Antique furniture and antique style endure because of the elegance, class, and charm that they add to any home. But authentic antique furniture is often hard to come by, and it's even harder on your bank account. Not everyone has the luxury of purchasing the genuine article, but that doesn't mean you can't have a taste of the finer things. It is also very difficult to find certain types of antique furniture, for example things like king size antique beds are nearly impossible to find.
Reproduction furniture is the best choice to get antique style without the antique price tag. It might be tempting to write off antique reproductions as mere knock-offs, but don't be fooled. Antique reproduction furniture has a rich history of its own that dates back hundreds of years. In fact, the French style common to the last part of the 19th Century during the rise of the Industrial Revolution were technically reproductions of styles from centuries before. Wood furniture in the the Renaissance style, with craftsmanship featuring highly-carved drawers and carvings depicting the hunt or mythology, mortise and tenon and dovetail joinery were based on the styles commonly found in French Chateaus from the 15th and 16th centuries. In those days, only the very wealthy could commission a piece to be featured in their living room. With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, the production of a similar reproduction piece became more affordable and the middle class started to demand reproductions based on an antique piece (or more!) that they may have seen during their visits to house museums.
Antique reproduction furniture has a number of advantages apart from availability. Manufacturers of reproduction furniture will often have catalogs of their product lines, saving you the effort of trips to auction houses or antique stores. The ability to create custom furniture may also be available, allowing you to add the perfect piece to your collection.
Reproduction pieces can also be tailored to meet more modern needs. For instance, chair and table heights now have to be higher than in centuries past to cater to the increasing height of the average human. As previously mentioned, an antique bed in king size is nearly impossible to find. A true Victorian sofa may also look beautiful, but a vintage piece for your living room or parlor might not have the comfort you're looking for. Vintage and antique dining chairs are often much smaller than their modern counterparts, so you may wish to select something new, covered in an upholstery to match your dining room decor. Today's technology and materials can also increase the longevity of reproduction furniture. The finish and solid wood of pieces today can be made more resistant to the elements, such as humidity and heat, making your investment last longer.
Genuine antiques are often made using different types of wood because of the costs involved in using pricier, solid wood. Typically, "hidden" areas such as drawer interiors or the back of the piece will be made of more common woods like oak or pine. If the piece is made using only one kind of wood throughout, it's most likely a reproduction.
Many people have a misunderstanding that a piece using veneer is necessarily indicative of inferior quality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Wood grain patterns like flame mahogany or burl walnut are only achieved using veneers. It's what those veneers are placed upon that makes the difference. Is the veneer hiding inferior wood products like pressboard or MDF, or is it covering a quality solid wood like oak? Louis XIV himself had many pieces of furniture featuring exotic wood veneers as a decoration.
Signs of age in wood include splits, shrinkage, and separating at the seams. Check the shape of the furniture. If it's a round table and it's still perfectly circular, it's likely a reproduction. You should also note the finish of the wood, as some manufacturers attempt to mimic patina by staining. Raw, unstained wood in "hidden" parts is a good sign that a piece is a true antique. Antique pieces were traditionally stained after they were fully completed, so you will likely not find finishes on the undersides of drawers, inside the cabinet or hutch. If you find finish in those sorts of places, that's a good sign of an antique reproduction using modern manufacturing method, as pieces are finished during the production process and then assembled.
If the piece has been upholstered using synthetic fibers, there's a greater chance that it's a reproduction. Authentic, pre-1920s antiques often used natural materials under the upholstery like horsehair. However, please note that changing the upholstery of an antique chair has very little effect on its value, unless the original upholstery was in excellent condition to start with.
Genuine antiques will have signs of wear and age from years of use. Authentic antiques will also often have dirt built up in the corners, maybe some water stains, uneven patina, and feet that are worn out. You'll also often see evidence of prior wood worm infestation, particularly in walnut. Don't worry about wood worm infestation, unless when you tap on it, saw dust actively comes out of the holes. That is a sign of active infestation.
Reproductions are intended to appear older than their actual date of production, so it's not surprising to see signs of wear on these pieces. Signs of age can be manufactured, so you'll have to determine if the wear and tear comes from years of actual use, or if it's an artful recreation. Consistent or even signs of age usually indicate that a piece is a reproduction.
It is also common to see differences in the patina on different parts of the furniture piece. It is not uncommon for a piece of classic furniture to have sat in one place in a home for many years, with one side exposed to a window, causing one side or part of the front to be lighter or darker than the other side. An antique reproduction would almost never reproduce this effect.
Authentic antiques are never completely symmetrical, as these pieces were handmade by a true craftsman. Reproduction pieces, on the other hand, will have perfect edges and shapes because due to the modern machinery used in the manufacturing process. Perfect dovetail joints on a piece are most likely machine-cut, and thus, not a true antique. Drawers in a sideboard or dresser featuring antique dovetail joints often appear to have very irregularly spaced joints, and the joints themselves will vary in size, often featuring very narrow ends on the dovetail.
Uniformity is the badge of reproductions; irregularity is the hallmark of authenticity. We've even seen two pieces of the same type of antique furniture, most likely carved by the same craftsman have very minor difference in the carving patterns. This indicates hand-carving, rather than machine carving.