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Antique Furniture FAQ

Antique Furniture FAQ
August 4, 2013 Peter Hemerlein
leather chesterfield

English Classics has been in the antique furniture business since 1999 and we have been asked countless questions over the years. We field questions about furniture that is ours and other people’s daily. Our area of expertise is, obviously, English antique furniture but many questions we receive could pertain to pieces from any country of origin. We hope you will find the below list of questions and answers helpful!

Most Frequently Asked Antique Furniture Questions

1 – How much is my <insert any item> worth?

This is definitely our most popular question. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most difficult questions to answer for two reasons. First without physically inspecting an item to be able to verify its age, wood type, condition, and other features it is impossible to give an accurate valuation. Second, there are several tiers of value for an item. There is the “retail” value of an item which is the highest price that it could possibly be sold for in an ideal retail setting. Below that is the “wholesale” value of an item which is what most furniture stores would typically sell the item for. Finally we have the “quick sale” value of the item which is what an item would sell for if you were looking to unload it quickly and willing to take just about anything for it. There is usually a large discrepancy between the “retail” and “quick sale” prices.

2 – How do I take care of my furniture?

Taking care of your antique furniture is very important. We have written two articles on the subject; one for leather furniture and one for wood furniture. General care rules of thumb apply, such as:

  • Test any product first in a small, inconspicuous area before using.
  • Dusting is best done with a slightly moist cloth (yep just plain water).
  • Extreme heat and humidity (or the lack of) is the bane of all furniture.
leather chesterfield

This leather Chesterfield should be dusted with a slightly moist cloth.

3 – Is this veneered?

Perhaps my least favorite question because usually the person asking has been wrongly led to believe that veneers are always a bad thing. We have written extensively on the subject in this article but I will sum it up here. Almost ALL flame mahogany, any burled wood, yew wood, banding, etc is veneered. This is a good thing! These woods are either too unstable to be used alone or too rare. Veneering has been around for hundreds of years, and when done properly, is even more stable than some solid wood pieces of antique furniture. Don’t be afraid of veneers.

antique furniture with veneers

Flame mahogany, as used on the cabinet doors of this console, is almost always veneered.

4 – How do you tell how old your pieces are?

The age of antique furniture can be determined with a variety of factors. We first look at the materials used. Plywood was not used in furniture before 1900, so if a piece has plywood drawer bottoms we can immediately narrow the circa date down to after that. If the piece was joined with screws we can look at those to help determine age. Phillips head screws were not invented until 1930 and hand made flat head screws can easily identify early 19th century (or older) pieces. We also look at other factors like the types of dovetails used, finish, and style to date pieces. All of these factors combined lead to a fairly accurate circa date.

5 – Should I refinish my furniture or will that destroy its value?

This question can be a little tricky. Refinishing antique furniture can definitely hurt its value in the future…BUT if the finish is such bad condition that it is prompting you to ask this question refinishing probably won’t hurt. In my experience pieces that you don’t want to refinish are still in good condition and have been meticulously cared for. Very few of us are going to be able to sell grandma’s table at Sotheby’s for extravagant amounts of money. Most of us will sell this table to someone else who wants to use it, and who wants to put a table in their home that is all beat up and in obvious need of refinishing?