How to identify an old chest of drawers

Written by jennifer eblin
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How to identify an old chest of drawers
Old chests are sometimes fairly valuable. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Identifying an old chest of drawers involves looking at the condition of the piece, as well as other factors. This information can help you decide whether you have an antique, a collectable piece manufactured by a popular designer, a reproduction or simply an old chest of drawers.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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  1. 1

    Open one of the drawers and examine the construction of the piece. Older chests of drawers were made with dovetail or tongue-and-groove construction, where the sides of the drawers are cut to fit together. More recent dressers feature drawers where the sides are glued together.

  2. 2

    Look for signs that the piece was made by hand, such as tool marks. Small dents, nicks and other marks may be signs that the piece was made by hand, with woodworking tools. This usually indicates that the piece dates back to 1860 or earlier, prior to the manufacturing age.

  3. 3

    Stand back from the piece and look at it for the overall design. Older pieces made before the manufacturing age aren't perfectly symmetrical. Check for any repeated decorations or carvings on the chest that aren't exactly the same, as would happen if it were machine-produced.

  4. 4

    Check the condition of the piece. Older pieces show clear signs of age, including cracking of the wood, fading of the original colour or stain and warping, especially in the drawers, which causes problems with sliding the drawers out. These problems are all caused by the wood shrinking and changing shape as it ages.

  5. 5

    Turn the piece over and examine the bottom of the chest of drawers for a paper label or stamp. Look at the back side of the chest of drawers and inside all the drawers. A label or stamp often contains the name of the company that made the chest of drawers and, in some cases, lists the year or city of manufacture. If the piece was handmade, there may be some indication such as initials or a name on the piece.

Tips and warnings

  • If you find a manufacturer's label, look for a model number on the piece, which is usually a long number and may feature a dash in between numbers. This will help you identify the exact model or design of the chest of drawers.
  • Beware of pieces that look old but have glued drawers inside. Modern day manufacturers make pieces that are specially designed to look like antiques.

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