How To Tell Real Antique Furniture From Reproductions

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

You don’t have to be an expert to identify a genuine antique from a good reproduction — if you know how to spot a few indicative details. Here’s what to look for.

Real antiques are imperfect and the flaws are inconsistent due to natural use and human construction. Reproductions are symmetrical, smooth and the flaws are contrived rather than authentic.

WOOD: Look under chairs and drawers, anywhere unexposed, to see if those parts are constructed with a different type of wood than the rest of the piece. Real antiques are usually made with more than one type of wood. In the past, carpentry materials were harder to obtain, and it didn’t make sense to use expensive wood in places where no one would see it. On the other hand, reproductions tend to be made from the same type of wood from top-to-bottom.

SIGNS OF WEAR: Genuine antiques will show signs of wear in places that would naturally sustain the most contact. For example, the bottom end of chair arms should be more worn than the upper part or underside of the arm. Scratches, stains and dents will be unevenly distributed on a piece whose flaws are the result of normal use. If the patina is too perfect, there’s a good chance it’s a reproduction.

UPHOLSTERY STUFFING: Synthetic materials weren’t introduced until the 1920’s. Therefore, any pre-1920 upholstery in original condition will be stuffed with natural materials like horsehair or hay.

HAND CARVING: Real hand carving is uneven and unsymmetrical, while machine carving is smooth and symmetrical. Look for small imperfections in the craftsmanship to confirm the work was done by a human.

CONSTRUCTION: The use of modern materials like fibreboard, staples and Phillips screws all indicate a reproduction.

GLUING: Older antiques have reinforced joints in addition to gluing. Look for dowels, mortise or tenon. If a piece is exclusively attached by glue, then it might be a reproduction.

ODOR: Real antiques will smell musty and sometimes mildewed. Reproductions might smell fresh with the scent of the wood still discernable.