How to Determine the Time Frame When an Antique Armoire Was Built


Antique armoires are valued and loved pieces of furniture. An armoire is a tall, stand-alone piece of wooden furniture with a closet rod and sometimes shelving to store clothing. Armoires were considered a necessary part of homes built prior to the middle of the 19th century when closets were built into homes. If you own an antique armoire or plan to buy one, there are some factors you can consider to determine the age of the piece.

  • Identify the type of wood. Armoires typically have backs, bottoms and insides made with inexpensive wood such as pine or maple. It was economical to spend money on inexpensive wood that did not show. Modern armoires are made with one kind of wood throughout.

  • Check carved areas. Most ornamental sections of antique armoires were made by hand. The carved areas on old furniture pieces will feel uneven and bumpy to the touch. If the edges are smooth and appear perfectly created, the carving was probably done by machine. Machine wood carvings indicate the armoire is not old.

  • Look for signs of shrinkage. Over the years antique wood furniture pieces will show signs of wood shrinkage. When this happens the wood tends to darken. A good place to look for this on your armoire is on the front panels, doors or anywhere where the wood is thin. Due to the shrinkage, the panels might not fit into the frame perfectly. You might also find splits or cracks on the antique armoire which is also a sign of shrinkage.

  • Inspect hinges, handles and knobs. Take a close look at the armoire’s hardware. Real vintage hardware will have a patina. Patina is usually a greenish discoloration which is a sign the hardware is old. Oxidation on the wood around the hardware is also typical. The wood darkens from the oxidation.

  • Inspect for saw marks. In an antique armoire you want to find irregular, uneven saw marks. You can usually find them on the back or underside of the piece. After 1830, wood was cut by a sawmill which produced straight, more uniform pieces of wood.

  • Look at screws and nails. In the 1700s nails were forged by blacksmiths individually, with square heads. After 1880, nails were made by machine and came with round heads. Handmade screws were made until 1815. The slot on the screw head was cut by hand and was rarely cut straight.

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