Real Or Fake? Your Antiques Questions Answered

Your antiques questions answered by local expert Marian Tanner Westbrook.

Before buying a Chippendale, check the grain; if it is authentic there will be some shrinkage.

Antiques 101

Q: I recently inherited a Chippendale style round table. How can I determine its value?

A: The first thing I always do is look at the item from across the room and check for abnormalities. If the proportion is off or the legs of the table are cropped, the value is drastically decreased. Another factor is shrinkage. If a table is truly an antique, the boards will have sustained shrinkage, causing the measures across the grain and with the grain to have as much as a 1/4-inch difference. The final test to ensure its authenticity will involve the underside of your table. When you look at the joint of the legs and the base, there should be a metal Y-shaped brace for stability. These were used until around 1830, when our unreliable animal glues were replaced by strong synthetic varieties.

Can you spot the fake antique screw? Hint: It’s the perfect one.

Q: A dealer told me that my 18th-century chest of drawers does not have original hardware. How can I tell the difference?
A: When original hardware is lost or ruined, it is often replaced by nails and screws that have been purposely rusted for imitation’s sake. However, there are simple ways to tell the difference between real and fake. Because it was made by hand, original hardware will be imperfect. The heads of screws will have lines that are not perfectly centered, and the bottoms will not be sharp like modern screws. If you are unable to get a close look at the hardware itself, check for obvious warning signs on the piece, such as multiple screw tracks or lack of rust stains.

Authentic ivory
is hard to find. Be sure to test for fakes made of bone or plastic.

Q: How do you identify real ivory vs. imitation?
A: The chance of finding real ivory is quite slim, as it is the most commonly imitated material. Though authentic ivory is made from elephant tusks, people imitate with bone or even plastic, which can be weighted to feel like ivory. You can usually tell if the piece is a fake made of bone by observing the tunnels in the bones – authentic ivory will have no striations. If you suspect the material to be plastic, the best test is to poke it with a hot needle in an inconspicuous spot. This will melt the plastic and slide directly through the piece, revealing the imitation.

Guest editor Marian Tanner Westbrook is  Dallas estate sale and appraisal professional. She also teaches one of the city’s most popular appraisal courses out of her own appraisal school.


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