Furniture whose design represents the creative ideals of a certain age serves as a link to the past and is a monument to the skill of craftsmen. A celebration of traditional methods of crafting – “The past has always been a source of tremendous value and inspiration to designers,” says Helen Linfield of excellent antique merchants Wakelin & Linfield. There will always be a natural desire for innovation and change, but the greatest antique furniture, such as the Biedermeier-style furniture, will be able to withstand the storm of faddish fashion and economics.”
However, antique furniture might appear to be a confusing world, with a diversity of styles and provenance issues mingling together. We sought help from members of LAPADA, the Association of Art & Antique Dealers, who can be distinguished by the sign of a golden chandelier displayed in their stores and beside their items at fairs, to navigate this interesting but, at times, hard world. Now numbering over 550 members, each of whom must fulfill stringent and high requirements of experience, stock quality, and topic expertise.
Shop With Your Eyes And Your Heart
A prospective buyer wanting to make a new purchase may be tempted to choose furnishings based only on investment rather than personal style. This entails hedging your bets on a positive market move, which may be a hazardous game – even experts occasionally come up short when making such forecasts. To avoid regretting a purchase, it is always best to buy furniture that you actually enjoy.
If the object is visually beautiful and you believe it will offer you joy to look at every day, this is a great place to start since the pleasure you will gain from it in the future will be your investment.”
When Investigating The Authenticity Of An Item, Don’t Be Afraid To Get
The danger of parting with a big sum of money only to subsequently learn that the piece in the issue is a convincing counterfeit is possibly the most widespread (and well-founded) concern of the beginner collector. When evaluating an object whose origin is unclear or non-existent, a potential buyer should not be reluctant to check it thoroughly.
A reputable antique dealer understands that this is part of the process and should have no objections to you doing so; anybody who is hesitant for no apparent reason, on the other hand, should raise a few eyebrows. Thakeham Furniture Ltd’s Harriet Chavasse provides the following investigative guide:
First, examine for anything out of place; is the top, back, or sides constructed of plywood? Plywood was not employed in furniture production until the 1930s; therefore, it would never have been used in a Georgian item. Chipboard, staples, and Phillips screws are further signs of later construction. Antique chairs were usually fashioned with mortice and tenon joints; thus, a dowel-joined Georgian chair is not Georgian!
- The next step is to turn the item upside down (if feasible!). If it is a large table, such as a diner, I typically recommend that people bring a torch to have a good look below. The first thing to look for is almost part of the top’s ‘patina’: if a table has been used for two centuries or so, there will be a waxy ring around the under edge where people’s fingertips have touched the table. This is almost hard to replicate; if the bottom is too clean or has stain brush traces, avoid it.
- If the object is veneered, the thicker the veneer, in general, the older the piece. Veneers were hand-sewn until far into the nineteenth century; therefore, they had to be coarsely cut. They were cemented down [usually with ‘Scotch’, or animal glue], sanded, and polished in place. Veneers got thinner and thinner as automation advanced until they were practical ‘paper’ thin by the twentieth century.
- When inspecting screws and nails, dates are critical. Screws, as we know them now, were invented around 1675 and were handcrafted until the mid-nineteenth century. A handmade screw has little or no taper, the slot on the head is seldom centrally aligned, and the spiral is substantially shallower than a machine-made screw. Nails were cut square, with round wire nails not being utilized until around 1900.
- Finally, run your hand over the tabletop: a new top will have a fresh finish that is not as smooth and silky to the touch as the original patination; the grain may be elevated, or the edges may be unusually sharp for an antique object. As with other aspects of antique purchasing, experience is important; but trust your instincts: a piece that simply ‘feels’ wrong is often wrong, and your eye will eventually get tuned in.