While it is possible to get an idea of whether or not your antique furniture is valuable, the only real answers will come from a qualified appraiser such as the Abbey Group. The testing you can do yourself will only tell you part of the story. There is a lot of information available online that will help you tell if your furniture has any value or not.
Antique Must Be Old but Not Old Are Antique
The first step will be to determine if the antique furniture that you have is old. If the furniture is not old, it will not be an antique and will not be valuable. Additionally, it is important to note that not all old furniture will be antique.
To test the age, you should run your fingers over the back or underneath the furniture. If there are sharp edges or corners, this will indicate that the furniture was manufactured recently. If you have upholstered furniture and the upholstery is not the original, you will need to lift one of the edges. An antique chair rail will have numerous nail holes which are a reassuring sign of many re-upholstering over a long life.
You should also look for the distinctive curved pattern that is left a circular wood saw. This is a sign that the furniture was manufactured after 1840. You should also remove one of the screws from an inconspicuous spot. Antique screws were handmade and will have irregular spaces between the spirals along the entire shaft. The slot in the head of the screw may also be off-center.
The wood veneers on old furniture will be irregular and thick much like a home-sliced piece of bread. You can judge the veneer by looking at the edge of the veneer on the back of the furniture or where parts have broken off. Modern veneers are thin and will be sliced to have the same width throughout.
Old and antique tables will not have any metal or plastic taps on the bottom of the feet. There may have been added to an old piece at a later date, but they should not be part of the furniture. Antique table pedestals were often reinforced with hand-hammered metal disks or a tri-part metal strap on the leg joints. Modern tables are reinforced with crimped staples. A single board top for the table made from a single piece of wood is also a good indication of the age.
Is the Antique Furniture Valuable?
There are 4 criteria for determining value in furniture and they are the rarity, quality, provenance and condition. Condition and provenance are the ones that are fairly simple to establish. The other two criteria will take more time, research and knowledge to determine. There are 3 other elements which are also important and they are the finish, patina and colour.
There are other specific details that you should look out for when evaluating antique furniture. Replaced mirror glass will devalue an antique mirror more than flaking and inconspicuous cracks. Bonnet-top high boys are usually the more valuable type.
An increase in value can be seen with fine, vigorous carving on a piece of American Chippendale antique furniture. More ornate designs would have required more handwork which means wing chairs with cabriole legs will be more valuable than a block leg chair. Very large antique furniture that is too big for the modern home will be less valuable than smaller versatile pieces.
Fancy chairs with delicate sides and arms which are decorated with paint and gilt will lose most of the value if they are repainted. You can check for paint layers by scratching through in an inconspicuous area. Original upholstery will increase the value of seat furniture particularly if it is in good condition.