Antique furniture is a beautiful piece of history you display in your home, but how do you know how old it is for certain? A bit of research about the origins of the item can help you date it easily. Read on to learn how to date antique furniture.
Speak to family members about the provenance, or history, of your antique furniture if you have inherited it. Determine how many generations back you can track the item, which will give you an approximate time period with which to start.
Educate yourself about the historical periods of furniture-making using a history book with plenty of pictures. Examples are Chippendale (mid-to-late 1700s), Empire (1830 to 1850) and Victorian (1850 to 1910). Your antique may be easily identified as belonging in one specific period by the style of the piece.
Examine your furniture for markings or labels that identify the manufacturer, or a lot or patent number. Starting in the nineteenth century, ranges of numbers were assigned to each year's new patents. Use a chart such as Biddington's to look up the number you find to see if it corresponds with a year. See the Resources section below for a link.
Look at the hardware used in the furniture. Nails, screws and saws of different types and shapes came into use at different points in history. For example, screws were rarely used in furniture before 1830 and the circular saw did not exist until after that date. Therefore, an item built with these materials cannot be dated as an authentic piece before 1830.
Use an ultraviolet light to help date cloth sections of your furniture. You can use a key chain-sized black light in a dark room. Modern materials such as glue, paint, certain man-made fibers and thread will fluoresce, or glow, when ultraviolet light is shined on them. This test will determine if the item is authentic, or has been repaired. The exception to this is if an antique piece of upholstery or cloth has been cleaned with laundry detergent, which will also cause it to glow.
Take pictures of your antique furniture, making sure to cover all angles and undersides. Include close-ups of markings and labels. Keep these as a record in case of loss or damage, as well as to date and appraise the item.
If you are still unsure of the age of your piece, bring your furniture (or pictures if the item is too big) to an antique dealer or appraiser. Show him the research you have done and be sure to tell him exactly how you acquired the piece.