Antique stores are perfect place to find Chinese antique furniture pieces, but before you buy anything, do a comprehensive research. Real antique pieces are extremely valuable, but with so many realistic copies you may have hard time recognizing a genuine piece from a fake one. If you have no knowledge of Chinese culture, history and antiques, it is best to hire an expert. Never buy an antique, or try to refinish it, until you are sure what you have. Here are few tips to help you identify genuine Chinese furniture piece.
There are various Chinese traditional furniture styles and each has distinctive features. Technically, an antique is a piece which holds a special value because of its age (especially the antique pieces embellished with fine artistry). The age factor is subjective – usually antique stores mark objects 50 years or older as antiques. And according to antique dealers, pieces that are 150-plus years old are considered antiques.
There are few easy ways you can spot Chinese antique. The first is the joinery – Chinese furniture that is machine-cut was not made until about 1860. If the pieces has drawers, remove one and look carefully where the back and front of the drawer are secured to the sides of the drawer. Dovetails that are made by hand almost always indicate an antique piece made before 1860. Also, look closely at the back, bottom and sides of the drawers. If wood shows cuts or nicks, it was probably cut with a plane, draw-knife or spokeshave. Straight saw marks also indicate piece is an antique. But if the wood shows arc-shaped or circular marks, it means it was cut by circular saw which wasn’t used until 1860.
Another thing that proves Chinese furniture pieces were machine-made is exact symmetry. The furniture made by hand, slats, rungs, rockers, spindles and other components aren’t of exact size. Inspect these small parts carefully because slight differences in shape or size aren’t always easy to spot. Just remember, a real piece of antique isn’t perfectly cut.
The finish of the wood is another sign that can tell you how old is the piece. The finish of old objects is generally shellac (if the the object is very old, it may be milk, wax or oil paint). Fine old antiques are often French-polished. However, testing the finish is not always possible, but is recommended. Test the piece with denatured alcohol. If finish dissolves, it is shellac, meaning it is not an antique. If the object is painted, test it with ammonia, because very old objects may be finished with milk paint which is removable only with ammonia. If the piece is very dirty, clean it first with a mixture of equal parts of kerosene, white vinegar and denatured alcohol.
The wood that the Chinese furniture piece is made of, is your final clue. The furniture made before 1700 is mostly oak. From that period on, walnut and mahogany were widely used. But because these woods have always been favored for making furniture pieces, finish and workmanship are better indicators of the age than the wood itself.