Eight Tips for Buying Antique Furniture

Where and how should you buy antique furniture? If you are thinking about buying antique furniture, there is a lot to consider. This is primarily because you are not just buying used furniture, but furniture from a specific era or culture. This is a smart strategy to get top quality furniture at a bargain and so you must take extra care. Below are some expert tips from a furniture appraiser to help you get the best vintage furniture pieces that match your décor, lifestyle and budget.

Examine How the Piece Was Made

If the piece you are looking at has drawers, you can easily tell if it is handmade or not by simply examining how the drawers were constructed. If the piece is handmade, you should see dovetails at the side of the drawer. You should also see larger cut marks, known as kerf marks, on the front inside of the drawer, particularly where it meets the sides. These marks indicate where the craftsman was cutting out the dovetails before attaching the drawer face to the sides. They are proof of hand craftsmanship. The lack of dovetails could indicate that the piece is held together with nails and glue, typical of 20th-century furniture.

Check out the Hardware

Before you close the drawers, inspect the hardware as well. There should be a nut and threaded post securing the brass hardware to the drawer front. If you see a flathead or slotted screw instead, it is an indication of newer hardware. This can be both a positive and negative revelation depending on what you want, as newer pieces let you change them easily, while original pieces are authentic to the item.

Try to Find a Label, Stamp or Signature

Drawers hold a lot of information regarding the age and authenticity of a piece of furniture. Check on the underside and backs of drawers for a label, stamp or signature. Signatures are rare on pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries, but if you find chalk signatures or pencil marks, they could tell you when and by whom the piece was made. Stamps are common in factory-made furniture from the late 19th century up to around the 1950s. These impressed or stencilled numbers indicate the designs produced by the factory and may not necessarily be names.

Check for Any Damage or Wear

Check on the areas of the furniture that are more susceptible to wear. Those are the areas that are most likely to be damaged. For a chair, check the back – since most people like to tip or lean back on chairs. Also, the splats (centre supports) and crest (upper portion) are the most likely parts to be replaced or repaired. For bigger items like sofas or chests of drawers, people often push them rather than lift when moving them. Therefore, check their feet for signs of replacement or damage.

However, it is important to note that wood will contract and expand over time due to temperature fluctuations, and so a crack in the wood should not worry you unless it is severe. This is particularly common in antique furniture pieces from the 17th to early 19th centuries.

Know the Difference between Repair and Replacement

While this might seem obvious, many people do not really understand the difference. A repair occurs when an original piece is fixed back onto a piece of furniture. On the other hand, a replacement involves repairing an original piece of furniture with an entirely new piece. Because of this, an original repair will be completely different in perception and value when compared to one with replacement pieces.

Decide How You Feel About Refinished Furniture

There are two different opinions regarding the finish on a piece of furniture. The first argument is by purists who hold the view that the original finish is part of the piece’s history and therefore, should never be altered. To them, the original finish, which includes accumulated layers of dirt, grime and oils, gives the piece its authenticity. If you subscribe to this view, you can tell if a piece still has its original finish if it looks black or purple in colour and has a cracked varnish or crazed surface, resembling the skin of an alligator.

The second argument builds on the view that the original finish, though showing the age of the piece, also obscures the quality of wood that the maker may have wanted to highlight. They argue that the maker may not have intended for the piece to look cracked or coloured when they made it. If you hold this view, you will tend to be drawn by pieces that are shiny and look new. However, it is important to remember that the original finish adds value to the piece and once gone, it is nearly impossible to get it back.

Buy Pieces You Love at Carrocel

When buying antique furniture, avoid treating the pieces as investments. Just like stocks and bonds, their value will always fluctuate. With that said, it is important to thoroughly check the piece for dovetails and original hardware while also considering its age. However, even more importantly, remember that you will live with that piece of furniture, so buy what you love. Talk to Carrocel today to learn more about how we can help you own top quality antique furniture at affordable prices.

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