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03243873_Antique_Wooden Furniture

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Identifying Antique wooden Furniture

Technically, an antique is a piece of furniture with special value because of its age,
particularly those pieces embellished with fine artistry. The age factor is subjective:
general antique stores label objects 50 years or older as antiques. Fine antique
dealers consider objects 150 years and older to be antique.

In the East, an antique is Queen Anne or earlier; in the West, it's any piece of
furniture that came across the mountains in a wagon. A southern antique is a piece
made before the Civil War. Wherever you look, it's a sure bet that you won't find a
genuine antique from 1500 or 1600. What you may find is a genuine reproduction,
and these can be extremely valuable.

There are several ways you can spot an antique. The first giveaway is the joinery;
machine-cut furniture wasn't made until about 1860. If the piece has drawers,
remove a drawer and look closely where the front and back of the drawer are
fastened to the sides of the drawer. If a joint was dovetailed by hand, it has only a
few dovetails, and they aren't exactly even; if it has closely spaced, precisely cut
dovetails, it was machine-cut. Handmade dovetails almost always indicate a piece
made before 1860.


©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
It's easy to spot an antique by the
drawers, because joints weren't
machine-cut until about 1860. If it has
only a few dovetail joints, with pins
narrower than the dovetails, then the
joint was made by hand.



Look carefully at the bottom, sides, and back of the drawer; if the wood shows nicks
or cuts, it was probably cut with a plane, a spokeshave, or a drawknife. Straight saw
marks also indicate an old piece. If the wood shows circular or arc-shaped marks, it
was cut by a circular saw, not in use until about 1860.

Exact symmetry is another sign that the piece was machine-made. On handmade
furniture, rungs, slats, spindles, rockers, and other small-diameter components are
not uniform. Examine these parts carefully; slight differences in size or shape are not
always easy to spot. A real antique is not perfectly cut; a reproduction with the same
components is, because it was cut by machine.

The finish on the wood can also date the piece. Until Victorian times, shellac was the
only clear surface finish; lacquer and varnish were not developed until the mid-
1800s. The finish on a piece made before 1860 is usually shellac; if the piece is very
old, it may be oil, wax, or milk paint. Fine old pieces are often French-polished, a
variation of the shellac finish. A lacquer or varnish finish is a sure sign of later
manufacture.

Testing a finish isn't always possible in a dealer's showroom, but if you can manage
it, identify the finish before you buy. Test the piece in an inconspicuous spot with
denatured alcohol; if finish dissolves, it's shellac. If the piece is painted, test it with
ammonia; very old pieces may be finished with milk paint, which can be removed
only with ammonia. If the piece of furniture is very dirty or encrusted with wax,
clean it first with a mixture of denatured alcohol, white vinegar, and kerosene, in
equal parts.

The wood itself is the final clue. Very early furniture -- before 1700 -- is mostly oak,
but from 1700 on, mahogany and walnut were widely used. In America, pine has
always been used because it's easy to find and easy to work; better furniture may be
made with maple, oak, walnut, cherry, or mahogany. But because the same woods
have always been favored for furniture, workmanship and finish are probably a
better indicator of age than the wood itself.

Older Furniture Styles
Most old wooden furniture you will encounter, most likely, will be either traditional
English or American Colonial styles. Let's review the special characteristics of both
popular types.

Basic English Furniture Styles

The following criteria will help you determine if your old furniture is an English-made
antique.

Queen Anne
Early 18th century
Woods used: Walnut, also, cherry, mahogany, maple and oak.
Description: Graceful curves, curved (cabriole) leg, with no rungs or stretchers;
minimal decoration, very simple; scallop-shell mount.

Georgian Chippendale
Late 18th century
Woods used: Mahogany
Description: Elaboration of Queen Anne; ornate carvings, either delicate or bold;
many themes, including rococo, English, Chinese, Greek classic; intricate chair
backs.

Georgian Adam
Late 18th century
Woods used: Mahogany
Description: Straight, slender lines; heavy Greek classic influence; fluted columns;
delicate low-relief carvings, especially draped garlands.

Georgian Hepplewhite
Late 18th century
Woods used: Mahogany; satinwood inlay/veneer
Desscription: Based on Adam; straight tapered legs; shield- oval-, or heart-shaped
chair backs; less decoration; delicate carvings.

Georgian Sheraton
Late 18th century
Woods used: Mahogany
Description: Similar to Hepplewhite and other Georgian styles; straighter, more
upright lines; Greek classic influence; lyre-shaped chair backs; inlays and thick
veneers.

Regency
Early 19th century
Woods used: Mahogany
Description: Simple, bold curves; smaller scale; more functional, more intimate;
colors used.

Victorian
Late 19th century
Woods used: Mahogany, walnut, rosewood
Description: heavy, massive, substantial; dark finish; clumsy dessign; ornate
carvings and decorations; marble tops used.

Basic American Furniture Styles

The following criteria will help you determine if your old furniture is an American-
made antique.

Early Colonial
17th century
Woods used: Pine; birch, maple, walnut
Description: Hybrid of English styles; square lines; solid construction; heavy
decoration and carving.

Late Colonial
18th century
Woods used: Pine; mahogany
Description: Imported wood; interpretations of Queen Anne and Georgian styles;
formal. Windsor chair.

Federal
Early 19th century
Woods used: Mahogany, cherry
Description: Interpretations of Georgian styles; Duncan Phyfe variations of Sheraton
style; some French influence; heavier versions of English styles. Boston rocker,
Hitchcock chair.

Pennsylvania Dutch
Late 17th to mid-19th century
Woods used: Maple, pine, walnut, fruitwoods
Description: Solid, plain; Germanic style; colorful painted Germanic decorations.

Shaker
Late 18th to mid-19th century
Woods used: Pine; maple
Description: Severely functional; no decoration; superior craftsmanship; excellent
design.

				
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