Antique Furniture Evaluation

Quality is an extremely important element in the value of an new furnishing, antique or collectible. Quality may be seen as a level of excellence, excellence in the concept of the piece, excellence in the design and excellence in the execution. A well-built furnishing, for example, will advertise its quality by its stability and function. The doors will open easily and the drawers will operate smoothly. The finish is clean, the color is good, the joinery is well done, the choice of materials is solid and the scale is correct.

Quality means attention to detail in the original production of the item, in fine art and museum quality antique furniture entirely hand made is the preferred product. Quality implies a caring on the part of the producer or builder and carries a pride that shows in the finished product usually signed. No matter the final definition, most of us know quality when we see it. Or at least we think we do, like the satisfying, solid sounding thump of a door closing on a Rolls Royce or Ferrari.

Condition should never be confused with quality. Quality is how the piece was made. Condition is how it has survived since then. A high-quality item in poor condition certainly has less value than a comparable item in excellent condition. However, condition can often be improved by Quality is always fixed in the original build of of each furnishing.

That is why a poor-quality item in perfect condition will almost never be as valuable as a high quality piece in a lesser state of affairs. Take the example of a piece of Depression era “Borax” furniture that has been in storage for 70 years. Even with its perfect condition, its poor original quality will keep it from ever attaining the value of a carefully hand crafted bench-made piece of similar age, even though it may have some condition “issues.” Of course, there is a point of compromise at which quality and condition are equal, but that state is seldom achieved and seldom recognized when it is.

Rarity never to be confused with age. Early Roman Empire coins for example are thousands of years old but are they rare? No, because so many of them were made (millions?) and so many of them survive. Many Roman coins are worth only the value of the metal they contain. Another example is one of the most famous style chairs of the early 19th century?Hitchcock chairs. Lambert Hitchcock had a great idea and he made a very good chair. It’s just that he made thousands and thousands of them, beginning in 1826 on the assembly line in his factory in Connecticut (he was ahead of Henry Ford on that subject by 80 or 90 years). And thousand of his mass produced chairs survive today. They are 175 years old and they are beautiful but they are not rare. Therefore, they do not always command the price that may be seen for the work of another chair craftsman who produced only a limited number or one of a kind well-made chairs.

Demand finally there the item must be in demand In the marketplace. Even if a piece has all the other elements that make up value, if there is no demand?if there is no one who wants to buy it, then there is no value and there is no sale. There are lots of reasons for lack of demand: a poor economy; a social or political stigma on the product; a geographical anomaly in the buying population; a lack of appreciation for the art or genius of the maker. Or it may be as simple as a lack of advertising that the product is available or even the unattractive display of the product when a potential buyer is present. Or it may just be that there is no demand for the item at that price. At some other price, demand may be stimulated. However it is our experience there is always demand for furnishing that are of the highest quality and detail from conception.

For an New or Antique Or Collectible To Have Real Value, All Four Elements Of The Equation Must Be In Balance With The Asking Price

More Antique Information

  • Never use spray wax on antiques.
  • The more simple the furniture design, the more valuable. Overly carved pieces are difficult to sell.
  • The earliest furniture (Medieval, Renaissance) although the rarest is not the most valuable. Georgian and French 18th century is the most costly.
  • Completely Refinishing always ruins the value of antique furniture.
  • Antique beds are the most difficult piece of furniture to sell.
  • Miniature and small antique furniture are more valuable than full size pieces.
  • Cabinets, bookcases and armoires taller than 8 feet (ceiling height) drop dramatically in value.
  • Furniture from the 1950’s is now valuable.
  • Original horsehair and other upholstery stuffing lowers the value, not increases it.
  • The main rule about antique furniture is it must be practical, comfortable, useable, and the proper height.
  • What causes a piece of antique furniture to bring a world record price is not rarity but rich patina color and great proportions.

Determining Age in Antique Furniture

Any piece of furniture can be made in an earlier design, but it is only valuable if done in the correct period the style originated. There are certain hidden clues in antique furniture, besides style, that tell you if the piece is authentic.

Woodworking Method in Antique Furniture

Riven — split (not sawn) along the grain. Usually found in 15th to 17th century.

Hand Sawn Timber — course and irregular teeth marks in the wood. Late 16th to 17th century.

Frame Sawn Timber — evenly spaced regular course cut at an angle to the wood grain. 17th to 18th century.

Circular Sawn Timber — concentric arc cuts. 19th to 20th century.

Pegs and Screws in Antique Furniture

Authentic wood pegs are never round. They should slightly stand up from the wood holding them. 15th to 17th century.

Screws are easily identified by their distinctive designs over the centuries. Be careful removing them not to damage the heads. If they resist, touch a hot soldering iron to the head. First try counter clockwise, then clockwise to budge them.

For valuable antique wood furniture there is also dendrochronology. This is where the tree rings of the wood are compared to known biological charts of both wet and dry seasons. Thick rings were a rainy period; thin rings were a drought. An expert can tell what year the tree was cut.

Just because a piece of antique furniture is old and done in a popular style doesn’t make it valuable. It must have a rich patina finish and pleasing proportions. It takes an expert furniture appraiser to identify these.

Antique Appraisals

The antique field is extremely large. It runs from Pre-Columbian art, to Louis XIV furniture, autographs, rare Limoge china to your grandmother’s silver tea service. No one person can possibly know all these fields. This is why it is important for you to hire a full-service professional appraisal firm. We come out to your home, carefully inventory everything, and then our experienced staff researches them according to their specialty. No “one man band” can match the expertise of specially trained antique experts.
Unfortunately, the antique appraisal business is filled with these “one man bands” who charge outrageous hourly fees to muddle through the reference books trying to figure out what you have. You pay the price for their inadequacies by getting stung with their large hourly fees for their lack of experience. An hourly fee appraiser is an incompetent appraiser who wants you to pay for their education. They sound cheap in the beginning but wait until you see their hidden hourly charges tacked on at the end. They make you sign an open-ended contract, place a deposit, then hit you with outrageous hidden research hours. You are literally giving them a black check when they leave your home.

The Chicago Appraisers Association charges a flat fee per item, with no charge if the item is valueless. When we leave your home you know exactly what the antique appraisal costs. We even quote you an exact fee on the phone before we come out. We work with any antique appraisal and antiquing budget.

Most antique appraisers own shops and use antique appraisals as a method to get into your home and buy cheaply from you. Never trust an antique appraiser with two agendas. Always hire an independent appraiser who represents you, not their antique shop or auction firm when you buy antiques or sell antiques.

The Chicago Appraisers Association is not an antique shop, auction firm, or consignment store. Antique appraisals are all we do. Our state charter forbids us to purchase anything we appraise. We’re not a “one man band” pretending to know everything. We are not an antique dealer trying to rob you of your heirlooms. We are a staff of full service professionals. Our research is so thorough, we guarantee our appraisals to be accepted by all insurance companies. The others don’t and they don’t care. They have different priorities. At Chicago Appraisers Association, it’s you we value most.

Learn more about our Antique and Classic Restorations Services