Old School: What to Look for When Buying Antique Furniture

Furniture can be a real statement piece in your home, and going antique is in style.

The most expensive antique furniture piece ever sold was worth an astonishing $36.7 million! While you most likely won’t find a piece worth anywhere near that amount of money, you can still find some beautiful pieces to spruce up your home.

Are you looking to buy some antique furniture? Then we’re here to help. Learn what to look for with this handy guide to buying antique furniture.

How the Piece is Made

If you are looking at a piece that has drawers, open them! Do you see solid wood or plywood? 

Look for dovetail joints, which are interlocked corners to build strong drawers. Older pieces typically have larger dovetail joints. If there are no dovetail joints, the piece is probably held together by nails and glue, which means the piece was most likely made closer to the 19th century.

How sturdy is the piece? If it wobbles, it may be fixable but be wary if you think it’s not a sturdy piece. Check all that all the frames are sturdy because you won’t have much luck reupholstering if the frame won’t hold up.

Buy What You Love

Just because it looks like a nice piece, doesn’t mean you should buy it unless you love it. Antique pieces are not good investments because the prices can fluctuate almost daily. 

Buying something you love will give you more motivation to finish. If you just buy to buy, it could sit in your basement and take up space.

Damage Patrol

Check out the piece for damage. Cracks in the wood and scratches are not always a bad thing. You can fix those. 

Wood does expand and contract, so cracks are common. You are looking for more damage that would be harder to fix such as cracks in the plastic, extreme water damage, and unusable drawers. 

If you want to lower the price, use any damage you see as bargaining power. You can save some money to put money back into the piece. Just make sure the damage won’t cost too much to make the piece more than you wanted to pay even with a bargain.

Don’t be alarmed if a piece looks purple or black. This is a sign of its original finish wearing through the years. You will have to decide if you want to restore or refinish this piece.

Replacement vs. Repair

You should be familiar with what needs to be replaced versus repaired. Replacing pieces on antique furniture is much more expensive than repairing parts.

Replacing means you will have to find something that is missing and try to match the style. Repair lets you keep all the original pieces.

Look for Manufacturer Marks

Some pieces may have a mark that tells its origin. Earlier pieces are likely to have inscriptions because they are handcrafted. A really old piece may have a penciled signature.

You can find the label or the stamp underneath the drawer or on the back. If the piece does not have drawers, look underneath or on the back for a stamp, label, or stencil.

Early in the 20th century, manufacturers used paper labels and then moved to brass plaques. Manufacturers in the 1950s and 1960s used stencils for the marks. The more mass produced pieces will have a label such as Cadillac Cabinet Company. 

Check Out the Hardware and Other Details

Is the hardware original? If so, what’s the style? Older pieces have wooden or solid brass pulls. 

You can also look for marble tops on dressers, which is a sign this piece is from the Victorian era. Wheels or casters is a sign this piece is pre-1930s. 

When you open the drawer, take a look at the back of the pull. Look for a threaded post and nut. If you see more of a flat screw head, this is a sign the hardware is not original. 

Are there any carvings on your piece? This is a sign of true craftsmanship if there are carved designs.

Know the Different Styles

It helps to know what style you are looking at because it gives you an idea of how old the piece is. Here are some details to look for with each style.

Elizabethan and Tudor

These are the oldest pieces when the Tudor dynasty ruled England. Furniture from this era has a Gothic style with carvings and linenfold paneling.


This period was during the 17th century. Oak furniture was popular during this time frame. You will find this furniture is more simple, but still has carvings. Veneering was also popular, which is when the manufacturer applies a thin layer of decorative grain on the wood.

18th Century

This furniture had a whimsical style with asymmetrical designs. Mahogany was used more often with more crisp carvings. 

Arts and Crafts

This style is typically handcrafted. This furniture was not industrialized, but each piece tends to be unique giving you a truly one of a kind piece.

Art Deco

In the 1920-30s, people liked to show off the luxurious lifestyle by using stunning veneers, clean lines, and extreme details. This style is still popular for furnishing a home with mirrors and other decorative arts.

Find Matching Styles

Measure your space before looking for that special antique. If you have space, you may be able to find individual pieces that go together. This helps you create your own style with old or new furniture.

Where to Look for Antique Furniture 

If you are looking for high-quality furniture, try consignment shops. These places typically inspect the items before deciding to buy them. You can also check out online auctions. You never know what you will find.

There are plenty of ways you can save money on antique furniture. Check out English Georgian America for ideas on blending styles and getting custom pieces to tie in your new antiques.

Looking for Other Home Ideas?

Check out our site for articles and ideas on how to decorate your home.

You can find articles like how to decorate a vintage style bathroom to go with your antique furniture.