Here are some helpful tips when
looking for antique furniture. If you would like to view our
catalog of antique furniture, please choose a link in the menu
on the left.
You can often date a piece by studying nails and screws. Furniture
predating 1790 will include "rose-head nails," that
were hand-forged by blacksmiths. These nails can be identified
by their irregular, rose-shaped heads. "Square-head nails,"
employed from 1790 to 1830, were machine cut and finished off
by a blacksmith who squared the heads. From 1830 to 1890
cabinetmakers used headless "machine-cut nails, that are
tapered and rectilinear in shape. Modern "brad"
and "penny" nails were introduced around 1890.
Screws were occasionally used in furniture pre-dating the beginning
of the machine era (Circa 1830). Blacksmith forged examples
can be identified by inspecting for thin and slightly off-centered
slots and off-round heads.
The "circular saw" invented in the 18th century, did
not come into wide usage until after 1830. Thus, boards
displaying "circular saw marks" will not be found on
furniture pre-dating the "Empire Period" (1830-1850).
Unfinished pre-1830 boards cut from vertical motion "ripsaws"
will often display small, somewhat parallel, saw lines.
Before the introduction of power driven woodworking machinery
in the mid 19th century, lumber was worked by hand. After hand-sawing,
cabinet makers dressed their boards with a jack plane and draw
knives. On authentic furnishings pre-dating the "Victorian
Period," (1850-1910) unfinished non-visible "secondary"
surfaces like backboards and drawer bottoms will show evidence
of "hand-planing" by feeling for subtle undulating
rows in the wood.
Small wooden pins known as dowels can be helpful in authenticating
age. Machine era pins will be perfectly circular and flush
to the surface. Antique dowels are non-round and will protrude
slightly from the surface because of shrinkage in the wood they
Wood shrinks in a direction opposite the grain. The degree
is determined by softness of the lumber, age, and environment.
Therefore, authentic antique furniture can be discerned by inspecting
for evidence of: gapping between boards, shrinkage cracking,
buckling veneer, protruding pegs and breadboard ends, and legs
extending slightly beyond the frame or "skirt." Early
circular tabletops will measure somewhat oval, 1/8" to 1/2"
longer in the direction of the grain.