How can we know if a piece of furniture is an antique?
Tips to know if we are in front of an antique piece of furniture
Today we tell you some key features that should be taken into account and will reveal if what you are buying is an antique, or a vintage piece.
No less than 100 years
The first thing you should know is that for a piece of furniture to be old, it must be at least 100 years old; otherwise it is not considered an antique.
According to that, we must then distinguish them, depending on the period in which they were made and the place of origin. Regarding the period, furniture can be named by the name of the monarch of that period (Louis XV, Charles IV, Napoleon III, etc.), or by the name of the intermediate period (Regency, Directory, Restoration, etc.), or by a certain period (Empire, Elizabethan, Noucentist, etc.).
Furniture can also be identified by the name of the manufacturer (Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Riesener, Duncan Phyfe, Boulle, etc.), or by the region (Breton, Provençal, Menorcan colonial, West Indian colonial, etc.).
Other factors to consider are: the type of wood used, the proportions, the drawers, the handles, the frame and the feet.
Another relevant aspect is the preservation of furniture, because… can a piece of furniture over 100 years be in perfect conditions? Of course not, because a piece of furniture older than 100 years has probably suffered from the usage and inclement weather, and this can be seen mainly in its legs, backrests, carvings…
But that’s not all. Another key feature when verifying an antique is the assembling procedure of furniture, because assembling varies according to the period. And finally, the style: does the style correspond to the period which it is attributed to?
Uniform patina and types of wood
Another tip: if you find a really antique piece of furniture, look at it carefully, as it shouldn’t have a uniform patina. Pieces of furniture have unequal patinas in their different parts, depending on how dirt has been deposited on them.
And now we are going to talk about wood; different kinds of wood have been used depending on the period, so it is interesting to know that:
- Amboina wood was used from the 18th Century (similar to walnut wood).
- Maple from the 19th Century, in Europe and in America.
- Chestnut was frequently used in French provinces, in the 18th Century.
- Mahogany was first used in England in 1730, and during the Victorian period this wood used to be coated with wax until it got a reddish tonality.
- Beech was used from the 17th Century. It has a peculiarity: it doesn’t splinter.
- Walnut became very fashionable in 1660 – 1690, but it started to be widely used from 1735, to build solid pieces of furniture.
- Elm was mainly used to build furniture in the English countryside and in Windsor chairs.
- Olive wood was very common in England in the 17th Century to cover floors.
- Pinewood was used in the 19th Century for furniture that was going to be subsequently painted. It was also commonly used to upholster drawers.
- Rosewood was at its peak during the English Regency.
- Oak was very usual in Great Britain in the Middle Ages and until the late 17th Century.
- Satin became very fashionable in the 17th Century to build chests of drawers.
- Yew can be found in the best English furniture from the 17th and 18th Centuries, used in plywood.
Apart from the types of wood and their colours, it is important to pay attention to how furniture has been made. To do so, we hereafter indicate a few clarifying examples.
The first one is that the upper boards of a piece of furniture usually consist of several wooden boards, which also have cracks. It is difficult to guess the age of a piece of furniture by looking at its drawers; they should be carefully analysed one by one, since, at some point, some may have been replaced; however, as a general rule, coatings are usually made of pinewood or oak.
In the 17th Century, drawers used to be strong, up to 2 cm, and they became lighter over the years. Drawers, as well as upper boards, have visible cracks, and it was from the 19th Century on that furniture began to get polished.
Regarding the handles, we must know that until the 16th Century they were fixed with cotter pins, and from the 17th Century with nuts and bolts, which have accumulated grease and dirt. Nuts, at that time, were circular, while the more modern ones are hexagonal.
Regarding the frame, we only have to look at its back, because in the past furniture was made to be placed against the wall, so it was not polished. Another detail to consider are nails; since they were not visible, they used to be different from each other, and of different sizes.
And finally, another very good hint: the feet of furniture. All furniture supported on flattened balls, was usually made in the 17th Century and the early 18th. However, and as well as in drawers, we must pay attention, because some feet may have been replaced by new ones.
Anyway, the best and safest way to be sure you buy antique furniture, if you have no knowledge about the subject, is to buy it in some antiques auction house in Spain.