Our list of 7 top tips to consider when purchasing Antique Furniture.

Antique and vintage furnishings provide a great alternative to decorating a variety of spaces. In addition to generally being well made and attractive to look at, their obvious good quality and unique design can offset and complement newer or contemporary pieces in the same setting.

Whilst antiques can also often hold attractive commercial value, the market ebbs and flows and prices are influenced by a range of factors. The intention of this article is to provide basic guidance, mainly to people with little or no knowledge on the subject, to assist them in making more informed purchase decisions of older items of furniture contemplated for functional or decorative use rather than purely for investment purposes.

TIP #1 – Only purchase articles you really like

This may be stating the obvious, but you could find yourself living with it for a while, so the main consideration should always be the enjoyment of and pleasure an item brings when you look at it. Never buy something purely because it’s a bargain. There’s usually a reason why it’s cheap. Or alternatively the allure of a potential future handsome profit. Values of antiques fluctuate constantly.

Ensure the item will fit with an existing decor theme and serve the purpose for which you require it. Some antique furniture is very large as they were originally designed for big houses and may not sit well within the proportions of more modern spaces.

TIP #2 – Research, Research, Research!!

When something catches your eye and you think “oh that’s nice” find out more about it. Check online whether there are similar items advertised, their condition, age, finish, quality, price and type of wood.

Visit other dealers, art fairs and even museums or stately homes to learn how the piece you’re considering purchasing would have been displayed or used when it was first made.

Never be afraid to talk to dealers and ask questions, they love to share their knowledge. Gather as much information as possible. We are all continuously learning.

TIP #3 – Repurpose

With changes in technology, lifestyles, needs and tastes over time some antiques have lost their original intended purpose. Form and style however provide opportunity to utilise good quality pieces in creative new ways. Consider alternative uses. Functional versatility is a factor in an evolving world.

At the time card tables were fashionable and in everyday use the concept of a television in most homes was as distant a thought as somebody walking on the moon. Those same card tables now make attractive flat screen tv stands.

TIP #4 – Examine the item from all sides

Carefully check for faults, damage or repair. A seller may not show you everything or could even downplay poor condition. You must however bear in mind that there will probably be some small imperfections consistent with use and age. Woodworm or borer damage is very common in old furniture but if it’s been properly treated doesn’t pose an ongoing threat. The signs however are there for perpetuity. Can you live with this?

The backs of certain very old wooden antiques are sometimes extremely rough, but that’s how they were made. The back was placed against a wall so it didn’t matter.

Honest wear lends character and adds to its history. After all, if it’s an antique it has to be over one hundred years old!

Patina is important. Whilst condition is a key consideration, a piece which has been refurbished to the point where it looks new may have lost most of its appeal and value. Repairs and replacements also affect value.

TIP #5 – Workmanship

Older handmade furniture is often more solidly and finely constructed than anything mass produced and will last longer. Earlier antiques were not assembled with screws or nails. They were pegged, morticed, tongue and grooved or dovetailed. Pay attention to joints, hinges, handles and other hardware. They tell a story.

Find out about different wood types used in the manufacture of furniture. Some are more sought after than others and significantly influence the value of an item. Solid wood, use of inlays and veneers all impact the quality and appearance of items and ultimately their value. A veneered piece of furniture does not mean it’s inferior. Old veneers are much thicker than what is used today.

The subject of workmanship is extensive and along with information on key designers and manufacturers would be better addressed in separate articles.

TIP #6 – Makers / Designer’s Names & Marks

Identifiable makers and designers can materially affect the value of antique furnishings. Unlike other art which carries the artist’s mark or signature these are often not evident on furniture. There is sometimes a mark or a plaque inside a draw, on the back or beneath a surface but usually design and workmanship are the only indicators as to who may have designed or made a particular piece.

TIP #7 – Age, Style and Provenance

A general rule of thumb is the older an antique the more value it should hold. For example, you could expect to pay more for a Regency linen press or dresser than a similar Georgian piece which should again be more valuable than a Victorian equivalent.

Designers and manufacturers of furniture are associated with periods in history and their respective monarchs. These tend to loosely define and categorise styles of period furniture. You, however, can’t rely only on style to accurately age furniture as popular designs have been successfully copied over the centuries.

Provenance in the form of a certificate of authenticity or documentary evidence substantiating the history of an item or it’s association with a prominent place, person or event normally increases its value.


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