Simple Tips for Beginning Furniture Appraisal

Antique furniture appraising is a fun and sometimes profitable pastime. Whether you’d like to buy and sell or start your own collection, antiquing is fun! You simply need to learn a few basic things to look for and you can begin enjoying a hobby that will last a lifetime. For as long as I can remember my life has involved antiques or antiquing in one way or another. My grandmother’s house was filled with family heirlooms and acquired pieces of antique furniture. Over the years, she shared the history of each piece and taught me what to look for when buying my own. Here are a few of the things I have learned over the years.

1. Does the piece still have it’s original paint? Years ago it was the trend to refinish aging furniture. We have since learned that a chippy old coat of paint is more desirable than a slick new finish. If you are lucky enough to find a treasure with the original coat of paint, resist the temptation the modernize it. However, don’t despair if someone has beat you to it and already refinished the piece. It’s quite possible you still have a valuable piece of furniture.

2. Does the piece of furniture still retain it’s original hardware? Although this is rare, pieces with all the original drawer pulls and knobs are sometimes quite valuable. Look at the types of screws and nails attaching the hardware to the furniture. Are they uniform? Do they look newer than the drawer pulls themselves? Study the wood around the hardware. Sometimes there are grooves in the wood suggesting that the pulls have been replaced.

3. Study the inside of the drawers. Dovetails in the drawers are a good way to narrow down the age of a piece of furniture. If the dovetails are very uniform, they were machine cut. In comparison, uneven dovetails indicate a handmade piece. Some drawers might not even have dovetails. Often this is an indication of a primitive, one of a kind piece of furniture.

4. Does the furniture still have it’s original legs? Since ceilings used to be a lot higher in older homes, removal of original legs is a common problem. Sometimes you’ll find pieces with no legs, shortened legs or the addition of completely different legs. With a little close examination, this is fairly easy to spot.

5. Study saw cuts on the edges and back of the furniture. Circular saws were not invented until the mid 1800’s, so this is at least a good place to start determining the age of an antique. Also, look for rough cuts, as this would indicate an early primitive piece.

6. Look for a label or a stamp on the piece. Many early manufacturers used paper labels, ink stamps or impressions on their designs. Be sure to look the piece over. These labels can be found almost anywhere. Turn the piece over and look inside and out. Sometimes these labels will even contain a date. This usually indicates the date production began on this particular design.

7. What kind of wood was used? Determining the type of wood used in creating the piece of furniture can often lead to the age of the piece and the place it was manufactured. Study the inside of the piece to determine if secondary woods were used in drawers and on the back. Many manufacturers of early furniture used inexpensive hardwoods for unseen parts of the piece.

8. Is the furniture still in it’s original intended form? Often times you’ll see a dresser or buffet that stands alone, completely unaware it originally had a matching top or hutch. Or perhaps you’ll find a piece with a top and bottom that don’t match and have been “married” just to make a sale. Careful inspection and you can usually see little hints that these pieces didn’t start out together.

9. Study different styles of furniture. Learn which styles of furniture were popular throughout history. There are many books on the subject as well as sources available online. If you find a piece you like but can’t identify, try looking for it on EBay

10. Determine which pieces of furniture are most commonly reproduced. Furniture makers have been reproducing pieces almost as long as they have been creating them. Therefore, a reproduction is not necessarily a bad thing However, there are usually noticeable differences between the original and the reproduction, such as the type of wood, or the finish used.

Antique appraising and collecting can be like solving a mystery or putting together a puzzle. There are so many clues that tell the story of each beautiful piece of furniture. The fun, excitement, and sometimes profit lies in solving the mystery!

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