To avoid being swindled with one of these "glorified" pieces, my
advice is always to buy antiques in their original condition, first
because you will then be certain of their authenticity, and secondly, an
antique entirely refinished loses its charm and will never command as high
a price as a piece that has not been "done over."
Owing to the high prices paid for original Georgian chairs and
pie-crust tables, these articles have been faked perhaps more than any
others. Originally about ninety-nine tilt-tables in a hundred were made with
plain tops. The edges of these have recently been carved in the
pie-crust pattern, and while the top is old the carving is new. On examining
these tops one will find the center portion much thinner than on the
original ones, it having been shaved away to give the raised gallery at
the edge. The wooden pegs frequently show through the top. Moreover, the
old pie-crust tables usually show the marks of carving-tools, while the
modern fakers generally sandpaper their work smooth.
The third sort-the thorough fraud-is more difficult to make, but
vastly more profitable. If you have enough knowledge and skill, there 's a
chance here for a profit of approximately i,ooo per cent. and not a
very great likelihood of being caught that is, if it is a business that
appeals to you. You can make new oak look old by the use of permanganate
of potash, ammonia, and other chemicals, even if the surface thus
treated does n't feel or look to the expert quite the same as those treated
centuries ago with beeswax, turpentine, and elbow-grease. Few people
will know the difference.Kick the legs carefully to produce realistic
The story is current among collectors and dealers of a woman who was
brought before a judge in England. Upon being asked her husband's
business, she replied, "He 's a worm-eater."
"A what?" exclaimed the judge.
"A worm-eater," said she. "He makes wormholes in an antique
But if you're a purchaser and not a maker-or faker-of antiques, it
is well to know the signs of these things, such as there are. The fakes
that are new throughout need little description. All sorts of pieces
are faked in this way. Sometimes they are clever, but more often the
shallowness of the carving, the cleanness of the edges, the use of new
nails and pegs and screws, and the new look of the hidden portions proclaim
their nature to the experienced purchaser. The expert can usually
detect them by a glance at the wood, finish, and ornamentation, and, above
all, by the general proportions.
As a matter of fact, it is impossible to print any handy guide to
the purchase of antiques. It takes years of training and experience to
detect the fakes, and even old hands are occasionally led astray. But the
crude fakes are more common in this country, comparatively speaking,
than the clever ones; and it is possible to become familiar with the
simplest methods of detecting the commonest shams.
First of all, one must become familiar with the various styles,
because most fakers do not bother to carry out details with as great care
as did the old cabinet-makers. Study the best examples in museums and
collections, and the illustrations and descriptions in the most
trustworthy books. Study the construction, carving, finish, and design, and in
time you will be able to see the difference. Constant practice does the
rest. The expert can tell much by feeling. Of course a knowledge of
period styles is essential in buying antiques.
Then as to construction. Carving becomes less sharp and harsh with
age, and nicks are likely to appear on the corners and. edges. All these
earmarks of antiquity can be imitated, to be sure, but the cost of such
skilled labor would reduce the profit on the piece, and the
manufacturer or dealer usually prefers to take chances on the cruder fake.
Always look at the joints. If the piece has been "glorified" you may
be able to discover a difference in the color of the old and the newer
wood. Or the pegs may be newly cut, or you may be able to find glue
which is certainly not antique. Always examine the under side and inside
of things. Don't be afraid of hurting the dealer's feelings.
Take a Jacobean piece, for example. The old oaken furniture of that
day was built with stout pegs. It is too much to expect a modern faker
to be quite as conscientious in his construction.
It is also very difficult to give these old pieces the exact color
and finish of the originals.
In Chippendale chairs study the carving. See if it looks flat and
shallow. Chippendale was willing to use more material than his modern
imitators. In most Chippendale chairs the center of the back is some sort
of pierced work. Look for recent sawmarks here, or marks of sandpaper.
In Sheraton pieces it is largely a matter of design and inlay, and
practically the only way to be sure on this point is to study good genuine
examples. Painted furniture is easier to analyze. Some Adam furniture
was thus painted; and, of course, French furniture of the Vernis Martin
type. See how the paint looks on real antiques. It may show chipping or
restoring, but it w111 hardly ever look anything like recent work that
has been made old artificially.
Another thing to be studied is price. If this is too low, there is
ground for suspicion. The dealer knows that he can get a good sum for a
genuine antique, and a low price is the opposite of a guaranty. Now
there is no established market value on an tiques. Each piece has to be
appraised in accordance, with its rarity and intrinsic merit.
