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A Guide to Identifying Antique Furniture

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The mysterious world of antiques has much to offer the enthusiast, with many eras that produced some of the finest furniture the world has ever seen, and if you like to be surrounded by finely crafted furniture items, you can blend a few select pieces into your interior design. When it comes to antique furniture identification, there are specific styles and methods of construction that can shed some light on the origin of a piece, and with that in mind, here are some helpful hints on identifying antique items.

  • Timber Joint Construction – One of the easiest ways to date an antique item is to examine the timber joints. The mortice and tenon joints up until the start of the 17th century, were held together by circular dowels or pegs, while dovetail joints can be found in post 17th century furniture, with the joints also affixed using a form of glue. Initially, the dovetail joints were hand crafted until mid-19th century, when machinery first emerged, and by the start of the 20th century, all such joints were machined.
  • Slightly Imperfect Symmetry – If the joints are not perfectly symmetrical, this is an indication that the item was made prior to the mid-19th century, and whether you are looking at European or oriental antiques in Sydney, look for signs of hand tool use, such as slight saw blade marks or uneven shaving.
  • The Maker’s Signature or Label – The majority of antique furniture items that were made before the age of machinery would have the maker’s signature or label concealed somewhere. It might be an initial or symbol that is hand carved underneath the item, or it could be a small label, but usually, the maker will inscribe something somewhere.
  • Timber Species – The type of wood used can also be an indication of the items age, with oak being the timber of choice for furniture made up until the start of the 18th century, then mahogany and walnut became popular, due to the much better finish. In America, pine has always been a firm favourite, with quality items that are crafted from maple, walnut and cherry, and if the joints are handmade, that indicates the piece was likely made before the mid-19th
  • The Finish – Timber items that are finished in shellac are likely to be dated from pre-Victorian times, as this was the preferred clear finish, and a lacquer or varnish finish is indicative of a later date. It isn’t always possible to test the finish on an item, and if you are buying from an antique dealer, they would have a lot of information about the item in question and would most certainly be able to tell you when it was made.

Buying antiques can be a little challenging if you have no background knowledge, and with many free resources online, you can learn more about your chosen era, and for sourcing specific items, you can partner up with an online antique dealer. As you become more knowledgeable, you will be able to identify genuine antiques and tell them apart from replicas.

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