In this section we will deal with antique furniture identification. The aim is to prevent you from buying a piece of furniture that you think is antique, when in fact is an imitation. We will start by making a summary of the most popular styles, and then we will give you details for identification.
Knowledge of styles will allow you to have a broader vision on how to tell an imitation from the original. However, we must not forget that imitations are not bad at all: simply, you do not have to pay for them what you would pay for an original. Many people decide to buy a good imitation because it is as beautiful as the original and much cheaper.
Gothic Style (1200 - 1450): It is a movement following the Renaissance. Furniture from this period has lots of complex ornaments.
Renaissance Style (1400 - 1600): This movement of cultural and economic resurgence brought the making of furniture with delicate tapestry and noble wood.
Henry II (1519 - 1559): In this period, the tradition of refined furniture begins. The furniture belonging to this period is very delicate and the finish is very precise, manufactured with noble wood.
Baroque Style: Obviously, baroque furniture coincides with the other manifestations on similar style, with its highly adorned decoration.
Luis XV Style (1710 - 1774): Here is where Rococo ornamentation and the Chinese style influence begin. In this period, painted and veneered wood with a subtle chromatic inclinations are used.
Rococo Style (1700 - 1760): In this period, both furniture and tapestry were decorated with romantic, historical, and religious concepts; their construction was arduous and extraordinary skills were required.
Neoclassic Style (1750 - 1850): This style with straight lines and simple structures caught on in the Western furniture tradition, especially on the American continent.
Now we will pass on to give you clear guidelines to make a diagnosis of an antique piece of furniture. The aim of this guide is to help you distinguish between an original and an imitation, although you must remember that this is not to the detriment of imitations, since these are not bad per se. Nevertheless, we want to make clear that the information given below does not replace the skills of an expert, and that it is just a guideline.
The first thing to consider is the wood. The condition of the wood tells us a lot about the authenticity of the piece of furniture. In the first place, we must say that wood color is closely related to two aspects: the passing of time and the original wood. The way the dirt places on the piece and the erosion cause the wood color not to remain even. The surface of an antique piece has variations in color intensity and shine given the passing of time. Another factor is the color of the original wood used to build the piece of furniture. However, not only do we have to pay attention to the color of the original wood, but also we have to check if, in fact, it is the right wood for the piece. To achieve this, we will explain the different types of wood that are used for certain styles.
Taxus: We can find it in English furniture from the 17th Century. It's reddish.
Ambonia: It was used as from year 1700 on, and it has a marred color.
Maple: The furnituremakers began to use it as from the 19th Century. It does not have much chromatic vigor. It is a typical wood from American furniture.
Mahogany: It is golden when best presented. It is not very strong, and it comes from Cuba. In Victorian times, it was used in a reddish color.
Oak: Known for its great strength, it was in Great Britain between the 15th and 17th Centuries.
Jacaranda: Typical of English regency, its color is always near black tones.
Beech: As from the 17th Century, it was used in furniture with tapestry because it is hard to get splintered. It has a light brown color.
Walnut: It appeared in the 15th Century, and it was used to build solid furniture.
Another item to pay attention to is the construction details. Below we are going to list some guidelines that will help you recognize an original piece of furniture by looking at details.
Bolts and nuts: In the 17th Century bolts and nuts were used instead of cotters, to hold door and drawer handles. The first thing you have to look at is that antique nuts were not hexagonal, but round. When grease and dirt accumulates, it leaves a black stain on the wood which surrounds the nuts, and many times this can produce small cracks.
Polishing: The posterior part of antique furniture usually is very badly finished, and is never polished. This happens because this furniture was made to be placed against the wall; therefore it made no sense to polish a part which was not to be shown.
Base: Furniture base was something very common in antiquity. Generally, you will not find a piece of furniture with its original base since, due to the passing of time and the moves, it got broken and lost. If you find a piece of furniture with its original base, probably it is made of corbel -widely used between the 18th and 19th Centuries-. Before that time, flat ball bases were used, which were very common between the 17th and 18th Centuries.