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Can you tell the difference between an antique and a reproduction? Does it really even matter?
There’s nothing wrong with good quality reproductions. You just want to make sure that you know that’s what you are getting. Here are some additional tips to help you tell them apart.
Wood is Wood is Wood – or is it?. Many true Antiques are prone to be made different types of wood. Why? It just didn’t make economic sense to use expensive wood where no one would ever see it. That’s why certain aspects of a real antique are often made from a lesser quality of wood. The bottoms of drawers and joints for example. Reproductions on the other hand, tend to be made top-to-bottom from one wood and sometimes can be heavily stained to hide a poor quality wood. Check the underside, if the wood seems the same throughout the piece, it may be new. This generally holds true for larger real antiques. However, smaller antiques that are not complicated may have been made from one single type of wood.
Look For Signs of Wear. Do the signs of wear make sense for the particular item? A good example is on a antique chair you will find increased signs of wear at the end of the arms where the hands would naturally rest. Work items that were designed for daily use may very well show signs of use almost anywhere but the corners and handles will most often show greater usage signs than other areas. If the wear is consistent through the piece, it’s possibly a reproduction that has been distressed to appear old.
Look For Signs of age. Look for signs of cracks caused by shrinkage. They indicate that the wood has expanded and contracted over time. This is normal for an antique. Also look for slight signs of warps and separation at joint locations. Certain joint types are more prone to separation than others. Dovetail joints that are well done, seldom show much separation but “butt joints” often do.
A Note About Dovetailing. Dovetails made by machine are even, small and usually thin. During the 18th and much of the 19th century dovetails were made by hand and were usually much larger than you see in modern pieces and also somewhat uneven.
What About Hand Carvings. If you run your finger along the carving and it’s a true antique, it will feel bumpy or uneven. Hand carving is uneven and asymmetrical. Machine carving is smooth and symmetrical. Better quality and expensive reproductions however may often incorporate real hand carvings into the reproduction. A real artist will often do this.
Don’t Forget About Gluing Joints. The modern glues used today are much different than those used 100 or more years ago. Now it’s not very likely that your going to be able to do a chemical analysis of the type of glue used but there are things to look for. Craftsman of the past often used reinforce glued joints in their creations. These joints would often be reinforced with dowels, mortise and tenon etc. to ensure that they were good and sturdy. Depending on the artist creating the reproduction, better quality reproductions may also show this type of craftsmanship. Poor quality reproductions will often only be glued which down the road will lead to them falling apart.
Look At The Construction Materials. Modern day Phillips screws, staples and particle board are all signs of a reproduction. Unless your dealing with a very exceptional company or artist who has the capability to produce very large width boards (boards in excess of 12 inches in width) or access to old lumber, most reproductions are made from commercially produced stock. One seldom finds anything larger than a 12 inch width on any commercially produced stock these days. On antiques with large surfaces (tables, trunks, armoires), furniture makers used wide boards, often with an uneven width. Reproductions generally use narrow boards with an even width.
Does The Hardware Match? Truly old hardware has a natural patina and it doesn’t have a lacquer finish to protect it from tarnishing either. Plus, it isn’t shiny and new looking. Good reproduction artists are capable of taking a piece of new hardware and making it look really antique. This is another indicator that your dealing with a good company when buying Reproductions.
The Advantage Of Buying Reproductions. Buying good quality reproductions eliminates the frustration of hunting for the right piece. Having something custom made ensures you get exactly what you want. A good example is the narrow dimensions of antique armoires. Generally they are 15 to 17 inches. This doesn’t suit many of today’s pieces of electronic equipment. Some dealers, including ourselves, do offer custom reproductions to overcome this predicament.
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