It is no secret that the current antique furniture market is not strong, but many observe that the best pieces continue to sell well. ‘Brown’ furniture has not been popular amongst interior designers in recent years but does show some signs of life and like past periods of disinterest (1950s style also strongly rejected Victorian furniture, for example) prices may well see a recovery in the future as more and more people reject the dominance of minimalism and mass-produced furniture.
Most antique furniture will have many recent precedents in salerooms simply because there is so much of it! Once a piece is accurately dated and its condition assessed then it can be easily compared to other examples. Typically, the age of a chair is given away by shape of the piece and the choice of decoration. Certain parts of the chair, such as the legs or top rail give away the date of many chairs, sometimes with surprising accuracy. Matters are complicated somewhat by the popularity of revival styles in the 19th century, many of which were very faithful to the originals; a familiarity with original pieces and knowledge of the manufacture techniques will be needed in these cases.
"Certain parts of the chair, such as the legs or top rail give away the date of many chairs, sometimes with surprising accuracy."
Dining chairs and side chairs were usually made in sets of any even number up to 36 although most of these will have been broken up into smaller sets. Larger sets of at least 8 attract greater interest and in odd-numbered sets, the ‘odd’ chair usually won’t add to the value. Chairs do not need to be identical to comprise a set, and some vernacular chairs may have stylistic variations within a set. Many sets included chairs with and without arms and in fact elbow-chairs will usually add to the value of a dining set. Unfortunately, this has led to many sets being bulked-out with married pieces featuring arms and other parts from similar sets. All chairs within a set should be examined individually for inconsistencies.
In many cases, there is less variation amongst dining tables than other furniture, with fewer stylistic features to identify them. Perhaps the hardest to date are the simplest; a gateleg mahogany table with few embellishments could be dated to the 18th, 19th or 20th centuries by an untrained eye. Certain types of table can be given an approximate date by their type. For example, the first extending dining table was made c.1730 and ‘Jupe’s patent’ circular extending tables are found from 1835 onward. The more decorative console tables, pier tables, serving tables and sideboards are often more easily dated by their decoration. As more decorative pieces, these types of table can attract high prices particularly when featuring original marble or as part of a set but have also been faked and so good examples sell best with provenance.
Storage furniture such as wardrobes, armoires, linen-presses, chests and chests-of-drawers have changed relatively little in function since the 18th century at which time graduate drawers had come into common use and pieces such as high chests-of-drawers, chests-on-chests and dressers had reached their definitive forms. As often large pieces, storage furniture often appears architectural in style and so features such as pediments can be used to great effect to date according to style. This method falls down, however, when looking at vernacular pieces such as dressers which have a more regionalised style. As some of the oldest common pieces on the market, chests and coffers are usually altered or repaired in one way or another, often married and sometimes faked. Married or faked pieces will sometimes be distressed artificially to give the appearance of wear consistent with its age but are usually given away by mismatching carving, wood grain or colouration.