So you’ve found the perfect antique for your home! But wait – before you dig into your pockets, have you made sure it’s authentic or fake?
The problem is, many fake antiques are convincing enough to look genuine to the untrained eye. So how do you stop yourself paying top-dollar for a fake?
Luckily there’s plenty of telltale signs which give away the age of an item, including its materials, the way it’s made, and the way it’s changed over time.
These signs are very difficult to falsify, so with a bit of know-how and some good detective work, you can use the clues ingrained into the item to determine its authenticity.
An antique is generally classified as an item that’s over 100 years old, so we’ll be looking for signs that date it to pre-1919.
To make your detecting easier, take a black light along with you – this will help to illuminate modern materials like glues, and will show up things you can’t spot with the naked eye.
Materials – Start by considering the wood the piece is made from. If it’s made of oak, walnut, mahogany, cherry or maple, then it could be genuine.
If it’s made of more modern materials, it’s unlikely to be an antique. For example, plywood and particle board were not widely used until later on in the 1900s, and MDF was not made until the 1980s.
Check parts of the item you wouldn’t normally see. As there was little point using expensive wood out of eyesight, older pieces were often made from more than one type of wood. Look for multiple woods as a sign of an antique.
Joints – Check out the joints on the piece.
A general rule of thumb is that the wider and less delicate the join, the older the piece. This is because the joints used to be hand-cut, and so slightly rougher, uneven joints would be expected on antiques.
Dovetail joints only started being machine-cut in 1860, and European makers continued hand making them until around 1920. So a piece with a delicate dovetail would likely have been made after this time.
Similarly, take a look at any screws holding parts together. Screws were handmade until 1880, and so will not be perfectly shaped carbon copies of one another.
Similarly, nails used to be largely square-shaped, up until around 1900.
Finally, look out for pieces that have been wholly glued together with no other joints- this is more of a modern joining technique.
Wear/Age – Unless a piece was made and left untouched for 100 years, it’s most likely going to have signs of wear. Look for sanded-down drawer runners and worn surfaces as signs of use.
Some wood shrinks along the grain with age, meaning the piece will likely be slightly misshapen due to different parts of the wood shrinking faster.
Wood also darkens over time, so check previously-hidden parts of the wood which are now visible due to shrinkage. These areas will be lighter than the rest.
You can check that the wood hasn’t been darkened unnaturally using varnish by simply smelling it.
Smell – Speaking of smell, there should be a distinct ‘antiquey’ smell which comes with age. In contrast, newer furniture will have a more discernible smell of wood.
Make– As we saw before with joints, older furniture was hand-made, and therefore signs of hand sanding and hand cutting are indicators an item is genuine.
Essentially, the more flawed the make of the item, the more likely it is to be real.
Run your hand along the surface to check how smooth it is. This should give you an idea if it was sanded by hand or
by a machine.
Similarly, look at the veneer. Old veneers were cut by hand which meant they were often thicker, so a thinner veneer indicates it was machine cut, and therefore dates it later.
Antique paintings can be worth huge sums of money, which makes it well worth forgers’ while to create convincing replicas. For example, Van Gogh’s Paintings
However, modern paint can fluoresce under a black light, so the use of new supplies will show up straight away.
Look at the canvas – if it’s roughly cut around the edges it’s usually older. Older pieces were also attached to the frame using nails.
Finally, an original piece will be visibly layered, whilst replicas will often lack the depth of the original.
Check the piece for any manufacturing marks. If there are any, check it against a glassmaker marks book or search online. This should help you date the piece.
Put your black light over the glass. The piece will fluoresce different colours based on when it was made. For example, vaseline glass will glow greenish due to uranium oxide used when making it.
As with wooden pieces, imperfections are a signifier of age. So mottled glass is more likely genuine, whilst cleaner, sharp glass is a sign of cut glass which is often used in reproductions.
So there you have it – some key telltale signs that give away an item’s age and authenticity.
If you’re looking for high quality, genuine antiques, visit Westland London. Whether you’re looking for something spectacular to finish a room or just to be inspired, Westland is certainly worth a visit.