When Furniture Isn’t What it Seems

No one would condemn the owner of a piece of antique furniture for restoring it and of course restoration is a vital part of increasing the value of an antique. However, think of it this way, if I replace the missing roll top from a desk that is restoration but what if I take just a roll top and replace the desk. That would be dishonest and would never be acceptable to the vast majority of antique collectors.

That example is of course so extreme as to be obvious but it highlights a finer point. There is an old saying among collectors that there is more 17th century furniture available in antique stores, and now on eBay, than could ever have existed then. There is no way to know exactly how much furniture was made back in the day but you get the idea.

The activity of faking antiques has been going on for so long that many of the fakes are so old as to be valuable antiques in of them self. Any piece being considered for purchase should be thoroughly examined and inquired about. The most common form of faking a piece that often fools the novice, or even sometimes expert, furniture collector is called improving a piece. These improvements involve efforts to make a piece appear to be older than it really is.

It was a common practice, for example, for Victorian era furniture makers to try and make their chests and tables look as if they had been made during the Tudor era. They added intricate but unnecessary carvings to chest, clocks, and the like. Some were sold as reproductions and not intended to fool anyone at the time but have become confused in the minds of owners over the years. Other pieces were sold as authentic Tudor furniture and have been fooling people for a long time now.

A similar process for making an antique appear older or more intricate involves marrying two pieces together. A dishonest crafts man might take two rather plain chest of drawers and mount one on top of the other. Usually the top chest would be an older piece and more eye-catching as well. The age and intricacies meant to hide the youth and simple design of the lower piece.

The opposite practice to marrying piece involves cutting them down in size in order to meet market demands for smaller furniture and to hide the pieces age. For example, the Victorians (rather a disreputable bunch for such a moral age) often removed scroll work and recessed glass doors in order to make a piece look as if it had been manufactured during the Regency period.

When attempting to determine if a piece of antique furniture has been tampered with there are certain things you can look for. While it is not always possible for even the most experiences collector to be sure a table hasn’t been faked a good hint might lead to asking the right questions of a dealer or doing a little more research.

One frequent sign that furniture has been altered to increase it’s perceived age and value is a profusion of gilt metal mounts. Any dresser covered with low quality mountings or brass inlays is suspect and should be examined closely. This is particularly true if the piece is otherwise rather plain.

I cannot overstress the value of learning to identify the varieties of handles associated with a period of furniture. Handles and other metal work are easy to replace, catch the eye, and are common tools of the furniture faker. The purchase of a good book on the subject can save a collector many headaches and a great deal of money.

Be sure to examine the legs of any table. Legs that don’t exactly match the material of the rest of the piece are bad signs. It has always been a common faking tactic to replace legs with more elaborate ones to give the affect of additional age and interest value.

Faked furniture is a collecting specialty for many people. I’ve spoken to antique buyers who get more excited when they spot a good fake than when they find the real thing. There are even specialty dealers who specialize in selling clever fakes. Sometimes for more than the piece the fake is supposed to be.

—-Silas Finch is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Collectible Antiques Etc. He can be reached at Content and Solutions.

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