Buying An Antique Armoire: 6 Signs The Piece Is Genuine

An antique armoire can make a stylish, elegant addition to many homes, so it's not surprising that these items of furniture are increasing in demand from collectors. If you plan to buy an antique armoire, it's vital to know what you're looking for. Make sure you know how to spot the genuine article, and learn more about the six following signs that can confirm the item you are looking at is a real antique.

The right types of wood

Period furniture makers used certain types of wood. For example, most antique French furniture is normally made of oak, chestnut or cherry wood. As such, an antique French armoire is probably not as old as you think if the main wood constituent is pine.

Furthermore, high-quality wood was once an expensive luxury. Furniture makers would often try to save money by using cheaper, thinner pieces of wood in the parts of the armoire you couldn't see. Look at the bottom, back and insides of the item. If you can see a change in the type of wood, this is a good sign that the armoire is a genuine antique.

Signs of imperfection

An antique armoire will normally feature beautiful hand-finished details, including intricate carvings along certain edges. Nonetheless, despite the skills of these furniture makers, signs of imperfection would still creep into the finished product. If the finish on the armoire is completely perfect, it's unlikely the furniture is a genuine antique.

Run your finger along any carved edges. You should normally feel a few bumps and inconsistencies. If the lines are smooth and unbroken, the chances are that somebody used a machine to make the armoire, which rules out the possibility the item is a genuine antique.

Wood shrinkage

For collectors, the appeal of an antique armoire often relates to the way the furniture ages over time. There are several signs of aging in wood that can prove that an armoire is a genuine antique, including shrinkage.

Certain panels may look as though they don't properly fit any more, and you may see slim cracks or gaps around the edges. This type of shrinkage occurs because the material naturally contains a lot of water, which disappears over time. Shrinkage is a particular problem where the maker used thinner pieces of wood, so check out those parts of the armoire first.

Patina

One of the most appealing features on antique furniture is the way the wood changes color over time. This change takes place because of a combination of natural wear, wood oxidization and exposure to the sun, and different types of wood react in different ways. For example, walnut wood turns a more golden color, while oak shifts from dull gray to dark brown.

You can't fake patina. This effect only occurs naturally, although some unscrupulous people try to fake patina on modern items of wooden furniture. You can normally rub fake patina off simply by licking your thumb and gently rubbing the wood.

Knockdowns

It's hard to imagine that some large items of antique furniture would fit anywhere other than a sprawling stately home or castle. In fact, furniture makers catered for as many buyers as possible by designing and manufacturing items called knockdowns.

Furniture makers sometimes made armoires that were knockdowns. In simple terms, you could 'knock down' or dismantle these pieces to make it easier to move them around. Some antique French armoires have small wooden pegs where the joints meet that you could (theoretically) remove to allow you to break the piece down without causing damage. This type of feature is a strong clue that the item is a real antique.

Makers' marks

Many antique furniture makers used distinctive marks. These marks can help you confirm that the piece is genuine. What's more, you can also often work out the armoire's age.

It often takes some detective work to find the marks. For example, English cabinetmakers would often punch their stamp on the inside of a drawer or on the bottom of the furniture. As such, it's often quicker and easier to ask dealers to show you any known makers' marks on a piece they have for sale.

If you're looking to buy an antique armoire, it's important to make sure you end up with the genuine article. Learn about the clues you should look for, and talk to mid century furniture dealers in your area for more advice.

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