According to the website WorldArtGlass.com, chandeliers have been in use since the Middle Ages. The first chandeliers, which were used in cathedrals, were wooden structures that were cross-shaped. As use of chandeliers continued, they took on a more decorative look, until they eventually became a status symbol of the wealthy. Today, imitations of antique chandeliers are so convincing, it takes some effort to tell if one is an antique or not.
Identify the source of your chandelier. If your chandelier is a family heirloom, the first step is to determine when it was purchased. Pictures in your family album that have your chandelier in the background may give you some idea as to its age. However, if you purchased the chandelier at an estate auction or antiques dealership, ask the dealer. He should be able to tell you its history.
Examine your chandelier. Some manufacturers have their maker's mark or the date stamped into the chandelier's arms. You can photograph this mark and have it identified by an antiques expert. Most antique chandeliers were made of bronze, brass or crystal. The lighting fixtures made before 1860 have solid arms. Those made after 1860 will have hollow arms. These were designed to pipe gas through the fixtures from the ceiling.
Identify the materials used to make the chandelier. Real crystal fixtures remain cold to the touch, while cut glass fixtures warm while being held. Antique chandeliers made of brass, iron or antler will be dull in appearance. Older chandeliers that have not been well maintained may also have rust or crusting on them. Try this test: Using a clean cloth, rub an area on your chandelier. If the antiquing rubs away to reveal shiny metal underneath, it is probably not an antique.