Thursday, April 21, 2011

The difference between Antique and Just Old

Have you ever found a great piece of furniture at a Thrift Store or Flea Market and wondered if it was a real antique and if it would be okay to strip it down and paint it? Have you ever found out you just ruined the value on a great antique dresser by painting it blue?

There are a few rules you can use to help you out in this situation. I don't know how often I've been regaled by friends on the wonderful antique found at the thrift store, all the while looking at a 30 year old dresser that looks like someone took a hammer to it. ( I know I mention hammers a lot , cuz I like them). While these finds are nice when fixed up and repurposed it hardly makes them the same thing as a Louis XVI chair or a Chippendale Dresser. I've come to realize that most people really don't know the difference between something that is just old versus a real antique.

So here are the rules (I use that loosely as I am not an expert. I dropped out of college back in 2001!)

First let's ask ourselves what is an ANTIQUE?:

Antique - any work of art, piece of furniture, decorative object, or the like, created or produced in a former period, or, according to U.S. customs laws, 100 years before date of purchase.

1.   100 years or older - So to qualify as a "real" antique the piece really should be made before 1911. So that means the lovely mid-century modern piece you just found doesn't really work. However, it's great to paint and repurpose to your heart's content.

There are a few exceptions to the 100 year old rule of thumb such as Automobiles.

They only need to be 25 years old. Which means my van is halfway there!

However, ladies be aware… If a guy gives you what he swears is an antique engagement ring and it's a diamond chances are he isn't getting what he paid for. Engagement rings before WWII were very rarely diamonds. That's only been a recent thing. Diamonds haven't always been a girl's best friend. De Beers made them popular with very clever advertizing!
Keeping up with tradition my ring is a garnet! Not an antique but I love it! (Now if I could find it - another story there)

2.   It has to be collectable. If your piece is 175 years old but no one but you wants it then it really has no value but sentimental. I have a desk that my great-grandfather built in Denmark and brought over to Utah with him. It's plain, it's simple. I love it and it is worthless. No one wants it but me.

3.   It must be rare… Louis the 16th furniture is valuable because there aren't thousands upon thousands out there. If you find one I'll pay you $5 for it day or night!

Is it okay to paint?

Chances are it is okay to paint. However, if your piece has a patina on it well, that's often better looking than any paint you could put on it.

What is patina you ask?

Patina - a thin layer formed by corrosion on the surface of some metals and minerals, especially the green layer that covers copper and bronze and is valued for its color

a pleasing surface sheen that develops on an object with age or frequent handling. (somewhat it just means dirty)

Removing patinas from the wrong thing though can make your valuable piece something just to throw away!

So, the next time you're worried about painting that flea market find just use these rules and if you're still not certain call an expert. You can get an appraisal for usually under $100!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Wow! What a informative post about "Antique furniture". I agree with you that antique is an art.

    Thanks for beautiful post.