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Antique Furniture, Furnishings Global Information Resources

Gothic: Medieval church architecture influences this style-characterized by pointed arches, counterbalancing buttresses, open tracery and vertical grandiose emphasis.

Elizabethan: Elizabeth I Reign 1558-1603 England's Renaissance interpretation.

Renaissance: Derived from Italian Renaissance style-mainly oak functional furniture with scroll & arabesque carving, etc. with horizontal emphasis. A "pendulumatic" reaction to Gothic style.

Pilgrim: Spartan utilitarian American furniture reflecting 17th C. English country styles

Jacobean: Roughly spanning James I (1602-25) & Charles I (1625-49) reigns. Restrained ornament, Moorish influence.

Louis XIII: King reigned (1589-1643), Baroque style including cherubs, cartouches, gilding, and spiral turning.

Cromwellian: Also known as Carolean era. Probably alluding to Irish influence in the era roughly surrounding Charles I.

Louis XIV: The Sun King's reign (1643-1715) noted for splendor of courts in Versailles and Paris. Marquetry inlaid furniture distinguished by opulence and grandiose size.

Baroque: Flamboyant, heavy, decorative rectilinear style derived from 17th C. Italian architecture.

Commonwealth: Unadorned style that flourished under protectorate of Oliver Cromwell (1649-60) in a revolt against aristocracy.

Restoration: Restoration of kingly Charles II 1660 to the abdication of James II 1688, walnut replaces oak, C and S scroll supports introduced. Not as restrained as the Common man style preceding.

Early Colonial: With some wealth attained, carved oak Hadley chests and turned Great Chairs start making their way into American homes.

Rococo: An exuberant curvaceous style characterized by asymmetrical lines and shell, floral and foliate motifs.

William & Mary: Roughly influenced by William III reign 1689-1702, heightened English style and cabinetry introducing: domed cresting, the American highboy, lacquer work, ball & bun Spanish feet; strong Dutch influence.

Queen Anne: Reign (1702-1714) Along with Chippendale, the finest hour of English and American cabinetry. Feminine petite lines, beautiful proportioning and balance, restrained use of ornament. The cabriole leg and cyma curve are prevalent.

Regence: Transitional melding of baroque into rococo. Romantic elements supplant heroic.

Louis XV: Continuance of the rejection of weighty forms. Rococo exuberance replaces angularity in flowing curves and elaborate scrollwork. Gilded cabriole leg fauteuils are introduced.

Chippendale: Masculinity supplants femininity in furniture. Cabinetmakers like Thomas Chippendale take lead over monarchs in design. Queen Anne form puts on a bowtie and goes rococo, mahogany rules. Oriental influence comes to shore.

Neo Classic: Inspired by continuing excavations and discoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum (begun 1738) classic Greek and Roman decorative motifs like dolphins, guilloches, lyres and urns emerge everywhere. Straight lines and swags supplant rococo curves.

Hepplewhite: Neo Classicism influences English and American design. Tapered rectilinear legs supplant the cabriole leg. George Hepplewhite's, "Cabinet Makers and Upholsterer's Guide" is published in 1788.

Louis XVI: Beginning before 1774, 18th Century French Art climaxes under King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and exuberant neoclassic style.

Sheraton: Thomas Sheraton's "Cabinet Maker's & Upholsterer's Drawing Book" is published 1791. Turned Corinthian column legs supplant tapered legs. Square shapes round out.

Directoire: Transitional phase from Rococo to Neo Classic. Soft painted surfaces supplant ostentatious gilt. Rectilinear columnar design replaces curves and cabriole legs.

American Federal Period: The new, emancipated country's beautiful interpretation of graceful lines and form over excessive ornament. Eagles emerge in great numbers.

Empire: Beautiful at first, then severe in treatment-especially in America-of Classical forms. Surrounded by wreaths, Napoleonic ormolu bronze mounts highlight mahogany.

Regency: Several styles emerge in Britain based on a blending of traditional English lines with Gothic and Neo Classic influences.

Biedermeier: The great German reaction against English and French rococo style. Generally rectilinear or slightly draping lines. Beautiful woods, generally with little or no ornament. Comfort and common sense supplants ostentation.

Victorian: The machine age takes hold. Ornament and busyness supplant the weightiness of Empire in its last days. More is better.

Arts & Crafts: Rebellion against the Victorian Industrialism. Objects that appear to be made by hand are in again. In America, Gustav Stickley spearheads the Mission Oak furniture movement featuring mortise & tendon joining and rectilinear lines.

Jugendstil: Germany's brilliant Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau movement. Strongly influenced the path toward modern art developments.

Art Nouveau: Probably born in a Parisian art shop (Samuel Bing c. 1895) the new "Moderne" kind of art and design influenced by nature, Japanese style and flowing feminine lines. A continued reaction against the Victorian era of the "machine."

Art Moderne: Art Nouveau gives way to technology. NYC's Chrysler building is a standing testament.

