The Dictionary defines Antique as:
“antique [ænˈtiːk] n
1. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Antiques)
a. a decorative object, piece of furniture, or other work of art created in an earlier period, that is collected and valued for its beauty, workmanship, and age
b. (as modifier) an antique shop
2. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Antiques) any object made in an earlier period
3. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Art Terms) the. the style of ancient art, esp Greek or Roman art, or an example of it”
In the Home Interiors, Design and Furniture world, antiques are most often classified by their age and characteristics, age being of 100 years or more. Items that are not that old are often considered ‘Classics”. So, with that in mind, what makes wood furniture of 100 years old or more valuable? Primarily the origin, handcrafted or workmanship, the artisan or woodworker, the condition and the type of material, i.e. rare species of wood and of course, the finish.
Educating yourself with the world of antiques prior to venturing out and investing would be highly recommended! Good ways to do this is by visiting your local library where you should be able to find extensive information to read up on or even take a class at your local community college or just spend time at antique shows learning by speaking with the vendors. As a designer, I encourage my clients to invest in one or more antiques. Antique pieces can be assimilated into almost any type of decor when done properly and scale and proportion are considered.
A basic and primary characteristic of a genuine antique furnishing would be dovetailed drawers; devoid of modern nails, and screws.
A drawer with only a few dovetail joints, with the ‘pins’ at the top and bottom being narrower than the dovetail (part in between) indicate a hand made joint as shown above.
Notice in this picture that the joints are all uniform in the drawer corner shown above depicting machine cut joinery.
In addition to the method of construction, the type of wood also makes a big difference when identifying authentic antique furnishings. Oak was broadly used prior to the 1700’s, however after 1700 and on; walnut and mahogany woods were commonly used. American antiques were commonly crafted from pine as it was very plentiful and equally easy to work with. Higher quality antique pieces were constructed with walnut, mahogany or even maple and cherry woods. Genuine antiques are rarely perfectly cut due to the hand crafted nature whereas a reproduction will be precise and symmetrical as a result of the process of machinery. If you were to investigate the wood closely and were able to determine the saw cuts, you can assume hand cut or circular saw cut which will help you date the item. Circular saws and machine cutting for furniture came along around 1860, making even a machine crafted piece an antique that still falls into the age category of being more than 100 years old. However, this serves to increase the demand for hand crafted pieces causing them to be more sought after and valuable!
I hope you enjoyed your little Antiques 101, check back soon for more on Antiques. If you have a question you would like answered, please submit it below!