"In Original Condition!" How many times have you heard an antique dealer or auctioneer say that, meaning that it has been unchanged since it was first created, over a century ago...? Don't ever believe that without verifying yourself if that is true.

You have to look at an antique piece of furniture for what it is, not for what you want it to be, and least of all, for what a dealer says it is. What people say about used car salesmen applies in spades to antique sellers.

Be critical immediately, not only of what you're told, but of the piece itself - however wonderful it first appears. Can you guess how many hands, hammers, handymen, and hucksters this thing has been through in 150 years before you came across it? Try to imagine how it is changed from the way the original workmen crafted it.

Remember the first man who made it created a "whole piece" at the same time. He would have assembled all the wood for it from one lot and used the same tools on it all. He would craft the piece with "one vision" in mind, to look unified, and reflect a certain time, and period.

He may have copied another piece of furniture, or one he saw in a store, or at a rich neighbour's house. Or often from a pattern book of furniture. But wherever it came from, nothing in the end, would jar the eye of the craftsman or beholder.

Time - 150 years of it in this case - would act on the pieces and age them in the same way.

Go back and look at the pieces again. Is there an element which looks out of kilter with the rest of the design in one of the chests?

A Great Find! A wonderful Ontario walnut secretaire (right), with the bookcase on top, over a drop down leaf to reveal a desk, and three drawers below. All original glass - extremely wavy - and no missing pieces or damage anywhere. Probably 1860s or so, in good condition. A great find no! And certainly worth bidding on. Right? And bid high...

So now you're thinking, "I'd better not look anymore or I'll draw attention of other bidders to it and it'll make the price go up." Yes that could be, but think again. Far better that you have a real look - you will once you get it home, but then your money is spent, and there are no returns in the auction business...

Contain that excitement! It makes you vulnerable. Look again. Go around the side and take a look. Excellent condition top and bottom. It's looking better all the time!

Look again. Because here is where antique buyers make a common and costly mistake.

Does this look like a unified whole as a craftsman would have put together 150 years ago?

Clearly this is a "married" piece, two dissimilar pieces brought together to form a unit for sale. The top and bottom have a totally different tonality to them, which you will see - now that you have an educated eye - on the front view as well. They do not appear to have been married well or long...

A Bad Marriage - Nobody wants "married" pieces because two different people created them with two different uses and visions of what is artistic, at two different times and places. Bringing them together can only cause marital disharmony, or at least jar the eye...

Antique dealers marry pieces constantly because two piece furniture does not fare well with the passage of time. One or the other gets broken or discarded, leaving an orphan bottom or top. Dealers try to mate them up - because it's hard to sell them alone - and try to find an unsuspecting buyer. Make sure it isn't you...

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And the Winner is! By now you should have figured out what the false looking piece is on the chest above...

It's the backsplat on the bottom that is real, and the one above a highly inventive "fixer-upper" backsplat made up of a center piece from a late Victorian bed headboard or sideboard, cut off on both ends in mid flight to which a couple of chimney pot ends have been rudely pasted on. And not that long ago.

The one below is period, period. No false hint of any kind here. And the back is aged and marked up exactly the same as the back of the bottom section.

Guess what the back of the one above probably looks like.

But if you like it anyway, buy it. It's attached to a wonderful chest. You might be able to find a backsplat that fits better, later...

 

A Perfect Fit: The best proof that the bottom and top of a flat or secretaire are from the same time period is if it is a "one piece" flat, one with the backboards for the top being merely the extensions of those on the back of the bottom. Often the very earliest flats were one piece units. The pioneer farmer craftsman saw no need to make them two piece.

But these are not popular because one piece cabinets are beastly heavy to move. That's the major reason why two piece flats or secretaires, were originally invented, and are so popular - they are light to carry separately and far easier to navigate at home up stairs and around corners.

But the craftsman created both parts so you couldn't tell that there was a split. And he was proud of his ability to do so.

But there is a problem. It's all about marriage...

A perfect match of two separately made pieces, is the pine flat-to-the-wall (left), which was positively made by the same man, at the same time, using the same wood supply for it all. And here's the proof...

At first glance top and bottom look uniformly age-burned - unlike the secretaire above - but that's not good enough...

On the right you can see the grain in the side boards, that came, not only from the same tree, but from the same part of the tree, with the grain and colour pattern carrying through from top to bottom.

That is the best kind of proof of an entirely original two piece flat you can hope for. Otherwise check for colour or age burn in the top and bottom, or grain pattern, or saw marks, or wear or nails used. Nails should be the same mix of rose head, square head, and others.

Back Talk: The best place to check for properly mated top and bottoms is on the back, which is why auctioneers place these married items against walls so nobody can peek. Or they fill them with china so nobody can move the flat out for a look, and discover that thebacks have different size boards, have round nails in the top and square in the bottom, and have dark wood below and replacement old wood on top.

If an auctioneer puts a flat in the middle of the floor - so you can look at the back - you may have a winner. The back of an antique is as important as the front - sometimes more so...

Never buy a flat, or two piece, of anything without insisting that the auctioneer move it out for you to have a look at the back. It may be that the back, top, bottom, or both, are all newly nailed in wood from a consignment of barn wood a dealer bought for just that purpose, or plywood, as it is common to find. You'll have a hard time ever trying to sell it later, to a knowledgeable buyer, if that's the case. It is not a good investment however pleasing it looks to you today, in a quick "look see" on the auction house floor, from the front...

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Furniture Fake Page

Great Canadian Furniture Fakes

Victorian/Edwardian Furniture Fakes

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Empire Chest 1840s
Maple & cherry chest of drawers - Size - 50" x 36" x 30.5"h
Found - Milton, ON
You pick the fake, backsplat, that is...

Here are two fabulous Empire chests from c. 1840 to 1850 in Bird's-eye maple and cherry. The one (right) comes from the Niagara peninsula, the one below from Massachusetts.

Are both American originally, and the one on the right brought over in a wagon or ship by immigrants when Canada was still a British colony and loyalists were still fleeing the US to live under the Union Jack?

But some pieces don't fare as well as others as time passes, and parts have to be replaced.

Can you pick the replacement part on either of these wonderful chests?