How to identify authenticity of antique Chinese furniture?


The following are basic elements that you need to use in order to identify the authenticity of antique Chinese furniture.

#1: Look at the patina and wear of the piece delicately: The patina and wear of antique furniture come with the age. The patina and the wear of the piece shall look unevenly and scatter to the area that more exposed to daily use (mostly on the surface or front of the piece). The back and sides of the piece shall have less patina and wear. Some pieces may have discoloration of the paint from one side differing from the other side (generally caused by different exposure to the sun in the room). The patina of an antique piece is a surface calcification of daily wear by human hand-touches, polishing, discoloration from sun exposure and marks from burn (oil lamp or candle) or ink, etc.

#2: Look at joinery of the piece: The Mortise and Tenon join were used by carpenters in the old days to join pieces of wood, mainly by adjoining pieces connect at an angle of 90°. The mortise and tenon join for antique Chinese furniture can be seen on the surface of the piece. Open the drawers and look for dovetails. The dovetails were used to join panels of the drawers for Chinese furniture. The dove-tails should be uneven, few in number and appear handmade. If the tenon and dovetails appear round and too even, they are most likely are machine made for reproduction furniture.

#3: Look at legs of the piece: In the old days, most of Chinese furniture are directly sit on the floor (either stone or dirt floor) with exception of small pieces that are used sitting on top of large pieces (like petit altar, shelf or petit Ming cabinet etc.). The accumulation of humidity and moistness from the floor along with the ages will leave wear marks on the legs of the piece (sometimes look like watermarks). The reproduction furniture can not fake this kind of wear marks on the legs of pieces.

#4: Smell the base, back and inside drawers of the piece. The authentic antique furniture would have that old wood smell accumulated with ages. The reproduction furniture with new wood can not have that “old wood smell” at all.

#5: Look at the wood grain of the piece. The authentic antique furniture are all made with solid wood that has been aged for years. The wood grain on the piece shall appear unevenly and naturally, sometimes with burls or burl marks.

#6: Look for trace of old repairs. Since the antique Chinese furniture are at least over 100 years old, some pieces will have some kind of old repairs. Look at the back and inside of the piece to see the trace of old repairs. The reproduction furniture most likely will not have trace of old repairs.

#7: Look at the hardware of the piece. The hardware used on antique Chinese furniture are generally copper with old patina and wear. Some of them even have the embossed hardware, or hardware crafted into unique shape. The hardware on authentic antique Chinese furniture are made with exquisite old-fashioned craftsmanship which is almost impossible for contemporary replication. Some of the hardware (like old coins with emperor's name engraved) used on antique Chinese furniture has very high collectable values.