Understanding that antiques are at least 100 years old, below are some of the characteristics to watch out for when hunting for a true antique:
Wear and Tear Surfaces on an old piece of furniture should show signs of normal wear and tear such as water marks, rings, stains or cigarette burns. You may notice softened edges and chipped paint, as well as some separation between joined boards.
Color Most antiques aren't comletely uniform in color. The top is often lighter than the rest of the piece because of fading due to sun exposure. Conversely, recesses and other hidden parts may be darker.
Feet, Crowns and Baseboards These parts should not be pefect because they stick out. Crowns and baseboards often have dents, dings and chips, the result from brooms or vacuum cleaners. Corners and edges tend to suffer when a piece is moved and hits a wall or another object, and feet are notorious for cracking or breaking completely off when being shoved across a floor. Don't be surprised when you see a really old piece that has new feet.
Hardware The hardware and the wood immediately around it should show more wear than other parts of the wood. Screws should be single-slotted, not phillips head, and there should be signs that the hardware is handcrafted.
Drawers Pull out drawers and inspect the underside for signs of wear on the runners. Pay attention to unstained areas of the wood, which should have turned slightly brown with age.
Mortise-and-Tenon Joints Irregular pegs or dowels in furniture joints indicate a greater age than perfectly symmetrical (that is, machine-made) ones.
Dovetailing As above, uneven dovetail joints indicate handcrafting and are generally older than their even machine-made counterparts.
Carvings Repetitive designs are generally older if uneven and variable than those that are comletely regular throughout their length, which are likely to have been produced by a machine.
Modern Materials Plywood, pressboard and staples are signs of modern construction. Antique glass tends to be bumpy with air bubbles and imperfections, whereas new glass is smooth and clear.
Understanding Reproductions Most reproductions aren't made with the intention of fooling anyone into believing they're antiques. Carpenters may duplicate an antique's style or look, but with modern construction methods they are easy to detect.
If there's any question of a piece's authenticity, be suspicious if the wood is flawless, the corners are sharp and the edges are crisp. Modern reproductions generally have inexpensive plywood backs attached with staples or finishing nails. Phillips-head screws and hardware that looks lightweight or machine-stamped are also indicators that the piece is a reproduction. If you are buying the piece because you like it and not as an investment, the only criteria is how much you like it and how much you can afford.
Tip: If possible, take a look at the back of a furniture piece. It is almost immediately clear whether or not the item is a reproduction. You'll either see a nice, new-looking back or one that has an irregular, handcrafted look with old wood, handmade hardware and years of wear and tear (most people tend to ignore the back of a piece and over the years it really begins to show its age).