|The general look of a piece of furniture tells the expert
whether it is old or not, but this is a matter of experience. If
you are interested in old furniture see as many genuine pieces
as you can; go to museums where you are certain of the
authenticity of the articles. Slowly the eye and mind can be
trained to recognize whether the appearance of a piece is true
The aging of wood alters its colour according to the timber from
which it is made, and according to the treatment it has received
over the years. Even the hidden inside parts change with time;
if a drawer-lining is scraped it will show at once how the
surface has aged. Equally, the old polished outside surfaces
mellow, and repolishing changes the colour of the wood
It is worth while studying the methods of making furniture, and
how they have changed from time to time. How, for instance, the
crude dovetails on the heavy drawer sides of 1600 were modified
and improved in the course of the century. When examining a
piece of furniture in a strong light, it is as well to look for
signs of alteration, and to try to reason what was done and why.
New screws differ markedly from old; prior to about 1850 they
did not taper to a point, Also, the slot in the head was
hand-cut and seldom central; in modern machine-made screws it is
invariably exactly across the middle of the head.
Old veneers were cut with a saw by hand, and are consequently
quite thick; many of them almost an eighth of an inch. Modern
veneers, however, are cut with a machine-driven saw, and are
much thinner. This, with other factors, is a useful indication
of the genuineness of a piece.
The use of some of the rarer woods implies that an article cost
more for materials and probably also for labour, and that it was
probably made to a high standard throughout. The better-quality
eighteenth-century pieces were fitted with oak linings to the
drawers, but in exceptional instances this might be mahogany or
cedar. Practice varied from workshop to workshop and from period
to period, and a guide can give only clues not answers.
If you are really interested in discovering more ways to
appraise antique wood furniture, then the most comprehensive
book on all aspects of old English furniture is The Dictionary
of English Furniture, by Percy Macquoid and Ralph Edwards. It is
in three large volumes, copiously illustrated, and was first
issued in 1927. A further edition, revised and enlarged by Ralph
Edwards, was published in 1954.
Also, an excellent guide to the period 1720-1820 is Georgian
Furniture, issued by the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1951.
A standard work on French furniture is Les Ebenistes du XVIW
Siecle, by Comte Francois de Salverte, of which the fourth
edition was published in Paris and Brussels in 1953. Also
written in French, but less exhaustive and cheaper in price is
Les Meubles Francois du XVIW Siecle, by Pierre Verlet. It is in
two volumes: i, Menuiserie, ii, Ebenisterie, published in Paris
in 1956. In English the Wallace Collection, London, Catalogue of
French Furniture, by F. J. B. Watson, issued in 1956, containing
a great deal of information and many illustrations.
The more you educate yourself on the matter of fine wood
furniture, the better eye you will develop over time, resulting
in an antiques collection to make you the envy of all your house
About the author:
FREE advice and articles on appraising antiques of all
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