How to Buy Antique Furniture

Is that dusty table at least 100 years old, making it a genuine antique – or is it a cleverly aged fake? Here are some ways to tell the difference.

You will need

  • Basic knowledge
  • Good eye

Step 1 Look at the color Look at the color of the wood. It changes over time, so a true antique won’t be uniform in color unless it’s been refinished.

Step 2 Nail the nails Check out the nails — those used after 1880 have round shanks and round heads. Before 1800, they were squarish. In between, they had L-shaped heads that made holes in the shape of a rectangle. Beware of old, rusty nails in rust-free holes; it’s often the sign of a fake.

Step 3 Examine tabletops and sides Examine a tabletop in the light; with a truly old table, the top will be wavy. If the table has sides, they should be difficult to lower and raise, also due to shrinkage.

Step 4 Check out chairs Check out a chair’s feet: Very old ones will be so hard they’ll almost feel like stone. If it’s upholstered, peek under the corners of the upholstery; an old chair will likely have several sets of nail holes. Rub your hand over the rails on the underside for saw marks; old saws made irregular marks, which can be felt.

Step 5 Inspect drawers Inspect drawers. Dovetailing — pieces of wood joined in a pattern resembling a dove’s tail — is the hallmark of an antique. On desks, see if right-side drawers are more worn; most people are right-handed.

Step 6 Watch for faked aging Be suspicious if the wear and tear is too uniform. Some dealers try to make modern pieces look old by scraping them with sandpaper. Happy hunting!