How You Can Tell If Furniture is Antique

How You Can Tell If Furniture is Antique


Do you ever go into a thrift store and hear the salesperson say "that's an antique".  I have, and when I hear that my mind starts to question that statement.  Then I start looking and have this conversation, in my head of course.  Is the piece just old and dirty?  Is it really an antique? or are is the salesperson just saying that to justify the price?

I decided to do a little research.  I decided to do some research to have a better understanding of some of the key signs of antique furniture so I don't get fooled into a piece that is not or I pass up a piece that is.  So let's dive in and see what we can learn. 

Vintage or Antique?

Vintage or antique are two words that are often used interchangeably.  Before we get into more specifics that will help you determine if you are truly looking at an antique we need to define the two words. 

Antique means any item is at least 100 years old and vintage is anything from 50 to 99 years old.  To put things into perspective, as I write this blog, anything made before 1923 is an antique.  I will have to write another blog about the antique eras, but or now let's move onto some key factors that will help you determine if an item is possibly an antique. 


A sign of quality craftsmanship in woodworking is dovetailing.  Dovetailing is used to hold different parts of furniture together.  Most commonly seen in the sides of drawers.  This type of joint has been seen in furniture for centuries.  But, please be careful because if you find the dovetailing to be perfectly straight, this a sure fire sign the piece was machine made and most likely not an antique.  Hand-made dovetails are going to be irregularly-shaped and should warrant further investigation into the piece to determine if it is an antique. 

Single-Slot Screws

Just like dovetails this is handmade also and each slot crew must be different than the others while the edges remain flat with cylindrical screws instead of tapered shapes. 

Various Types of Wood

Now that we have determined irregular dovetails let's starting looking at the wood.  While examining the wood see if you can determine various wood types.  If your answer is yes then you are one step closer to determining the validity of the statement, "this piece is an antique".  Remember years ago our fore fathers used every bit of material they could, and it didn't make sense to use valuable wood in places where it wouldn't be seen, particularly the bottom and back.  So if you feel like all the wood looks the same it is most likely not an antique and a reproduction of one. 

It Looks Old

At times we get lost in an idea of finding a true antique but don't be fooled by faux furniture that is surrounded by the real stuff. I know it seems like a no brainer but furniture can be made to look old.  Remember the shabby chic look?  I know you do (see pic below).  This type of furniture is distressed and often sold in flea markets and antique stores and can be passed of as antique.  Now let's look for signs of wear.  Pull the drawer(s) out and look for worn drawer slides/runners, even see if there is dirt in the drawer corners.  I say that because most people who repurpose furniture to the shabby-chic style have cleaned up the piece and you really won't see a lot of dirt or grim.   


Labels or Stamps

Furniture companies and craftsmen often listed their names, location and production year somewhere on their piece of furniture, this rings true for today.  You should be able to find a label, stamp or manufacturing tag on a drawer, the back or lower edges of the furniture.  Because labels can be fake look for signs of aging.  Faded, discolored or even brittle tags are a good sign of being an antique.  


Handmade furniture will not have uniformity.  If you are really looking at the piece you will see irregularities just like you did with the dovetail.  If the piece has carved detail you should really be able to see the irregularity and if you don't then the piece is most likely machine made and not an antique.  

I hope this taught you as much as it did me and makes you more confident the next time you are out shopping in an vintage market or antique shop.


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