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A Primer for Appraising Antique Wood Furniture

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The general look of a piece of furniture tells the expert whether it is old or not, but this is a matter of experience. If you are interested in old furniture see as many genuine pieces as you can; go to museums where you are certain of the authenticity of the articles. Slowly the eye and mind can be trained to recognize whether the appearance of a piece is true or not.

The aging of wood alters its colour according to the timber from which it is made, and according to the treatment it has received over the years. Even the hidden inside parts change with time; if a drawer-lining is scraped it will show at once how the surface has aged. Equally, the old polished outside surfaces mellow, and repolishing changes the colour of the wood completely.

It is worth while studying the methods of making furniture, and how they have changed from time to time. How, for instance, the crude dovetails on the heavy drawer sides of 1600 were modified and improved in the course of the century. When examining a piece of furniture in a strong light, it is as well to look for signs of alteration, and to try to reason what was done and why.

New screws differ markedly from old; prior to about 1850 they did not taper to a point, Also, the slot in the head was hand-cut and seldom central; in modern machine-made screws it is invariably exactly across the middle of the head.

Old veneers were cut with a saw by hand, and are consequently quite thick; many of them almost an eighth of an inch. Modern veneers, however, are cut with a machine-driven saw, and are much thinner. This, with other factors, is a useful indication of the genuineness of a piece.

The use of some of the rarer woods implies that an article cost more for materials and probably also for labour, and that it was probably made to a high standard throughout. The better-quality eighteenth-century pieces were fitted with oak linings to the drawers, but in exceptional instances this might be mahogany or cedar. Practice varied from workshop to workshop and from period to period, and a guide can give only clues not answers.

If you are really interested in discovering more ways to appraise antique wood furniture, then the most comprehensive book on all aspects of old English furniture is The Dictionary of English Furniture, by Percy Macquoid and Ralph Edwards. It is in three large volumes, copiously illustrated, and was first issued in 1927. A further edition, revised and enlarged by Ralph Edwards, was published in 1954.

Also, an excellent guide to the period 1720-1820 is Georgian Furniture, issued by the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1951.

A standard work on French furniture is Les Ebenistes du XVIW Siecle, by Comte Francois de Salverte, of which the fourth edition was published in Paris and Brussels in 1953. Also written in French, but less exhaustive and cheaper in price is Les Meubles Francois du XVIW Siecle, by Pierre Verlet. It is in two volumes: i, Menuiserie, ii, Ebenisterie, published in Paris in 1956. In English the Wallace Collection, London, Catalogue of French Furniture, by F. J. B. Watson, issued in 1956, containing a great deal of information and many illustrations.

The more you educate yourself on the matter of fine wood furniture, the better eye you will develop over time, resulting in an antiques collection to make you the envy of all your house guests!

About the author:

FREE advice and articles on appraising antiques of all materials can be found at this comprehensive online reference guide. Wood, Textile, Porcelain and more! Click here: www.AntiquesReferenc eGuide.com

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