Look for These Things When Buying Older Furniture

If you’re looking to add an older piece to your home, there are generally two options to consider: vintage items that you want to refinish and add your own touch to, or classic antiques that you may want to keep in their original style. Overall, there are some mass-produced pieces from 1850 to 1960 that make great candidates for a new finish as they don’t have a high antique value but are still excellent pieces of furniture. However, pieces older than 1850 should be researched further so you can decide whether to conserve them before making any drastic changes.

To be 100% sure about the piece you have, it helps to ask someone who specializes in antique furniture. For a general guideline to assess the age and quality on your own, here are four things to look for. Keep in mind that there are also exceptions to these rules.

  • Dovetail Joints – A dovetail joint is strong and requires a skilled artisan to make. Seeing these often indicate that the furniture piece is well-made. While some specialty furniture makers and hobbyists still use hand-cut dovetails, often you can date an American made piece to before 1890, as machine-cut dovetails became more prominent in factories after this date. While machine-cut dovetails are wide and uniform in design, hand-cut dovetails are slightly irregular in their size and shape, and the pins are thin and tapered.
  • Backing – If when looking at the back of your furniture you see it is made from solid wood, it was likely made before the 1880s. Plywood became popular in the early 20th century, and particleboard is likely from a piece later than the 1960s.
  • Inscriptions or Manufacturer’s Stamps – Occasionally, you may find a piece that still bears some marking that tells you more about its origin. Older pieces that were made by hand sometimes have an inscription or signature from the furniture maker. This may be a simple pencil signature inside a drawer, so be sure to check for them. If you find something like this, it is advised to have the item appraised. Around the 20th century, paper labels began to be used, followed by brass plaques inside drawers or on the back of an item. Around the 1950s and 1960s, spray-painted stencils became more popular. If you have a piece you feel is particularly old but doesn’t have any stamps or inscriptions, keep in mind that in some sets, only one piece was marked, and your item may have gotten separated from the rest of its suite.
  • Original Hardware and Details – Original hardware can tell a lot about an item. Brass or wooden drawer pulls tend to indicate that a piece is older. You can use collectible pieces and known antiques to help identify their style and age. Additionally, marble-top dressers and beds with oversized headboards and footrests tend to be from the late 1800s, items on casters are often from pre-1930, and dressers with mirrors attached with a harp are from the early 20th century while separate mirrors are from the 1940s or later.

Visit Our Showroom to View Our Wide Furniture Selection in Toronto

The Carrocel showroom features an impressive selection of unique vintage, antique and restored items to furnish and decorate your home. Visit our 20,000 square-foot showroom to view our displays and speak with our expert staff. We are located at 245 Bridgeland Avenue in central Toronto.

Pair of Vintage Makassar Ebony Arm Chairs

Antique French Louis XV Style Marble Top Commode with Floral Marquetry

Vintage Olive Burl Vanity Cabinet with Mirror

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