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antique furniture

A Guide To Antique Furniture


Furniture has been with us since man decided that he needed something more comfortable than the hard ground to sit upon. Queens and Kings sit on their royal furniture to show superiority and authority. The crafting of solid, hand carved furniture is a dying art. Some of the best craftsmen created tables, beds, chairs and dressers for comfort, relaxation and entertainment. The popularity of antique furniture is on an upward rise because it is an expression of a person's character, a decorative object of their admiration as well as an article of investment. Most furniture older than 25 years old is a collectible antique.


Most of the early furniture from the 17th century was made from oak because it was readily available and abundant in most parts of the country. Middle class growth gave rise to a demand for furniture not only for domestic purposes, but also for showcasing the wealth and prestige of the individual to the outside world. This resulted in an increasing quantity of high quality furniture which was quite often designed in a localized form peculiar to the area. Many items were custom made to order and would reflect the specific requirements of decoration and size and also would be dated and initialled. Most often these would commemorate a birth or marriage in a family. Initials and brands are often found on furniture and sets of different initials indicate a change of ownership.

Antique furniture covers a wide range of styles, designs, types and historical periods--American, English, German, French and Oriental. All of these have their respective following and within each of these classifications are subclasses that indicate style and historical periods. The predominate types of wood are oak, mahogany, pine and walnut and these different types significantly affect the value of antique furniture. The construction details, type of furniture, hardware and provenance are also important in determining value as is having all the original components. Many pieces of antique furniture have had components replaced or hardware changed and this results in the decrease of the value of the piece. How does one know if they have a collectible piece of antique furniture? There are characteristics and qualities which define and determine collectibility.


The characteristics and qualities that one should look for are:

Original material
Original finish
Production quantity
Hand carvings/detail work

Original material - It is always best not to recover or repair unless the material matches very closely. Worn or tattered cloth material can still command a high value for antique furniture. Some chairs were hand done with needlepoint while others were covered with velvet for royal families. These items can usually be traced to wealthy or famous people and provenance increases the value substantially.

Original finish - The older the piece of antique furniture, the thinner the finish. Many times cost saving techniques were used such as applying a blackened stain over oak to give it the appearance of mahogany. These finishes still increase the appraisal value. An original finish is one of the most important traits of antique furniture. The less the amount of wear, scratches, gouges and nicks, the greater the value. Do not be tempted to refinish antique furniture because this will greatly diminish the value.

Nameplates/markings - Most pieces of antique furniture have either a nameplate, marking or tag attached which indicates the craftsman or manufacturer. This nameplate provides a wealth of information to the appraiser such as the time period and the craftsman. For example, dressers usually have one drawer that is stamped with the manufacturer's "seal of quality". These nameplates or markings could be located anywhere on the furniture and sometimes are part of the finished product.

Production quantity - The least amount of quantity of production equates to higher values of antique furniture. Limited production dates or early versions from well-known manufacturers increase the appraisal values.

Hand Carvings/detail work - Hand crafted items and special orders command higher values than ones stamped out on a production line. Antique furniture with hand-carved patterns are more desirable antiques, especially if there are multiple items carved to make a complete, matched set. Some examples are living room furniture or dining room sets. Value of an item increases in direct proportion to the amount of time it took the craftsman to make it. Also of value is furniture created for famous people, be they movie stars, royalty or presidents.

Age - The age of a piece of antique furniture determines how rare it is. Over time, pieces disappear or are lost and add to the rarity of it which drives up the value.

Links of Interest

Andy's Antiques - Features pictures of the antique furniture he has collected and tips for collectors.
Arts and Crafts, Craftsman or Mission Antiques - Detailed study of the Arts and Crafts movement in furniture and design.
A Brief History of Medieval European Joinery - Illustrated article includes resources on English and European furniture joinery.
Centennial or Colonial? - Essay on reproduction colonial furniture made in 1876 for the American centennial celebration.
From Furniture Factory to Funeral Home - Essay examining the connection between American furniture making and coffin making.
Furniture and Woodworking - Examines early Mennonite furniture and cabinetmakers. Includes bibliography.
Furniture Wizard's Discussion Group - Discussion forum for refinishers, restorers, do-it-yourselfers, and entrepreneurs. Provides resources, advice, and opinions.
Gustav Stickley - Brief biography of the Arts and Crafts furniture maker.
Gustav Stickley and Stickley Furniture - Brief history of their impact on the Arts and Crafts movement.
History of Furniture Timeline - Timeline of furniture styles ranging from the 17th to 20th centuries.
Identifying Period Hardware - Illustrated examples and descriptions of antique furniture hardware.
Material Culture - Guidelines and questions when studying antique furniture. Includes lists of resources and use of marks.
Modern Terms - Glossary of 20th century styles and periods.
Pine World - Published twice a year, a buyers guide for antique and reproduction pine furniture.
Pull Up a Chair - Chair collecting tips from Antiques Roadshow.
Selected Furniture - Highlights of the furniture collection of Florida's Division of Historical Resources. Includes photographs, descriptions, and discussion.
Substyles of Nineteenth Century Furniture - Brief chronology and description of American furniture styles.
Tribu-Design - Database of 20th century furniture, lighting, interior and industrial design.
Wallace Nutting Library - Features photographs of Nutting's turn of the century furniture as well as information on his prints.
WeBidz Online Auction Site - Online auction site where registration is easy and listing is always free
Windsor Chair Resources - Includes Windsor chair references, chairmaker tools and tips for the chairmaker and collector.

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