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.