Antique dating periods
Wider, uniform machine-cut dovetails (pictured below, bottom piece) were common in factory-made pieces from 1890 until the modern era.Look at the backside of your piece, including the insides and backs of drawers if applicable.“The basic rule of thumb is, if the piece was made before 1850, you want to do some homework on whether it should be conserved rather than restored—meaning to preserve and stabilize the piece as it is now,” she says.“If it’s been in the family a while, it’s worth finding out before you do some damage.” To muddy the waters a bit, there are some more recent pieces by prominent makers—for example, from the Art Deco and Arts and Crafts periods (shown in the photo below) — that command high prices and shouldn’t be touched.With a few exceptions, they don’t have high value as antiques but are solidly made and can last for many years.However, if you have questions about how old your piece is, consult an expert first, says Teri Masaschi, author of Foolproof Wood Finishing: For Those Who Love to Build & Hate to Finish.There are several things to look for when examining a piece of furniture that help to identify it as an antique.It is also important to become familiar with the furniture styles of the different periods and eras.
Some focus on a specific type of antique, such as antique chairs, while others provide a general overview of furniture from various periods or styles.
Solid wood backing indicates a piece is likely pre-1880s; plywood came into vogue around the turn of the 20th century.
Particleboard means you probably have something made in the 1960s or later—the era of “cutting corners,” as Masaschi says.
If you’re lucky, a piece will have a marking on it indicating its origin.
Early pieces that were handcrafted will sometimes bear an inscription from an individual furniture maker, a clue to its value that should be examined by a professional appraiser.
Search for antique dating periods:
If you suspect there’s something unusual or distinctively well-made about your piece, go with your gut, Masaschi says, and ask someone who knows.