How to Tell the Age of Antique Furniture

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Determining the age of antique furniture is not an exact science, but there are certain indicators of age evident in furniture. How a piece is constructed is a common measure of age. You should look at the screws, nails, wood, joining and hardware. The condition and quality of materials are used to gauge the age of a piece. The wear and tear of a piece of furniture also helps to tell its age. A legitimate antique is one hundred years old or older. It should have a bit of scarring to show for its time. Here are a few tips on how to determine the age of a piece of furniture.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape Flashlight
  • Measure the tabletop for round tables. Wood shrinks over time, and only in one direction. Round tabletops should be out of round, meaning they should be slightly oval. Measure the tabletop from top to bottom and from left to right. You should have a discernible amount of difference between the two measurements.

  • Remove a drawer in cabintry. The corners should be dovetailed together. If you see one large dovetail, the piece could be early eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century, cabinetmakers were using several smaller dovetails to join together the sides of drawers. Look at the craftsmanship of the dovetails. If each dovetail is the same size and evenly spaced, they were crafted on machinery. This puts your piece into the Victorian era at the earliest.

  • Look at the nails used in the construction of your piece of furniture. If you're unable to remove any nails, look closely, using a magnifying glass, at the nail head. If it is square, but not perfectly so, and worn thin, it could mean your piece was constructed before 1820. If the head is square, but shows little sign of wear, then the nails are not a good indicator on this piece.

  • Look at the screws. Is the slot off center? If so, the screw could be handmade. Handmade screws were used until around 1815. You need to remove a screw and examine it to be certain it is handmade. The cutting of the shaft should be uneven and the end blunted rather than pointed. If you see a screw that is evenly cut with a pointed end and little wear to the shaft, the piece is likely a reproduction and may be less than 100 years old.

  • Check the areas around the handles. Are they more worn than the rest of the piece? Take hold of the handle. Look at where your skin comes into contact with the handle and the area around it. Years and years of handling and contact with skin oils should leave a patina on both the handles and the surrounding wood.
    Look at how the handles and hinges were fastened onto the piece. Does the type of screw or nail correspond with the era the style of hardware represents? If the screws look newer or the style of the hardware differs from the style of the rest of the piece, the hardware is no longer a good indicator.
    The hardware on your furniture can be used to date the piece, providing it is original hardware. The style will tell you which period the piece represents, but there are literally hundreds of different styles used throughout the centuries. Do not depend only on hardware style to date a piece.

  • Look on the underside or backside of the piece. Find an area of raw wood. Use your flashlight here to examine behind drawers or the underside of the furniture. If there are circular saw marks, the piece was made after 1850. If the saw marks are straight, the wood was cut with a handsaw, dating it before 1850.

  • Look at the underside of the feet of a chair. These areas should be worn out. Rungs should have discoloration or be worn down where you would place your feet. Check out the back of the chair. Are there nicks from it being banged against walls for many years?

  • Look for discoloration from hot bowls and spilled liquids on dining tables. Look for the edge to be worn down and rounded. Table legs should be nicked from kicks and the feet flat from being dragged.

  • Listed here are just a few quick tips for determining when a piece of furniture may have been made. To verify--and certify--when any piece was constructed, screws and nails need to be examined, hinges removed and bits of veneer scraped off. But if you are looking at a piece and need a quick idea, these few tips will help you along.

  • Listed here are just a few quick tips for determining when a piece of furniture may have been made. To verify, and certify, when any piece was constructed, screws and nails need to be examined, hinges removed, bits of veneer scraped off. But if you are looking at a piece and need a quick idea, these few tips will help you along.

Tips & Warnings

  • Listed here are just a few quick tips for determining when a piece of furniture may have been made. To verify--and certify--when any piece was constructed, screws and nails need to be examined, hinges removed and bits of veneer scraped off. But if you are looking at a piece and need a quick idea, these few tips will help you along.
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