Points To Look For In Telling Old From New

General appearance

The general look of a piece of furniture tells the expert whether it is old or not, but this is a matter of experience. If you are interested in old furniture see as many genuine pieces as you can; go to museums where you are certain of the authenticity of the articles. Slowly the eye and mind can be trained to recognize whether the appearance of a piece is true or not.


The ageing of wood alters its colour according to the timber from which it is made, and according to the treatment it has received over the years. Even the hidden inside parts change with time; if a drawer-lining is scraped it will show at once how the surface has aged. Equally, the old polished outside surfaces mellow, and repolishing changes the colour of the wood completely.


It is worth while studying the methods of making furniture, and how they have changed from time to time. How, for instance, the crude dovetails on the heavy drawer sides of 1600 were modified and improved in the course of the century. When examining a piece of furniture in a strong light, it is as well to look for signs of alteration, and to try to reason what was done and why. New screws differ markedly from old; prior to about 1850 they did not taper to a point, Also, the slot in the head was hand-cut and seldom central; in modern machine- made screws it is invariably exactly across the middle of the head. Veneering has been mentioned on earlier pages when it came into use with the introduction of walnut. It may be added that old veneers were cut with a saw by hand, and are consequently quite thick; many of them almost an eighth of an inch. Modern veneers, however, are cut with a machine-driven saw, and are much thinner. This, with other factors, is a useful indication of the genuineness of a piece. The use of some of the rarer woods implies that an article cost more for materials and probably also for labour, and that it was probably made to a high standard throughout. The better-quality eighteenth-century pieces were fitted with oak linings to the drawers, but in exceptional instances this might be mahogany or cedar. Practice varied from workshop to workshop and from period to period, and a guide can give only clues not answers.

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