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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.


  • 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.
  • TIP: If there are no machine tool marks, the piece was made prior to 1830, when furniture was made by hand.
  • 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.
  • TIP: If a table is perfectly round, it's probably not an antique; the wood would have warped into a slightly oval shape.
  • 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!
  • FACT: A Queen Anne stool from about 1750 sold for more than $5.2 million in 2008, setting a record for any chair sold at auction.

You Will Need

  • Basic knowledge
  • Good eye

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