How to Identify Antique Dressers

Written by karen malzeke-mcdonald | 13/05/2017
How to Identify Antique Dressers
Drawer pulls can help date a dresser. (bouton image by Pascal Péchard from

What is thought to be an antique dresser may be something else. Fakes exist, with dealers trying to make money from such furniture. Become aware of what to look for, and develop a trained eye. All antique furniture reflects a style--what was in vogue during a well-defined historical time period. Make a checklist of what to look for if you are in the market for an antique dresser.

How to Identify Antique Dressers
Wood grain and colour tell a lot about the history of furniture. (antique desk image by Leticia Wilson from

Identify the style to judge the approximate date of a dresser. A general knowledge of furniture styles throughout history is important for estimating the time period in which a dresser was made. A dresser is of a certain style if most of its features represent what was popular during a time period.

How to Identify Antique Dressers
Patina of old wood is irregular in colour and wear. (wood image by musk from

Study the colour and texture of the wood. A genuine antique dresser will have a patina. This is a natural mellowness attained with age and use. The tendency is for the shade of natural wood to darken. The colour also will vary on antique furniture. To avoid being fooled by forgers and fakes, check the dresser's out-of-sight areas, such as its back and side edges that would be placed against walls.

How to Identify Antique Dressers
Tool marks can be found on antique furniture. (tool bench image by Greg Pickens from

Check for signs of tool marks. Run your hand over the surface of raw edges. The back of the dresser is the best place to check. You should feel a slightly wavy undulation on the surface of the wood. You also might feel undulated patterns under drawer bottoms.

How to Identify Antique Dressers
Look for scratches or marks produced by a scribing awl and chisel. (handmade candle box. image by Tom Oliveira from

Look for nails or dowels. They can aid in deciding the approximate age of a dresser. Old nails are soft, resilient to rust and bend easily. Their heads are squarish and sharply pointed at the tip. Dowels are usually found in primitive American furniture. Old dowels were never made exactly round or alike.

How to Identify Antique Dressers
Dresser drawers can tell you a lot about age. (meuble en pin image by alex claude from

Inspect the drawers. Dresser drawers of the early 18th century moved on runners that fit into a grove about halfway up the side of the drawers. One or two nails in the back were used to keep a drawer from rattling. Dovetailing can appear at the front of the drawers. On more elegant pieces, dovetailing is finer. The bottom of the drawers of an antique dresser are apt to show split wood due to shrinkage over time.

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