The first thing we need to know is what the definition of an antique is. An antique is something that is over one hundred years old. People claim that a product is an antique all the time when it’s not. If you buy something from a flea market or yard sale and someone is claiming that it is an antique how do you know if it is or not? How do we protect ourselves from frauds? The answer to our question is to be knowledgeable in antiques.
Real antiques are imperfect and flaws are inconsistent. Reproductions are smooth and the flaws have been planted intentionally. There are several ways to spot an antique. First, you need to check the joinery. Joinery is the method used to join wood together. You can tell if a machine made it. There weren’t any machines until the 1860’s. Another way to determine antique status is to check the saw marks. Round markings weren’t made until the 1860s. Before that time in history, a plane and drawknife were used which caused straight lines.
Boards separating at the seams instead of being flat and smooth is another sign that it is an antique. Another strong sign is if there are dark marks on the piece meaning it was wet (perhaps from a plant). Look for nicks and dings on the corners, and even worm holes. Just make sure the holes weren’t made by a drill. Make sure the hardware differs slightly from others. A new piece would be all the same. Take out the drawers and inspect the bottom and sides. An antique would have irregular dovetail joints, a new one would have perfect ones. Dovetail joints join a drawer together with interlocking pieces of wood.
Single slot screws is another sign of an antique. The runner of the drawers would show a lot of wears from lots of years of opening and closing. You can also tell by the odor of the product an antique smells musty and sometimes even moldy. Usually, a square nail and worm holes together show it is an antique. Under a chair if there is different wood from the rest it is probably antique. Wood was so scarce they saw no need in using the expensive stuff when it couldn’t be seen. In the seating area, the stuffing was made of horsehair or hay. Using modern products like fiberboard, staples, and Phillips screws show a reproduction.
An antique that hasn’t been restored is more expensive than one that has. To find out if it has been restored look underneath to see if there are drips and runs.