Vintage Furniture Identification Basics

Tips and suggestions for recognizing, spotting and finding valuable vintage or antique furniture.

Whether you're decorating your home in vintage furniture, or just looking around the local flea markets for a nice vintage piece for your den, it helps to know a little something about how to spot vintage furniture before purchasing. A furniture piece might not be worth a lot, simply because it has some years on it. Just about any piece, if it's in good shape, can hold some value after 100 years or so. Although some of these pieces might not be top-of-the-line in antiques, after withstanding the test of time they become somewhat valuable to certain individuals. One way of spotting a vintage piece is if it has been signed and dated by the maker. Many pieces were, but often this was handwritten on the underside of the piece somewhere, and is now nowhere to be seen, having faded throughout the years.

If you think you've learned to recognize certain pieces, such as Queen Anne or Chippendale, don't always trust your eyes. Watch out for reproductions that can look even more beautiful than the original to an untrained eye. The originals are often found only in museums and showcases these days, but on a rare occasion a piece may be found at an auction. Typical designs found in Queen Anne pieces are "S"-type scrolls in the wood, wide seats that flare out, and "claw" feet. With exact replicas put out on the market, it's nearly impossible to know which is a genuine Queen Anne. One way to examine a piece is by turning it over. If it has a paper tag or traces of where a tag once was, this is not a genuine Queen Anne piece. As a matter of fact, most genuine antiques from this era would have no tag markings whatsoever, since it was not required by any laws at that time to label the piece in any way. Fake pieces often do have a tag and in addition, replicas are often "beaten" at the factory. Chains and other implements are sometimes used for hitting the wood so that it will look older and more abused than it actually is. Look for repeat pattern marks on the piece. If you see a mark with 3 small scratches gathered together, then you see that same mark on another area of the piece, chances are it's a replica.

As years went by in the furniture-making business, it became commonplace to attach a printed tag which listed the maker, the country and often the year. These tags can be forged, so any time you're considering the purchase of an expensive vintage piece, have an appraiser look the piece over first. When examining a tag, it could very well be faded, covered in varnish because it has been refinished or even missing completely. Tags are a good way of determining how old the piece is, if the year happens to be listed. But, don't be fooled by the label. Just because a piece has a nice label with the manufacturer, year and country listed, doesn't mean it's a rare or collector's piece. If there is a label in tact and the piece turns out to be a true vintage piece, the tag will add to the worth of the furniture. Having a tag with documented age and origin is always a plus when collecting vintage pieces.

If your vintage tastes run a little more recent, you can somewhat identify certain vintage pieces by their colors and designs. For instance, in the 1960's more color was added to certain household pieces, so it wasn't unusual to see lamps in greens and yellows. Couches had a boxy look done in shades of yellow, green or orange. In the 1970's, brown, rust, orange and yellow were very popular, with many designs taking on more of an early American style.

No matter what type of vintage furniture you're interested in, take steps to identify the piece by reading up on identifying specific era marks, asking a professional antique dealer to accompany you during the purchase, or by taking photos to compare with pictures in books at your local library or online.

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