How to Tell If a Chair is an Antique
You are at a garage sale and you see a chair you love. It’s old, a bit rickety and costs $25. While $25 may seem steep for a garage sale chair, what if it is an antique? What if it is worth five times $25? How will you know?
There are some simple steps you can follow to date your antique chair.
Examine the chair for carved or burnt-in dates and marks. If you happen to have a Blackberry or an iPhone with you…Google any signature or manufacture’s brand you see. If a chair numbered on the underside of the seat it was most likely made in or after the 19th Century. You can use the number you find and your Blackberry or iPhone to search the Patent Office to discover the manufacturer and date of production. You won’t get an exact year, but rather the years in which that particular piece was produced. This will help you narrow in on the chair’s actual production date.
Notice how the chair is put together. The older the screw or nail, the cruder it will be. Old nails will be square. If you find square nails, but not perfectly square, and they are worn down with age, the chair probably dates before 1820. Screws that date from 1720 to 1860 are short with hand-cut threads and a slot that is not centered. The end of these screws are flat. The chair may be put together without any nails and screws at all. This is a sign of quality. If the chair is really old it will be jointed with no nails or screws.
Flip the chair upside down and find an unfinished spot. What does the grain of the wood look like? You are looking for aged wood and aged lines. Wood wears over time. Carvings and edges become less sharp and nicks appear on corners and edges with age – these are signs of antiquity.
You are also looking for solid pieces of wood. Older furniture was constructed from solid pieces of wood. Antique chairs will not necessarily be level or have even lines. Hand made and hand-carved furniture is not machine perfect, but has the character of time and individuality. Know that before 1700 most furniture was made out of oak – after that all hardwoods, such as cherry, walnut, pine and mahogany were widely used. The type of wood is less an indicator than how aged the wood looks.
Look for tool marks. The scratches, grooves and saw-marks of new furniture are parallel or sanded away. If the cuts are curved the chair probably dates after 1860; before that all wood was cut by hand and the marks are uneven – these uneven tool marks are a good indication that the chair is an antique. Additionally, the cuts may not be completely straight and there may be gaps in the wood. These cuts and gaps are also indications of age and should not be looked at as defects.
If your goal is to search for antiques, invest in books about period pieces...know the difference between American Colonial, Victorian and other antique period pieces. Become an expert and you can purchase antique chairs with confidence.