Tips on buying antique furniture


Anybody can find antique furniture to fit any decor, from country to contemporary. Let the buyer beware: Reproductions abound in the furniture field. Do your homework to make sure you’re purchasing the real deal

Step 1
Become familiar with terms like cabriole legs that you’re going to come across in advertisements and auction catalogs. (By the way, cabriole legs curve out like a cowboy’s after sitting too long in the saddle.)

Step 2
Study the names (there can be more than one) of the styles you like best. Sellers classify their furniture by style: Louis XV, Queen Anne, Chippendale and so on.

Step 3
Check the antiques section of your local bookstore or library for reference guides. The Internet is another good source for information and photographs of different furniture styles.

Step 4
Visit a local museum. Seeing antique furniture up close will help you identify it in the field. Ask the curator for the names of trustworthy local dealers.

Step 5
Learn to spot features that could affect the value of a piece such as damaged finish or joints, or unauthentic hardware. Other important characteristics to look at for authenticity are:

– The size of the boards on tabletops, bureaus and dressers.
– Saw marks on the backs of chests and under tables.
– Secondary wood inside drawers and on dresser backs.
– Original paint finish exposing some cracks and original material.
– Antique glass on mirrors should be very thin.
– Wormholes on the surface of any wood piece.

Step 6
Get to know the local antique dealers and show them your wish list. They’ll have contacts in other cities and states who can further your search. They will also be able to help you recognize a reproduction.

Step 7
Go to an auction. For top-quality, top-dollar furniture, choose an auction house that guarantees what it sells. If you’re not looking for a museum-quality piece, try a country auction, where you could find a bargain.

Step 8
Watch for estate sales. If you’re lucky, a family member will be at the sale to tell you about the piece’s provenance or history.

Step 9
Look through antiquing newspapers and magazines for ads, or search the Internet for antique fairs specializing in furniture.

Step 10
Curb your desire for perfection in a piece of furniture that might be more than 100 years old. It should show signs of wear in places where you’d expect it, like the bottoms of chair legs and underneath drawer runners.

Know your stuff

• Definitions vary, especially regarding more recent items, but generally speaking, an antique is at least 100 years old. Everything newer than that falls into the collectible category.

• Buy pieces you can use. Few of us have extra rooms we can fill with an untouchable collection of antique furniture.

• If you know how to date a piece of furniture, you won’t fall for a reproduction. Read one of the many books on the subject.

Click here to discuss this story and more in the message boards.