I keep an eye on Dusty Old Thing’s FB page for it’s great reader contributions. I love to see what kinds of things other dust-hunters have found, and what is popular to collect in parts of the country that I’m not in. Just the other day, DOT posted a really great primer on How to Spot the Difference Between Real Antiques and Reproductions, the full article is below.
When you’re combing through flea markets, estate sales, garage sales, auctions, and the like, it’s important to know how to separate real from reproduction. What looks like something right out of the ‘20s might’ve been made just a few years ago.
We’ve got a few tips for quickly spotting the difference between the two, which will help you when browsing for authentic antiques.
- Look for Imperfections
An antique’s personality comes from its imperfections – a finish that has worn off, a knick here or there, tarnish that changes the color. Check to see whether items show signs of aging like these, or look like they’re in a little too perfect of condition.
Reproductions take steps to sometimes look worn or aged, but you can’t fake how materials like wood age over time – splits and cracks, darkening, and shrinkage, according to HowStuffWorks.
The Bama Flea Market & Antique Center offers a great tip for sifting out reproductions with intentional “wear” on them – does the wear make sense? Think of how the item would’ve been used, where it would’ve been placed in a house, and which parts people would touch more than others. If there’s distress everywhere, start getting suspicious.
- Look for Differences Part of the charm of antiques is how each one tells a story – two of the same item could look slightly different 50 years later, depending on where each has been, with different imperfections. If you find someone selling several of the same thing and they all look eerily the same, but probably should have some wear, then DIY Network warns that they’re probably reproductions. AndAbout.com adds that having a lot of one item is a bit unusual for antiques, too.
- Look at the Construction
You can tell a lot about a piece by checking out the construction – both what’s holding the item together and how it looks like it was made. Some materials – such as synthetic stuffing, Phillips screws – weren’t around in the early 20th century, so seeing them used in “antique” furniture or pieces is definitely a red flag.
As one eBay user notes, things like slotted screw heads and matte paint are good indications of legit antiques. Upholstery pre-‘20s wouldn’t have used synthetic stuffing. Handmade items shouldn’t be perfect – if someone is carving something by hand, expect the edges to be a little rough or uneven.
Manufacturer’s marks or patent dates on the inside are also good signs.
- Study Reference Books or Collector’s Guides
These types of resources can be very helpful, letting you know exactly what details to look for. Perhaps you’ll notice that something is made with wood uncommon in the time that the alleged antique was made, or you’ll notice that the item seems smaller than described in the guide.
About.com suggests comparing antiques with items that are definitely reproductions so that you can study the differences and get better at spotting them right away.
- Go With Your Gut If you get a sense that something isn’t right, then follow your gut – whether it’s a like-new smell or super shiny finish. As someone who loves antiques and probably owns quite a few, you know what an authentic piece looks like – if something about an item doesn’t seem quite right, then trust your intuition.
Reproductions aren’t inherently bad, as many people like the antique look and the smaller price tag. But when they’re being sold as antiques – or sold at places like estate sales, where the seller might not know an item’s authenticity – it’s good to know how to spot the reproductions.
Dusty Old Thing – we couldn’t have said it any better! The more you see, the more you know. Those who became experts in identification did it through education and practice. Remember: if you love it, buy it. You may be the only one who knows if something is a repro – and you may realize it doesn’t affect your affection for the item!