How To Determine When An Antique Armoire Was Made

July 25, 2009

An armoire was once considered a very necessary piece of furniture in many homes. It wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that architects began including more closets into their designs.

Although they haven’t been a necessary item in a long time, today, they’re a much cherished and loved piece of furniture.

If you have an antique armoire or are planning on purchasing one, there are several things that you can look at to

determine the time frame when an antique armoire was built.

You don’t need to hire a professional to get an approximate age of an antique.

First of all, you’ll want to determine whether or not the armoire is indeed an antique. And, there are a few simple clues that will establish that it is an older piece of furniture.

The majority of antiques were made entirely by hand, which means that they’re not completely perfect.

Types of wood

Most antiques will also be constructed of several types of wood. Because it didn’t make sense economically to use expensive types of wood in the areas that didn’t show, the bottoms, backs or insides are often made from cheaper woods such as pine or maple.

Reproductions tend to be made using the same wood from top to bottom.

Carved areas

If the armoire has any carved areas, run your finger along the edges. Antiques were all carved by hand and the carvings should feel slightly bumpy and uneven. If the lines are smooth and perfectly carved, it was done by a machine and is a good indicator that it’s a newer piece.

Signs of shrinkage and the wood darkens

Because wood contains a lot of water, an antique will show some signs of shrinkage and the wood darkens with age. Since thinner panels of wood shrink faster, the best place to look for this clue is around any edges of panels, such as in the door.

If the panels don’t completely fit against the frame, this could be a sign of shrinkage from age. However, you should also be able to notice that wood in the gaps between the panel and the frame are lighter in color than the rest of the frame.

And, there may also be splits or cracks on the armoire due to shrinkage.

Hinges, knobs or handles

Next you should carefully inspect the hardware such as hinges, knobs or handles. If the hardware is vintage, it will have a patina. Patina refers to the discoloration, usually a greenish color caused by oxidation and is a good sign of age.

The wood around the hardware should also be darker due to oxidation.

There are two main ways that almost anyone can determine an approximate date of when an antique armoire was built. You can usually get a good idea from the way the wood was cut and how the armoire was put together.

The way in which the piece is put together is very important in determining age.

Signs of saw marks

Inspect the armoire for any signs of saw marks, generally on the back or the underside. If the marks are straight, but irregular, it indicates that the piece was built prior to 1830. Around 1830, most wood was cut by a sawmill which left straight, more even marks.

The circular saw wasn’t invented until around 1850. So, if there are cuts that have a circular shape, the piece was made after 1850. Also, run your hand over the exposed surfaces of the wood.

Antiques were all sanded by hand and the surface should feel slightly uneven and not completely smooth.

Nails and screws

Another very good indication of age is the nails and screws that were used in the armoire. During the 1700’s, blacksmiths forged nails individually. After the nail was shaped, it was placed into a heading tool and struck several times with a hammer to form the square head.

Between 1790 and 1890, cut nails were commonly used. And, beginning around 1880, nails were produced by machines and had round shaped heads. Screws were all handmade up until around 1815. The head slot was cut by hand and were rarely cut straight across the center of the flat screw head.

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