A simple question with not such a simple answer. For years this similar question was asked about refinishing. When the Antiques Roadshow was new and all the rave, everyone was rummaging through their homes trying to find the “million dollar family heirloom.” Someone would recognize a chest on the show valued at $10,000 as one their grandmother handed down to them and think it must hold the same value. Unfortunately that is typically not the case. Many valuable antiques were reproduced in mass quantities (not necessarily with good quality) because people loved the style and it sold well. A lot of the hand-me-down furniture was produced in large factories. It wasn’t made by hand in a woodworking shop.
If you are wondering if you have a piece that is particularly valuable, there are many things you can do to find out. First, consider the construction of furniture. This alone holds many secrets.
– Is it veneers? If so, how thick is the veneer? Veneer has become thinner over the years, some as thin as paper. Note: Just because a piece is veneered doesn’t mean it’s not antique. The art of veneering has been around since 3000 bc
– How is it put together? Screws? What kind of screws? Nailed? Are the nails squared? Wood pegs?
– Do you know what kind of wood it is? Knowing the wood can help determine age and origin.
– What style is it?
– How are the drawers constructed? Dovetail?
– Hardware… what is it made out of? Bakelite?
– Can you tell the type of adhesive that was used? Hide glue versus manufactured glue, and common wood glue…
– Look at the back or underside; are there any markings? Mass produced furniture commonly has a number on the back. Also, some reputable and valuable manufacturers marked their furniture. Examples: Heywood Wakefield, Hitchcock, or Stickley.
Now that you have checked all of those things, go online and research your answers. You may still be stumped, OR you may find out that you have a good reproduction that it could be worth a little something! To be absolutely certain, your best bet is to look for a local appraiser. Some appraisers can look at a picture and give you a verbal estimated value. Make sure you go to someone reputable with certification.
Once you have determined the value, the next question you have to ask yourself is “what is it worth to you?” Where do you want to go with this piece? Do you just want it repaired? Do you want it restored back to its original state (in some cases this can increase the value if done correctly)? Do you want it repurposed? Or do you want to sell it? REMEMBER… Ultimately the value lies in the possessor!
Veneered buffet. Amazing detail in the veneer. This is one of the most valuable pieces I have ever worked on.
Oriental China cabinet recovered from a flooded garage. Took a few days to melt away the ice. This is inlayed with mother-of-pearl.
Heywood Wakefield dresser in a Wheat stain. Simple, but very sought after.
Hope this helps you decide what to do with those pieces stored in your basement! At the very least, maybe you’ll have one less dust collector to clean. 🙂