How to Determine the Age of Antiques.

To Determine the Age of an Item in your Shop, you can Either Look it up in an Antique Reference Book or Online, or you can Look for the Following Characteristics.



All old wooden furniture can be identified with simple examinations.

Size and shape of dovetails on drawers. Dovetails on old furniture are always larger and less symmetrical than those on modern pieces.

Woodgrain. Furniture makers about one hundred years ago often con­structed tables, dressers, and such, of quarter-sawn wood. This wood was cut to produce a distinctive wavy pattern, sometimes called tiger oak. This cutting method was extremely wasteful and isn't used today.

Saw marks. Before the advent of modem machinery, all wood was cut by hand. Whereas cabinetmakers would take great pains to sand and smooth the exterior surface of a piece of furniture, they often left concealed areas quite rough. You can frequently see obvious saw marks on the underside of tables and the backs of case pieces.

Shrinkage. All wood shrinks in time. With enough time, shrinkage becomes obvious. You'll sometimes see enclosed panels that have split because the cabinetmaker glued the panels into the surrounding framework. The thin panels eventually shrank and the tension caused them to split. Round tables made of softwood such as pine can become slightly oval in time as the wood shrinks across the grain.

Normal wear. Any piece of furniture that's been in use for three or four generations is bound to show some wear. The back legs of chairs may be worn where people have leaned back on them. Many case pieces made of softwood will have definite gouges around knobs and handles caused by fingernails hitting the wood. Kneehole desks and dressing tables nearly always have worn areas around their inner edges from chairs being pushed in and out.



Because silver is a soft metal, the patterns on antique silverware are often slightly blurred by use and polishing. Old silver also has a soft glow, a patina, rather than the brilliant, hard finish of newly made silver.



A great deal of old pattern glass is being reproduced today, and some­times it's very difficult to tell the old from the new. However, when a present-day manufacturer produces glassware from old moulds, sections of the design will be missing or quite faint Also, as a rule, the quality of old glass is superior to that of new glass. If in doubt hold the glass lightly in one hand and tap it with a pencil. Listen for a clear bell-like ring, which indicates that the piece is lead glass. The newer lime glass will thud instead of a ring.

New, finely cut crystal, however, is almost indistinguishable from an antique crystal. The only clue might be a slight etching of the lower surface from repeated scraping across tables and shelves.



As with crystal, fine old china that's been cared for is extremely difficult to distinguish from modem pieces of the same quality. Again, you'll sometimes find a slight roughness on the lower surfaces, which indicates where the piece has been moved back and forth across tables and shelves. Hold a plate at right angles to a strong light too, and you might see faint lines in the finish caused by the hun­dreds of times hungry diners cut their meat there. A sure sign of age, though, is the brown tint and crazing that occurs on much old china and pottery, the result of repeated warming In brick ovens or woodstoves.

By Brown Cauchy


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