Consequently, it is desirable to become familiar with the prices at which
furniture has been actually bought and sold. Study the reports of big auction
sales. Consult trustworthy collectors.
Simply as an illustration, let us take the Chippendale chair. There
is a big demand for these beauti ful pieces, and they are exceedingly
rare. Spurious Chippendales, however, are to be found on every hand.
Now, your absolutely genuine Chippendale chair brings from $100 to $500,
and even more, according to its type, condition, and historical
associations. It is fairly safe to say, therefore, that a chair called
Chippendale which is openly offered for sale for less than $75 is not genuine,
or something else is the matter with it. A study of comparative prices
will prove a great help in buying antiques.
One more precaution may well be taken in buying at a dealer's, and I
consider it the most important of all. Demand a written guaranty. As a
matter of fact, dealers in antique furniture are not so much less
honest than other business men. They may equivocate and mislead you, their
shops may be full of fakes, but I find that most of them will answer
honestly, if frankly and intelligently questioned. And if your dealer will
write on your invoice, over his signature, "guaranteed genuine antique
throughout, date about so-and-so," you can depend upon the truth of it,
or you will at least be given the right to return the piece if
subsequently it turns out to be not genuine. In the first place, aside from
common honesty, the dealer is actuated by business prudence. A reputation
for reliability he knows to be his most valuable business asset.
Furthermore, he well knows that if he signs his name to a written falsehood,
he is liable to arrest for obtaining money under false pretenses. This
one precaution, I think, will prove effective in nearly every case.
It can readily be seen from the foregoing that it would be
impossible to lay down any rules for the guidance of the purchaser of antique
furniture. But there are a few suggestions which may be taken as rules
and which will be found helpful in almost every case, though they by no
means cover the whole ground.
Beware of the itinerant vender.
Beware of the "floater"-the man who has a shop in Philadelphia today
and in Boston next fall.
Buy of a man who is not only honest, but who has had long
experience, and who seems to know his book, and even then don't trust too
Get the help of an expert if you can. If you have no friend to apply
to, get paid advice of some recognized authority. It is worth 10 per
cent. of the cost of the article, and may prove to be worth l00 per cent.
Beware of the excitement of an auction sale. Beware of alleged
Chippendale chairs. Also Hep pelwhite. Real ones are not only scarce, but
are likely to be rickety at this late day. Examine the construction.
They were not made for steam-heated shops.
Tread warily when it comes to pie-crust tables. Examine all carvings
with great care.
Don't pay solid mahogany prices for veneered pieces. Look on the
inside or under side to see if the wood and the grain are the same as
outside or on top.
Beware of marquetry, inlay, or veneer that looks too well. Also be
careful about painted furniture.
Better not buy Louis XV or Louis XVI furniture at all unless you
have the assistance of a connoisseur. Much of it is imported from Parisian
fake-shops and is sometimes so cleverly done as to deceive the elect.
To make furniture look old or vieille by chemical processes is a high
art in France.
Find out what things are really most plentiful. They are no less
valuable as home furnishings, and are more likely to be real.
Don't scorn American Colonial pieces. They have their own peculiar
merits. Buy them from individual owners wherever you run across
Don't look for bargains.
Finally, study designs in old books and pieces in museums, read all
you can find on the subject, and talk with your friend the expert.
In conclusion, the truth about antique furniture seems to me to be
First, nine tenths of the antiques offered for sale in the open
market are questionable, and many pieces are certainly fakes.
Second, even though a piece is a genuine antique, if it is decrepit
and dilapidated, I would have none of it. It may be all right for a
museum, but not for a home, where there should be no room for what is
Third, antiques should never be bought simply because they are
antiques, without regard to intrinsic beauty. If you look long enough and
pay enough, you can secure beautiful things. Permit nothing ugly in your
home, no matter how old it is.
Fourth, use discretion in the selection of styles. Let the pieces
harmonize with each other, with the decorations of the rooms, with the
Don't crowd in together a lot of Italian and Spanish and Chinese and
Dutch and Turkish antiques. Don't make an old curiosity shop out of
Postscript. Collectors and purchasers of antiques will find valuable
information on the subject of the traffic in bogus antiques in a recent
bulletin of the Bureau of Manufactures, Department of Commerce and
Labor, Washington, D. C. It is No. 3644, dated November 24, 1909, and may
be had on request. It deals largely with the trade in England and
Scotland, but it is of interest not only to such Americans as go abroad for
purchases, but to those who buy of American dealers, for large
quantities of these counterfeits are being exported each year to this