Identifying Fake English Antique Furniture

Identifying Fake English Antique Furniture

Identifying Fake English Antique Furniture – There are, beyond any doubt, numerous pieces of deceptive English furniture on the market among the mass of good honest pieces. But provided you are aware of exactly what a piece is, can use it, will enjoy it and can afford it, there is no reason not to buy. Problems arise only when a piece that is not genuine is passed off as the authentic article – and at the price of the authentic article.

A great many pieces that are not quite genuine took on their present form with no trace of fraud and no motive of greed. Cutting down a large piece of furniture to make it fit in a room smaller than it was designed for is a perfect example. The ignorant repair of a badly damaged piece of furniture with wrong materials is another. Fashion, too, is of the utmost significance. We may scorn the ignorance of our forebears who chose to update old-fashioned furniture by reshaping or redecorating it, but we change our styles too. Furniture, however stylish, always has a practical purpose. If that purpose becomes redundant — as with the thousands of washstands that were made before modern plumbing — do we simply throw away a mountain of furniture? Or should we adapt it?

Thus if we combine the triple motives of economy, fashion and practicality it is not difficult to see the reasons why so many antique pieces exist that are not quite what they seem or are not quite as they were made. For complex reasons, attitudes to furniture were changing by the 1830s. Throughout the 18th century one new style had followed another, but by the end of the Regency the taste for older things which the dilettanti of the late 18th century had fostered in élitist seclusion was becoming the public taste. The prices of Queen Anne, Georgian and earlier items started their erratic rise, the cost of manufacture fell with mechanization and a margin appeared in which the faker, reproducer and pasticheur could operate.

Identifying Fake English Antique Furniture

Adapted Pieces

Some pieces of furniture are altered for perfectly genuine reasons — the most common being because the item is now redundant due to changing fashions or developments in modern plumbing! This simple walnut stool, right, started off life c. 1 730 as a commode.

The deep sides of such stools enclosed the chamber pot, and were later cut and shaped as this one has been, to disguise its original purpose. A commode stool is worth a fraction of the value of an ordinary stool — three figures rather than four. Many commodes, such as the one above, have been altered by having the pull-out seat and chamber compartment converted to a drawer.

Identifying Fake English Antique Furniture


There are few examples of the out-and-out fake, that is, a piece of furniture made from scratch and purporting in every detail to be from an earlier period. Faking can be undertaken only by those workshops with access to materials of the right sort — old and seasoned timber, hand-cut veneers, handmade steel locks and screws, clout nails and hand-forged hinges, handles and even castors. Such furniture was made by men of considerable skill, and pride in their craft rarely allowed them to resist leaving some trace, almost like a signature, that would give away the identity of the piece to a trained eye. However, in the 1920s and ‘3()s, when walnut furniture was fashionable, several skilled makers were constructing furniture that was true in almost all its details to its William and Mary or Queen Anne models.

Whether or not they intended to deceive is a moot point. They reused old drawer linings for example, but frequently used thin machine-cut veneers. Classics of these makers are more often in the William and Mary and Queen Anne styles, with the small fall-front bureau on an open stand with turned legs and joined stretchers being particularly popular; so too were card tables and glazed-door china cabinets. Any such piece on the market should therefore be looked at with considerable care. For example, the mouldings on the originals were applied in small sections with the grain running across the moulding rather than along its length.

The timber naturally shrunk across the grain, opening up gaps between the sections. These 20th-century makers applied their cross-grain moulding in exact replica, spaced the sections to simulate contraction and even made the edges curl slightly away from the carcase – a refined touch. The thin veneers, plus signs of wear which are not entirely credible, often betray these pieces.

Identifying Fake English Furniture

A George Ill-style commode This British commode was made c. 1910 in the George Ill style. The ribbon-tied scrolling foliage, anthemia and floral sprays with urns at the sides are all common motifs of the style, but its over-slender proportions and general delicacy are just a little too feminine for an 1 8th-century piece.


A pastiche can be more difficult to identity than an outright fake. It is a piece that started life as one kind of furniture and was altered to quite another. It will retain a substantial proportion of its original bodywork or carcase — perhaps 25 or 30 per cent – and so old timbers will be visible and proportions are likely to be convincing. A cursory inspection may indicate that the item is genuine — it is only if you know that such items have been prone to alteration that you are likely to examine more thoroughly. The chest of drawers of modest merit turned into the highly desirable kneehole desk or dressing table is a typical example of the profitable and deceptive pastiche (see page 47). Another is the lower part of an 18th- century tallboy with open base turned into a fashionable writing table. Or the scrambled set of chairs, in which perhaps six original chairs have been disassembled, some new parts made and eight chairs made up, all of which consist of a majority of antique parts.


The reproduction, a copy of an earlier style, is by no means new; nor is it necessarily not respectable. During the 18th and 19th centuries, when large estates were split up and the contents of grand houses dispersed, it was common for sets of furniture to be divided. The recipient of, say, 12 from a set of 24 chairs might wish to recreate the original set and would commission a chairmaker to produce a dozen duplicates. These would be honest copies, not pastiches, but inevitably the materials would be slightly different from those of the originals and the workmanship would be by a different hand.The period from which the best of these “out of period” pieces come is approximately 1830—60. They are therefore antiques in their own right and can be expected to show signs of ageing. Several factors conspire to make this period the best for reproduction, especially of George II and George Ill fine mahogany furniture. First, the tradition of craftsmanship at the highest level was by no means dead. Second, the advent of mechanization meant that some pieces could be produced relatively cheaply in multiples. And third, “anti ue” furniture was beginning to be appreciated in its own right.

Identifying Fake English Furniture

A fine walnut chest-on-stand of the George II period It is most unlikely that anyone would now divide such a piece, given the high price it would fetch as it stands, but at various times since it was made its constituent parts, suitably amended, would have fetched more than the whole. It is a relatively simple matter to lift off the top of a tallboy, add bracket feet and be left with a chest of drawers (see top far right). These are usually readily identifiable: they are unusually tall, they have three drawers rather than the customary two in the top tier, and the cornice is much too substantial for an authentic piece. When the chest part is removed, one is left with a highly desirable writing table (see bottom far right).

Home Facebook Twitter

Identifying Fake English Antique Furniture

Tags how to identify fake antiques, fake english furniture, fake furniture, how to know, Identifying Fake English Antique Furniture

1 thought on “Identifying Fake English Antique Furniture

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *