Antique dating with science

The basic English and American styles run the gamut from ornate to severely functional, from massive to delicate. Technically, an antique is a piece of furniture with special value because of its age, particularly those pieces embellished with fine artistry.

The age factor is subjective: general antique stores label objects 50 years or older as antiques.

Fine antique dealers consider objects 150 years and older to be antique.

In the East, an antique is Queen Anne or earlier; in the West, it's any piece of furniture that came across the mountains in a wagon.

Fine old pieces are often French-polished, a variation of the shellac finish.

A lacquer or varnish finish is a sure sign of later manufacture.

If a joint was dovetailed by hand, it has only a few dovetails, and they aren't exactly even; if it has closely spaced, precisely cut dovetails, it was machine-cut.

Handmade dovetails almost always indicate a piece made before 1860.

If the piece of furniture is very dirty or encrusted with wax, clean it first with a mixture of denatured alcohol, white vinegar, and kerosene, in equal parts. Very early furniture -- before 1700 -- is mostly oak, but from 1700 on, mahogany and walnut were widely used.A real antique is not perfectly cut; a reproduction with the same components is, because it was cut by machine. Until Victorian times, shellac was the only clear surface finish; lacquer and varnish were not developed until the mid-1800s.The finish on a piece made before 1860 is usually shellac; if the piece is very old, it may be oil, wax, or milk paint.A southern antique is a piece made before the Civil War.Wherever you look, it's a sure bet that you won't find a genuine antique from 1500 or 1600.

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