How to Be Sure It’s Really an Antique

Antiquing is a fun and rewarding hobby enjoyed by many. While there are many honest antique sellers out there, someone is always trying to sell you some swampland in Florida (or new items masquerading as antiques, in this case.) Sometimes, the seller is honestly misinformed, but in some cases they are intentionally trying to con you. How can you tell if your treasures are actual antiques and not just good remakes? Do you need an appraiser to be sure? Here are ten tips that will help you recognize quality antiques.

Expect Signs of Age

Unless an antique was intentionally preserved, it will most likely show some wear. This may include scratches, worn seams, or watermarks on the item. If the item has been refinished or refurbished, it can significantly lower the value of the item (sometimes by more than half), but it will be more difficult to identify as an antique.

Newer items will look more uniform, and may have factory edges and more consistent coloring.

Check the Finish

Speaking of Refurbished

An easy way to determine if a piece has been refinished or refurbished is to turn the item upside down and check for drips or runs, which are tell tale signs of this sin against antiques.

Check the Finish

If the item has not been refinished, this can be a great indicator of age. For example, until the early 19th century, most finishes were about 1/16th of an inch thick, while starting around 1830, they were about half that. Around the end of the 1800’s, finishes got even smoother thanks to new technology and machine created objects.

Look for Patina

What the heck is patina? Well, when the piece retains its original finish, patina occurs over the years. It causes the wood to look darker and richer from years of polishing and use. Another way to recognize patina is to look on the inside of the piece, which hasn’t likely been polished often, and you’ll find that the internal finish may be lighter than the external for this reason.


Older furniture will often feature drawers fitted with locks, usually made of brass and featuring a matching key. Of course, in most cases, the key won’t be present, but you may be lucky enough to find the maker’s signature mark on the lock.


Dovetailing is the process of creating little tabs on each side of a piece that fit together like a puzzle. While this process is used in modern furniture, it’s still a good indicator of age. Antique furniture will have larger and uneven dovetails, while modern furniture will feature smaller and more even ones. This is because modern furniture is generally machine made, and almost always machine cut.

Put It To The Screws…and Nails

One tell tale sign of an antique piece is the single slot screws many artisans used. Modern screws are easily recognizable as factory made. Square pegs and nails were also common in the past, and can be considered a sign of an old piece. These were handmade and can indicate a piece from the 17th or 18th century.

Check Your Drawers

If you are looking at an antique with drawers, lean down and look at the hardware that allows the drawer to slide in and out. The antique item will show significant signs of wear because most likely the drawer has been used hundreds of thousands of times over the years. Also the hardware itself will not be your standard factory slides.

Handmade Furniture

This is not always a decisive indicator of antique furniture, but may be a good start. Furniture that’s been handmade and features other signs listed here is almost certainly an antique.

If All Else Fails

Call an appraiser. And, if you choose this route, be certain that your appraiser is JUST the appraiser, and not a potential buyer. This way, you’ll be certain to get a fair appraisal.