Learning about antique furniture can be fun and rewarding
Jennifer Hogan | Jun 6, 2012, 10:53 p.m.
If you want to start an antiquing hobby, you’ll need to develop visual and historical knowledge in order to identify objects and know if they are something of value. Whether you want to become a seasoned antique collector or hobbyist, you can find a variety of reference guides at your local library or online that can help you through this process.
There is one set of objects that can be a good starting point for everyone because it’s something that we use every day. Any guesses? Furniture! Bookcases, bureaus, desks, tables, chairs, cabinets, sideboards, cupboards, chests . . . the list goes on to include some things you may not have heard of, like Canterbury, commode, bonheur-du-jour and recamier, to name a few. Here are some of the basics about furniture, including materials, construction and decoration, periods and styles, repairs and restoration.
Familiarize yourself with different types of wood
You probably know some basics, like oak and mahogany, but there are more than 25 different types of wood, plus their variations. The best way to get to know them is to look at them and read their descriptions. Pocket guides and other antique books are a good place to start. Keep in mind that for construction and decorative purposes, other materials may be used in addition to the wood.
Learn about furniture construction
Construction techniques have evolved over time to create more durable and attractive pieces. This evolution can help you identify the time period. Look out for the types of joints used to build the piece, the metal work (including nails, screws, hinges, locks and handles) and the decoration. Be aware that the metal work on furniture may be replaced over time due to damage or updating, so be sure to inspect it carefully or ask a professional. Also check out the legs and feet of the piece; this can also be a good indicator of style, time and maker. Again, note that these may also have been replaced due to wear.
Consider the decoration
The decoration on the furniture should also be taken into consideration, as it can help you establish a maker, time period and value. Here are a few basics.
• Veneer: applying thin sheets of fine quality wood over coarser wood, done to use more expensive wood sparingly. A variety of “cuts” produce different patterns.
• Marquetry: inlaying different colors of wood or other materials (like ivory or mother-of-pearl) in the wood to form a pattern. If the pattern is geometric, it is known as parquetry.
• Carving: whittling, paring and shaping wood with sharp tools to create a design.
• Gilding: applying gold leaf in thin layers to wood.
• Lacquering: applying refined tree sap to produce a high shine. This technique originated in Japan and China and spread to Europe with the use of shellac.
• Painting: first done in the 14th and 15th Centuries, it has been revived. The painting process has evolved using different wood and paints. During the 18th Century, a technique of coating paint with varnish was created; during the 19th Century, wood was painted to resemble marble.