As far back as the 1700s, furniture makers began leaving their signatures or makers' marks on their finished pieces. Signing the completed furniture allowed cabinet makers to build recognition for their work, and buyers could connect the quality of the furniture to the signature. Most often, makers' marks were carved or stamped into a finished item. If you're lucky enough to own an antique dresser with a unique identifying mark, you're one step closer to identifying its origin by its signature.
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Identify the particular furniture style of the dresser, which will help determine the time period in which it was made. Knowing the approximate age of the dresser will aid in verifying any signature or maker's mark left on the piece. The website European Furniture Imports offers a comprehensive style guide for antique furniture, with thorough descriptions and illustrations for pieces from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Gothic styles to nineteenth-century Revival styles.
Determine the authenticity of your antique dresser. Fakes and reproductions are plentiful and considerably less valuable. To be considered a genuine antique, generally a piece must be at least 100 years old. The wood of an antique dresser will have a natural patina, with variations in the colour and shade of the finish. Look for normal signs of wear on the corners, at the base, on the top surface and around pulls or handles.
Examine the dresser to locate the cabinet maker's signature. Typical locations include the back, the underside and possibly inside one of the drawers.
Take a photograph of the signature or label to use as a reference if you need to consult with a local antiques dealer for help in identifying the maker. You may want to visit an antiques show as well to gather information from myriad knowledgeable antiques dealers. Often they can point you in the direction of other valuable resources that can help you identify an antique dresser by its signature.
Research the maker's mark online and at your local library. Websites such as Antique Marks and Marks 4 Antiques are helpful for identifying antique makers' marks. Joseph T. Butler's "Field Guide to American Antique Furniture: A Unique Visual System for Identifying the Style of Virtually Any Piece of American Antique Furniture" offers descriptions of various furniture styles and more than 1,700 detailed drawings by illustrator Ray Skibinski.
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