When buying antique furniture you should look for a variety things:
Oxidation: the natural color of wood changes over time affected by air. Be sure the change in color is from time, not caused by stain.
Patina: The natural process of an object being handled over the years will give a softer, mellow appearance.
- Check the inside of a cupboard, chest or drawer. When faking furniture, the most attention is given to the outside of the piece, not the interior. Check for unfinished surfaces or lack of stains, which would have been created over years of use in an antique. Smell the piece. It should not smell like fresh cut wood.
- A genuine antique piece of furniture will have wear to the feet, legs, and case no matter how well it was cared for. If it is an original piece of painted furniture, the wear should be natural and uneven. Fake wear on a painted piece of furniture is easy to spot once you have examined an authentic pieces. Old paint is hard, and is difficult to remove. New paint used on fake pieces is easy to remove. Dirt and dust should have collected in cracks and crevices. No dust? Beware!
- Back boards on antique furniture are almost always of uneven width. Back boards on fakes are usually uniform in size. Inspect for shrinkage. All old pieces will have some shrinkage.
- A fake will usually be made completely from one kind of wood. A genuine antique will almost always use several different woods. The case might be walnut, the drawers poplar.
- Old handmade nails vs. newly manufactured nails and the evidence of old tool marks are important clues as to the age of a piece of furniture.
Many fakers are taking apart genuine pieces and recreating several “new” antiques using pieces from the old. Be sure your piece started life as it appears today.
Honest repairs and restoration are perfectly acceptable. Be sure you are aware of the difference between repaired and brand new.