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How to Date Old Furniture

Updated April 17, 2017

Old furniture can be acquired at flea markets, garage sales, online and through dealers. It can include anything from a valuable antique, to a vintage piece of mid-20th Century modern furniture. Old furniture can be the highlight of any room in your home, especially if it is an antique piece, which is often one of a kind.

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  1. Borrow or buy a reference book, like "Kovels Antiques" for the age and type of old furniture you are interested in buying. Consult with experts and appraisers online, such as Paul Royka, a former appraiser for television's "Antiques Roadshow."

  2. Develop a sense of what antique furniture looks like. A true antique is something that is over 100 years old and handcrafted. Antiques show tool marks, such as those made by a plane or hand saw.

  3. Look at the nails on a piece of furniture. If it's an antique, the nails will have square heads, and not be uniform. If the nails or screws in a piece of furniture are uniform in size and shape, you can be sure that the piece was manufactured after 1880. Notice the wear at the bottom of the legs and on the arms of an antique chair, it will show where hands would have rested.

  4. The drawer pulls on an antique dresser, or knobs on the door of an antique cupboard will have the finish worn off in spots. Antique furniture develops a patina over time. This gives it a glow that is the result of decades of polishing and use. A newer piece will not have this.

  5. Remove the drawers. An antique piece will have irregular dove tail joints. On a new piece, the joints will be perfect because they were machine-cut. Inspect the hardware. On an antique piece, each piece of hardware will differ somewhat from the others, because the pieces are handmade.

  6. Tip

    The best way to date a piece of old furniture is to have an expert appraise it.

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About the Author

Jan Czech has been writing professionally since 1993. Czech has published seven children's books, including “The Coffee Can Kid," which received a starred review from School Library Journal. She is a certified English/language arts teacher and holds a Bachelor of Arts in education from Niagara University.

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