Determining When Antique Furniture Isn’t Old
I ran into these photos on Craigslist yesterday as I was looking for a Victorian bed. Craigslist listings may provide some good deals but their minuscule photos do not provide any means of checking the condition of the item that you’re looking at. When photos are uploaded to Craigslist, they’re downsized to reduce the storage requirements on their servers. The result is a 5-7 kilobyte image. The average size of a file produced by today’s 7 MP cameras? 3.5 Mega-pixels, which is 500-700x more detailed than a photo after it is uploaded to Craigslist.
Looking at the photos above, I was not tipped off that the bed wasn’t an authentic antique (the seller didn’t state one way or the other). The pictures are dark and not detailed. I asked for some better pictures from the seller and once the “normal” pictures arrived in my Inbox, I could see some things that told me that the bed was relatively new.
I own one modern reproduction bed from Indonesia – something we purchased for our first home when we were newly married before Victorian fever hit me. Their indigenous mahogany wood and stains have an unmistakable look that once you see it a few times, you can spot them a mile away. Their carvings, while smooth, are slightly wavy in a way that Victorian carvers didn’t produce.
The bed above is missing some things that you would expect from an antique:
- Age-Appropriate Wear: old dings, finish wear, patina. No old bed has feet that aren’t scraped up
- Dust: although furniture gets cleaned, the average non-professional will leave some gunk impacted in the nooks and crannies somewhere
- Walnut Composition: most of these mid-quality Renaissance beds were walnut – not mahogany
- Variation in Color: refinished or new furniture looks uniform in color as this bed does
- 19th Century Dimensions: probably the most telling tip-off is the fact that this bed is King Size and wasn’t modified! Not possible in the 19th century; at least not in the mainstream market.
I got this from the seller after inquiring as to the age:
“This bed is hand-carved, reproduction, solid mahogany (no particle board). My error was to leave out the word “reproduction” in the ad, but I am certainly not trying to present it as an antique!”
Since I’m not a fan of reproductions, I’ll skip this bed and keep looking.
Hopefully the hints above will be helpful to some. Some of the smaller regional auction houses that I visit don’t have printed catalogs (with detailed lot analysis) – what you see is what you get and you need to be able to identify these on your own.