How Do You tell if a Piece is Period?

Sideboard Being Auctioned at Brunk's
Sideboard Being Auctioned at Brunk's

It can be difficult to authenticate a piece of furniture in person and so identification from a photo online can be completely problematic. Still we can’t help but wonder from time to time if something is really period, or if something thought to be out of period is actually older. Brunk Auction’s is offering a sideboard labled as 20th Century construction that I thought for a fleeting moment looked period. It’s certainly similar in form and size to 18th Century sideboards, and details show some convincing inlay. We don’t have a lot to go on by the photos, however. The sides of drawers are a good place to start. The wood on the drawer side looks like it might be oak, for example, indicating a 20th Century piece of furniture. Had it been period, secondary wood is likely to have been pine.

If you had the opportunity to inspect a piece of furniture, here are some of the things you could look for to tell the age. (not necessarily related to this particular piece).
  • Nails and Screws: Before 1790, nails had irregular shaped heads. Varieties of square nails were used from 1790-1890, when modern brad nails were introduced.
  • Hand Planing: Furniture before 1850 had hand-planed back boards and drawer bottoms. Run your hand along the bottom of a drawer for clues in texture.
  • The Circular Saw: The circular saw was not in regular use until after 1830. Circular marks are an indication somethhing was produced later.
  • Wood Shrinkage: Wood shrinks opposite grain. Problems with veneer might be unattractive, but can be a sign of age. Circular table tops will have shrunk to be slightly oval shaped. Use a tape measure to measure an x across.
  • Knotty Pine: It’s presence is a pretty good sign a piece of furniture is not very old.

I should add that should you want a nice sideboard, whether this one is period or not isn’t pertinent. The price seems in line for a reproduction, and you’ll win on character and quality over a sililar-priced modern-day piece.
Link to the item

UPDATE: Estimated at $1,000-$2,000, this lot sold for $950, plus premium.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url will point to the latest updates on this weblog.