While you will find that we offer some fantastic guidelines, the best answers can only be given by a qualified appraiser or by investing in furniture restoration. The information provided below, though incomplete, was sourced from the Antiques Roadshow Primer. Feel free to purchase the book at pbs.org to know more about such information.
Is My Furniture Antique?
The first step is to determine if your old furniture qualifies as “antique“. Not every piece of old furniture is antique, any that attains such recognition has to be old.
Conduct a physical check by feeling the back of the item and underneath it; any sharp corners or edges are often a sign of the piece being a recent manufacture.
The furniture may have been reupholstered making it look new. You can confirm if the item is old by lifting one edge to check for nail holes; these are a sign of the item getting several new coverings over the course of its life.
Also check for any distinctive patterns that were carved into the wood by the teeth of a circular saw, a sign of manufacturing done after 1840.
Handmade screws have a variable width between the spirals all along their shafts. Remove one or two screws from inconspicuous areas of the furniture. You may note that the slot in the head is off-centre. You will be working on new screws if you note regular and evenly spaced threads running the entire length of the shaft that ends with a sharp point.
Most antique furniture with wooden veneers have veneers with thick irregular widths. Confirm this by checking the edges of the veneer for any bits of it that broke away. The modern veneers are made with a thick and regular width.
Most antique tables and many of the old makes do not have plastic or metal taps at the base of their feet. In some cases, the taps may be a recent addition.
If you check the leg joints of antique table pedestals, you will find that they were reinforced with tri-part metal straps or metal discs that are hand hammered onto the joints. As for the later products made in the twentieth century, they have large crimped staples. The antique tables will have a top made of a single board of wood as opposed to the ply-boards in use today.
In America, antique mirror glass was imported up until 1800. The glass is no more than 1/8-inch-thick, has a gray colour and is wavy. You should hold the tip of a key to the glass to see how the image looks. For an antique mirror glass, the image will look very close to the actual key.
Is My Antique Furniture Valuable?
Determining the value of the old furniture is based on four criteria: Rarity, Condition, Quality and Provenance, with condition and provenance being easier to establish. Rarity and quality take a bit of time and require adequate research, experience and a keen eye. The appraiser may need to consider other elements such as finish, patina and colour to value the furniture accurately.
Besides the mentioned characteristics that will require you to get the knowledge of an expert, you will need to watch out for a few other specifics when evaluating the antique furniture such as:
- New mirror glass undervalues antique mirrors
- The most valuable kind of highboy is the bonnet-top
- Any ornate design was done with some significant handiwork
- A wing chair with cabriole legs characterised by ornamental feet at the end of the curved legs has of a higher value that one with block legs
- Massive furniture pieces that are too huge for the modern home tend to be less desirable than smaller pieces that have a more versatile design.
- Fancy chairs often have delicate sides and arms done with gilt and paint will lose their value once they are repainted. So, you can know if they are of a lesser value if you by scratching an inconspicuous spot to check for any layers of paint.
- Original upholstery will maintain or up the furniture’s value if kept in good condition and it retains its original state.
- The Classic period Saber-leg chairs with feet-ends done in brass or carved paws are more valuable than those with turned or straight legs.