Art Deco: Who needs humanistic/naturalistic lines and earthy tones? Chrome and plastic supplant wood. Bon Voyage, Art Nouveau. The rocket age is born and furniture, art and design are going for the ride!

helpful furniture info and links

Recognizing Age and Construction in Antique Furniture

Studying nails and screws can frequently help you date a piece of antique furniture. Antique furniture made before 1790 will include "rose-head nails"; hand crafted by blacksmiths; which can be identified by irregular, rose shaped heads. "Square head nails", used from 1790 to 1830, machine cut and finished off by a blacksmith, generally squaring the heads. 1830 to 1890 cabinetmakers used headless, machine cut nails, tapered and rectangular in shape. Around 1890, more modernly used nails. brad and penny nails, were introduced. Screws were used from time to time and before the machine era. Examples crafted by blacksmiths can be identified by checking for thin and slightly off centered slots and off-round heads.

  • The "circular saw" invented in the 18th century, did not come into wide usage until after 1830. Thus, boards displaying "circular saw marks" will not be found on furniture pre-dating the "Empire Period" (1830-1850). Unfinished pre-1830 boards cut from vertical motion "ripsaws" will often display small, somewhat parallel, saw lines.
  • Before the introduction of power driven woodworking machinery in the mid 19th century, lumber was worked by hand. After hand-sawing, cabinet makers dressed their boards with a jack plane and draw knives. On authentic furnishings pre-dating the "Victorian Period," (1850-1910) unfinished non-visible "secondary" surfaces like backboards and drawer bottoms will show evidence of "hand-planing" by feeling for subtle undulating rows in the wood.
  • Small wooden pins known as dowels can be helpful in authenticating age. Machine era pins will be perfectly circular and flush to the surface. Antique dowels are non-round and will protrude slightly from the surface because of shrinkage in the wood they are securing.
  • Wood shrinks in a direction opposite the grain. The degree is determined by softness of the lumber, age, and environment. Therefore, authentic antique furniture can be discerned by inspecting for evidence of: gapping between boards, shrinkage cracking, buckling veneer, protruding pegs and breadboard ends, and legs extending slightly beyond the frame or "skirt." Early circular tabletops will measure somewhat oval, 1/8" to 1/2" longer in the direction of the grain.
  • Outline and thickness on early hand-wrought iron and brass hinges will be non-uniform.
  • The top rail on early 19th century chairs will be joined with non-round tenons that can be viewed by slightly pulling the yoke from the stile. Circular dowels are evidence of "non-period" chairs.
  • Visible surface planks (primary wood) on genuine antique furniture will be wide, varying in thickness, and relatively free of blemishes. Knotty pine was not employed by olden day cabinetmakers.
  • Although it has been stripped and refinished back to the original wood, much old-time non-mahogany furniture was originally painted. Analysis of wood pores and fissures with a jeweler's loop will often show several layers of paint residue. This "paint history" can help authentic a piece and determine whether individual components-the feet, the top, etc.-are original or undesirable replacements.
  • Furniture Styles and Periods


    • Antique Talk's Guide to Western Furniture Styles–Major furniture period or style definitions.
    • Furniture History–at Interiordezine.com, where features of each period are highlighted to provide an understanding of the style and how it was derived.
    • Furniture from ArtLex Visual Dictionary-Furniture design with illustrations of examples from throughout history. Link to periods in art history.
    • Illustrated History of Furniture, by Frederick Litchfield, is now available online as an e-book, from Case Western Reserve University Preservation Department Digital Library. Chapters available in .pdf format, so you must have Adobe Acrobat to view them.
    • Furniture Timeline–Presented by the Maltwood Art Museum & Gallery at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, this timeline of styles from the 16th through 20th centuries shows the furniture period, prominent furniture makers and designers, design influences, typical timbers, design introductions, and decoration details.
    • Online Furniture Style Guide from Connected Lines describes and dates nineteen popular furniture styles and their distinctive components, beginning with Jacobean style of the 1600s through Scandinavian Contemporary of the 1950s.
    • The Reading Room at Portobello.com.au offers an overview of the styles of European, English, American, Australian and Scandinavian furniture. For each style, exemplary photographs of furniture pieces are provided.
    Furniture of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
    • 19th and 20th Century Architecture and Design–links to sites that illustrate the work of architects and artists of the 1870s to the 1930s.
    • American Decorative Arts–20th century modern furniture.
    • Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Functionalism (1889-1939)–as presented by the Bröhan Museum of Berlin.
    • The Arts & Crafts Home–A design source for home decoration, this excellent and comprehensive British site has numerous photographs of Arts & Crafts furniture, decoration and accessories. Its Research section includes information on books, antiques, architecture, biographies, interiors, movement histories, societies, places of interest, plus a chronology of the movement.
    • Arts & Crafts Museum–from the Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum, this site features furniture and objects of the British Arts and Crafts Movement. Included are sections on techniques, style, and the Arts & Crafts today as well as a taster of the extensive archives, drawings and designs not normally on view. The site provides a reading list, and details of events, exhibitions, places to visit, and contemporary makers.
    • The Arts & Crafts Society Home Page–includes an events calendar, a searchable bibliography of A&C related resources, a forum for interactive discussion with experts, researchers and collectors, and a marketplace for services and merchandise.
    • Tribu-Design.com–the "meeting place for twentieth century design connoisseurs," this French site features furniture, lighting, and decorative objects, with nearly all color images. Look for their virtual exhibition featuring More than 500 designers and manufacturers.

    Furniture Dictionaries and Glossaries

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