Antique Furniture Reproductions & Fakes
The faking of antique furniture is a big and profitable business and the antique collector needs to arm himself with the necessary knowledge to overcome it, at least as far as is possible. Some fakes and frauds are so well disguised it needs a specialist to discover the facts. Reproductions of earlier furniture styles also present their own problems.
The more you immerse yourself in the world of antique furniture, visit museums, antique shops, country houses and other collections the better you will be equipped to detect fraud and see what is authentic. The main elements you should be looking at are grouped as follows:
- Improvements: genuine items of period furniture, usually of the Victorian era, that has suffered alterations to make it look from older times, often from the Jacobean and Elizabethan/Tudor ages.
- Transformations: altering of genuine antique furniture of less popular or outmoded models such as Georgian linen presses into more appealing types such as display cabinets and bookcases.
- Marriages: adding of an element of furniture like a bookcase onto another such as a bureau to make one large piece of higher cost and value than the two parts separately.
- Reductions: reducing the size of pieces such as library / breakfront bookcases to make them more easily saleable.
Reproductions of antique furniture may present some difficulties. Modern reproductions lack wear and tear and are often made of the "wrong" wood for the respective period from which they are inspired and have to be stained to imitate the colouring of real vintage furniture - as a result they usually have a bright, sickly finish that is likely to deceive no one familiar with antiques.
This chair is an exact reproduction of an early seventeenth century turned chair in the Bishop's Palace at Wells, Somerset. When it was made, probably in the 1830s, there was a growing market for furniture from earlier centuries, both genuine and copies. This one was a copy, rather than a fake intended to deceive. In 1913, when this chair was given to the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was thought to be a genuine 17th century example. It was not until the 1970s, when it was closely examined, that curators found drill holes which could only have been made with a 19th century drill, and realised that the chair must date from about 1830 to 1840.
Older antique furniture reproductions can be more troublesome. From the early Victorian era much furniture was produced in the classic styles of earlier periods and these themselves are now antiques, albeit of a sometimes deceptive kind. The popular styles of the Georgian era, especially those of Robert Adam, George Hepplewhite, and Thomas Chippendale, were reproduced well into Edwardian times.
Carved Mahogany Chair, circa 1870.
When this chair was bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert Museum, curators believed that it had been made about 1760. It is based on a design by the cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale called "Ribband Back" chairs. Chippendale designs became fashionable again from about 1860 with many reproductions of "Ribband Back chairs" being then made.
When looking at whether furniture is genuine or not these factors come to mind:
- Signs of Wear: furniture in use over long time periods will be marked by knocks and abrasions. Drawer bottoms and drawer runners will show usage and the bottoms of table and chair legs will reveal scratch marks and dents. Sometimes there are fake attempts to age pieces although these should be detectable by their placing and unnatural regularity.
- Patination: authentic antique furniture has often been constantly polished and this effect is difficult to reproduce. Reproductions and fakes will also not show the uneven effects of exposure to sunlight where the tops of drawer fronts and the wood under brass handles will show as darker than surface areas. Chairs will have been picked up many times in their life and this will show as dark patches under the seat frame or open arms.
- Stain: in the classic periods of English furniture staining was rarely used. Modern reproductions and fakes are likely to have been stained and pieces that show white edges where polishing has eroded the stain are unlikely to be genuine. If stain was used on antique furniture, as occasionally happened in the Georgian period to imitate mahogany or rosewood, the staining is likely to have long ago lost its lustre.
- Hardware: much furniture of Victorian times will often originally have had wooden knobs which were then replaced by brass to give a mock Georgian appearance. Looking at the interiors of drawers will reveal the hole where the wooden knobs were once put in. Contemporary produced brass antique reproduction hardware is treated to enable it to have a near permanent shine. Original brass however will have gone dull unless frequently polished.
- Unseen Wood: new wood found in the back or underside of furniture is a danger sign. Nails and screws used will have rusted and made a permanent mark. Sometimes this is evidence of a legitimate restoration job.
- Veneer: original veneers used on antique furniture were thick compared to more recent times, being between one sixteenth and one eighth in depth, and were also saw cut. Chipped veneer or exposed edges will show if thicker, saw cut veneering has been used.
- Carving: carving on antique furniture should be deep and stand out well from the surface.
- Joints: Joints should be handmade with attendant imperfections. Hand cut dovetail joints will normally have thin pins and a scribe mark running down the side of the drawer to mark their end while machine cut dovetails will have large pins and no scribe mark.