HOME: Antiques – How to Spot a Fake
1. Age matters – The style of a piece, especially furniture, will determine the age of the piece, said Crow, who specializes in “primitive” antiques that are handmade. For instance, she said if the dovetails on a chest of drawers look machine-made, then it’s probably not an antique. “Look for imperfections,” she said. “Each was handmade, so they shouldn’t look exactly alike. Look for real wood and be careful if it has veneers. Veneers have been used for a long time, but really be careful if you notice a veneer.”
2. Wear Lines – Even antiques that have been babied for decades will show certain signs of wear and tear. The wear lines should be where one might expect to find them, like around drawer or door handles, or along the arms of a chair. Conversely, if the wear pattern is in a place that is difficult to touch, be wary. “Wear along the corners, called deterioration, are also signs of age,” said Crow. “Look for a crackled appearance, but watch out for modern crackle. Once you’ve seen true age crackle, though, it’s easy to determine which is caused by age and which has been added.”
3. Mirroring – When buying a piece of antique furniture especially, look at the piece as a whole. Does the bottom match the top? Are there multiple styles in the piece? Does it look like two separate pieces put together? “If you have two different styles or types of wood on a single piece, it’s a pretty good giveaway that it’s not an antique,” said Crow. “Also, look at the underside and insides. Many times, even antiques have different types of wood on the inside, but all woods change color after a time. Even if it’s different wood, it’ll get an age color.” Crow also suggests giving the inside of cabinets a sniff test. “Older cabinets or cupboards will take on a distinct scent,” she said. “If the cabinets do not have too much of a smell or has a chemical smell, then be cautious.”
4. Be aware of… re-cleaned wood. Even Crow has seen replicas made so well that she’s had difficulty pinpointing the exact age. Anything called “antique pine” should be inspected closely because a lot of fake antique pine furniture has been made from old wood from floors and paneling. “I’m sure people make furniture out of old wood to fool people, but most of the time they clearly mark that it’s ‘re-cleaned’ wood,” said Crow. She advises to inspect the joints, peg joints or dovetails. “Many times, they won’t take the time to redo the pegs, and they’ll just glue or nail it together.”
5. Educate yourself – Although Crow and Newman specialize in furniture, most antique dealers say the best way to not be fooled is to learn as much as you can about what you are collecting. Also, be aware of the going price. If a piece is selling for much cheaper than what it is supposed to be, inspect it carefully. Dealers rarely make mistakes. “If you go to an antique fair and see several of the same items at different booths, then it’s a real good indication that it’s not old,” said Crow.
- Before selling valuables in a consignment shop, call the Better Business Bureau to check for any complaints and ask for references.
- Do not sign a contract to sell a valuable if until you have all the information you need. Request an attorney to review it.
- Ask, visit and check on the item to make sure it’s still for sale.
- Take photographs and make a detailed list of what you’re selling.
- Have a trusted friend or relative witness the transaction.