails are not hand-cut, it's likely a reproduction. As long as you're looking at the drawer, check the bottom. If it's plywood, proceed with caution. The same with the back of any pieces that have a back, but please note that it could just mean the piece of furniture has been repaired.
The next big potential indicator is dowelling. If the piece of furniture has dowels holding parts together, the odds are good; it's not an actual antique. Artisans of old often worked with denser old forest growth wood that could hold on its own, and dowels would be difficult to produce with hand tools anyway, making them expensive and thus not cost-effective to use.
If all else fails, look for saw marks. Sandpaper and circular saws are relatively modern inventions; if the parts of the furniture are smooth where sawing would have occurred, the odds are good the piece is a reproduction or fake. These are not foolproof methods, as repairs are a constant possibility when it comes to pieces as potentially old as antique furniture.
Antique hunting can be fun, and older furniture is well worth the investment in terms of aesthetic appeal, durability, and utility. The basic checks listed above are good indications of reproduction and fakes. Make sure to ask about the piece and take a good look at it. If you're still in doubt, play it safe and don't buy the potential not-antique at an antique price. The service of an antique expert can also be hired to render an opinion before a purchase.