skip to content »

Antique furniture periods and dating

Handmade dovetails are fewer in number than machine-made and slightly uneven.Slight imperfections on spindles, rungs, slats and other small parts that appear perfectly symmetrical on machine-cut furniture indicate handmade workmanship.

Rotary saws were on the horizon, and all nails were no longer made one at a time by a blacksmith.The early 1800s saw lots of advancement in woodworking machinery, and by the Civil War, mechanized furniture factories were on line, but the dovetail drawer joint was still a holdup.While the joint had been refined and perfected, it was still too difficult to be made by a machine.Early 17th-century furniture typically featured bun- or ball-style feet.Ball- and claw-style feet are typical of 18th-century furniture, particularly Chippendale, although Thomas Chippendale did not create the design.Some progress had been made by the use of jigs to help guide the hand-powered saws in their cutting, but essentially, the dovetail was the last holdout of handwork in a machine era.

Several inventors were hard at work on the problem in the 1860s, and most concentrated on trying to duplicate the handmade dovetail using a machine—that is until Mr. Knapp of Waterloo, Wis., applied himself to the task.

Shellac, oil, wax and milk paint finishes are strong indicators of older furniture.

Primitive hardware such as wooden pegs and dowels, square or crudely formed nails and natural wear are additional signs of real antique furniture.

Early American-style chair backs featured designs such as straight or curved horizontal slats forming a ladder back, three to six vertical turned slats forming a banister back, solid panels or spindles forming a half arch.

Chippendale-style chairs may also have a ladder back or more complex designs such as Oriental-style latticework or a pierced or carved central splat.

Queen Anne-style chairs feature a central fiddle-shaped splat, while a Hepplewhite chair is easily recognized by a distinctive shield-shaped back or an oval with a central splat.