How to spot fake antiques. One of the greatest fears for expert and novice antique hunters alike is buying a fake. It has happened to the best of us. In fact, UK newspaper The Independent estimates that 20% of all art in major UK museums could be fake.
So then, if even the experts can be fooled once in a while, how can weekend antiquers spot (and avoid buying) a fake?
It all boils down to this: buyer, beware. Make sure you do your research and invest in a thorough vetting process prior to purchasing that seemingly perfect piece.
Do Your Research
If you’re interested in purchasing a specific antique, be sure to undertake your research first. Understand all the unique elements that make the piece priceless. This way, when it comes time for your shopping expedition, you’ll know exactly what to keep an eye out for. For instance, vintage Eames lounge chairs were built with all their screws carefully, painstakingly hidden inside—no screws should be visible to the naked eye. If you come across an Eames Chair studded with screws, you’ll know immediately that the seller is trying to peddle a knock-off.
Choose a Reputable Antique Dealer
If you’re an antiques novice, one of your first steps should be to align yourself with one or two reputable antique dealers. This way, you can rest easy that any pieces purchased through your dealer are authentic. When it comes to choosing a reputable dealer, we suggest that you opt for someone who holds an Australia Antiques & Art Dealers Association (AAADA) membership, who specialises in the exact type of antiques that you’re looking to purchase, and who does not also moonlight as an auctioneer.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions of the seller. Most reputable sellers will be only too happy to regale you with the tale of antique’s heritage. So, ask the seller if they know or can authenticate the provenance of the piece. Ask them how the piece came to be for sale. While it can be difficult to trace the entire lineage of exceptionally old antiques, a reputable seller should still have plenty of information available.
Inspect for Hand-Crafted Workmanship
If you’re buying antique furniture, a tell-tale sign that you’re dealing with an authentic pre-industrial revolution piece is evidence of hand-crafted workmanship. For instance, if you’re buying an antique chair, simply run your hand over the under-side of the seat. Similarly, if it’s an antique table, have a quick feel of the underside of the table top. If the piece is truly an antique, the woodwork is likely to feel rough because it has been hand-carved, rather than machine cut. It wasn’t until around the 1850s that furniture started to be machine cut—a process that leaves a much smoother, more uniform finish.
In addition, most hand-carved pieces of furniture are unlikely to be 100% symmetrical. For instance, the legs on tables and chairs may not all be exactly the same. Small imperfections are what make hand-carved antique furniture so unique.
The Wood Won’t Lie
When it comes to dating antique furniture, wood is a key indicator of age. Specific types of wood were used during specific time periods. Prior to 1720, walnut was popular throughout Europe and its colonies. Mahogany was all the rage in 18th century Europe, while cherry was ever-popular in North America. Oak has stood the test of time, having been used prior to the 1700s, right through to the early 1900s. So, if you can identify the type of wood used to construct the piece of furniture, this should help you date it. It’s important to keep in mind that, prior to the 20th century, plywood was never used.
It is also vital to consider the condition and the colour of the wood. Wood actually shrinks and darkens as it ages. So, there should be some signs of wear and tear on antique furniture, particularly if it hasn’t been restored.
If It’s Too Good to Be True…It Probably Is
We’ve all heard tales of an antique hunter stumbling across a priceless treasure at the local Sunday morning car boot sale. In reality, these types of occurrences are few and far between. If you find that perfect trinket you’ve been searching for, priced well below its market value, ensure you engage in an in-depth vetting program before you invest your hard-earned dollars. Unfortunately, when it comes to antiques, the old saying is spot on: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Trust Your Own Judgement
When it comes to buying antiques, it is always best to trust your own judgement—go with your gut. In practical terms, if you’ve fallen in love with a perfectly preserved vintage Eames lounge chair and matching ottoman in a well-known, reputable antiques store, then you can be fairly confident that it’s the real deal.