• Differentiating Antiques From New Amish Furniture

    Because of the Amish community’s amazing woodworking skills they have been able to diligently reproduce and replicate beautiful pieces of furniture from patterns popular in styles like Mission, Arts & Crafts and the Shakers. These styles originated over one hundred years ago in solid hardwoods and timeless designs. Because of the mass appeal of these designs the reproduced is collected and bought just as the original antique pieces are. Since they are some of the most popular pieces of furniture in the last 150 years there is a temptation to deceive collectors who are looking for originals by using Amish work. Although the honest furniture maker and retailer accurately portray each piece as a modern, yet high quality handmade item, not an actual antique, not all are so reputable.
    Because of the integrity of design and construction of these heirloom quality pieces an untrained eye may be fooled into believing they are buying a much older piece from perhaps the Shaker collection or a coveted Stickley. A little education on how to inspect a piece being presented to you as an antique will help to protect your wallet. By studying the original pieces in person or at least in picture and by reading these tips it may save you thousands of dollars and heartache.
    Although the Amish furniture is not faked because the craftsmen do produce true high end concepts in the design styles of some of the world’s most sought after antiques, they are still not originals. The criteria in determining a fake is that a fake is intentionally meant to deceive the buyer into believing they are purchasing something that in fact they are not, no matter how well done it is. Determining a fake in that perspective is not as hard for the novice furniture collector as it may seem.
    A reproduction that is not meant to deceive will usually have easily found identifiers such as in the finish chosen or the assembly hardware, like screws. While the Amish continue to create amazing Mission and Shaker style dressers, tables, couches and chairs that are truly investment pieces and highly collectible, they have modern manufacturing elements. Here are a few tips to help you determine what you are or not buying:
    • Don’t start with the details but instead stand back from the piece. Does the piece look balanced? Or has someone married pieces of old and new to fool you? If it does not look or feel right you should probably go with your instincts or hire an expert.
    • Is the wood correct for the period of time they say it was made? Is that wood consistently appearing throughout the piece? Fakes usually try to cut costs by using premium woods in obvious prominent places and less expensive elsewhere. Know the period you are collecting.
    • Do you see inexplicably filled holes that are perhaps there to hide newer screws and nail heads?
    • Look at the drawers by pulling them out and examining the construction. By knowing what was used to join the fronts of drawers to the piece you can easily identify a fake. Hand done dovetailing versus machine has a signature of the craftsman as distinctive as his thumbprint. Modern machines do not have that personality. Minor imperfections can help to identify a handmade piece while style of joining can identify an era.
    • A craftsman of old usually ran his marking gauge along the end of the drawer, marking the depths of the dovetails. Do you see that mark?
    • Remember that drawer side or backs of the past were never nailed and glued.
    • An antique has seen many changes in its environment over a century and its nature is to shrink. This shrinkage occurs across the grain and not with it. Tabletops therefore will not be perfectly circular unless they are new. Bring a measuring tape with you.
    • Someone trying to fool you into thinking the Amish crafted piece is an antique is usually “smart” enough to know they must simulate some age. When assessing wear and tear use common sense. Overdone wear is usually a fake. Think about where you yourself sit and put your foot or hands on the piece. Do you see the natural wear there? Do you see unnatural wear in places you would never touch? In their greedy state most fakers over-simulate the distressing without actually thinking through the nature of furniture wear. Look at the feet where you can expect to see some wear from water, mops and brooms but not the faker’s tools. The reverse is true if the furniture was on carpet. Years of sliding has polished the feet to a high burnish. The wear pattern should be consistent with one or the other, not a wire brush. Some fakers even glue dust into cracks and crevices to simulate the years of life the piece has not accumulated.
    • Does the stain have a consistent color or patina as it should? Does it look like someone may have altered it to appear aged? While many things can be faked there is still one that even the experts have not been able to reproduce successfully and that is patina. Patina is the deep satin luster of age from many years of dusting and polishing and love. Not only the woodwork develops patina but so can the metal hardware. Practice touching (when allowed) and visually examining patinas in museums or antique stores.
    While this is not inclusive of all the unscrupulous ways to fake an antique it is a beginning. True Amish craftsmen share your love of fine furniture that is both timeless and beautiful. Buying pieces directly from the Amish and their retailers help insure the pieces integrity and history. Amish furniture creations are truly both collectibles for today and heirloom investments for the future.