U.S. Customs defines an antique as any manufactured article 100 years or more of age, but if this were followed to the letter, virtually all antique shops would be out of business! More often, antiques are considered artifacts of previous generations, usually before WWII, although ‘50s memorabilia are very popular, and well-known antiques advisor Harry Rinker considers them as late as 1964. “Vintage collectibles” is probably a more accurate term for these more recent relics.
   Other terms used to imply age include quaint, old-time, classic, aged, early, old-fashioned, historic, period, old, relic, artifact, bygone, rarity, outmoded, and heirloom.
   And a reproduction is a “repro,” not a “repo”—unless it’s been repossessed! (A repo repro?).

With reproductions, fakes, fantasies and copycats flooding the market, how can a buyer determine whether an article is the real thing? Noted collectibles expert Harry Rinker suggests the following rules:

(1) Assume everything you see is recently made. Question its form, shape, construction, size, pattern, etc.  ”One of a kind?” Virtually everything from any period was mass produced.

(2) If it looks new, it probably is. Items were made to be used and should show wear and natural aging. Pick it up; that’s how others picked it up, too, and it should show its wear there. If there is no damage to the bottom or feet, be suspicious.

 At the base of furniture, look for dings and scratches from shoes and sweepers. Sit on the chair or sofa, then look for wear where your back touches. Upholstery will show well-set fold lines; glass, even if set for show, will have drag scratches on its base.

(3) Examine the object in natural sunlight if possible, but never in fluorescent light. Let any light come in at an angle to prevent glare, and observe the object from a variety of perspectives.     

(4) Examine inside and out; if it is so intended, disassemble it (with the owner’s permission). Framed art really need to be examined unframed for trimming, glue, borders and rendering (oil, print, etc.)

(5) Consistency: Are color, pattern, size, shape, construction, weight and wear marks right for the period? 

(6) If the seller points out a problem (crack, chip, restoration, etc.), there are probably more. Caveat emptor.

(7) Is it really a tremendous bargain? There are some, but not as many as there are reproductions. Conversely, you can also pay more for a deliberate fake misrepresented as authentic.

(8) Build a reference collection for your favorite items and continue to let it grow. Fakes, reproductions, fantasies, and copycats can also be very old. Subscribe to Repronews (formerly Antique and Collectors Reproduction News), an authoritative website:

(9) Consider these excellent books on authentication (most out of print): MacDonald Guide to Buying Antique Furniture by Rachel Field; Confusing Collectibles—A Guide to the Identification of Contemporary Objects by Dorothy Hammond; Fake, Fraud or Genuine? Identifying Authentic American Antique Furniture by Myrna Kaye; and Antique Fakes and Reproductions by Ruth Webb Lee.

(10) Handle, handle, handle: The more authentic originals you see and feel, the easier it is to identify the fakes and repros. Seek out private collections, museums (they often have study collections), reputable antique shops and legitimate antique auctions.  

(11) Trust your intuition. After you learn to recognize the fakes and the originals, listen to the alarm in your head; it’s probably right.



 With so much affordable, quality, new merchandise available, why does anyone want this old stuff? Investment, decoration, sentimentality and/or appreciation.



1. “Value” may mean replacement value, insurance value, fair market value, auction value or liquidation value. “Fair market value” is what a willing buyer will pay a willing seller, neither of whom is compelled to buy or sell, and both know the pertinent facts.

2. “It’s old, so it must be valuable” is a common, but fanciful, mindset among sellers.

3. “My grandmother gave this to me, so it’s very old” is often heard. (Did she get it last week at Wal-Mart?). 

4. Value depends on age, condition, unaltered state, rarity, physical location, region, season, size and weight, demand, décor, name recognition, completeness, quality, and  provenance. Do not abrasively clean, remove patina or paint or finish, or repaint or refinish. Alterations, chips or cracks may diminish value by 50% or more.

5. An appraisal is an educated guess. It’s a conflict of interest for an appraiser to offer to buy or to auction a client’s items.

6. Antique dealers, as a rule of thumb, expect to sell at twice their cost.

7. Is it an original (authentic period piece), a reproduction (later rendering of an original style), or a fake (intended to deceive the buyer)?

8. Price guides (annuals, directories, catalogs, magazines, newsletters) and appraisal fairs may quote unrealistically high values, either inflated or based on selective sales prices in order to support market prices or encourage subscribers and advertisers.

9. Contraband articles have no standard value because they cannot be marketed. Mounted protected birds or their feathers cannot even be possessed without provenance that they date before the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act; even then they cannot be sold, but they can be given away. Only exemptions are pigeons, starlings and sparrows. Migratory (game) birds’ feathers may be used for fishing flies and stuffing pillows and mattresses, but not for ornamental display.




 Learn values by combining your sources: Live auctions, Internet auctions, trade journals, price guides, antique shops and shows, experts, libraries, training courses, private collectors, collector clubs and societies, auction house catalogs (Christy’s, Sotheby’s), art galleries and museums, pawn shops, newspapers and magazines, ads, retail stores, TV/radio collector programs, appraisal fairs, historical societies, finance companies, personal property appraisers, insurance appraisers, and brokers.


Tools of the Trade:

 Small tape measure: Describe for ads, appraisals, fit, transport, authenticity.

 Magnifier: Examine flaws, cracks, chips, paint, wear, signatures, and prints.

 Magnetic stud finder: Detect steel cents, hidden nails, plated iron, and tintypes.

 Camera: Record images and details for reference, research, ads, and appraisals.

 Flashlight: Look under tables and inside cabinets for construction, fasteners, repairs, age.

 Acetone: Dissolves virtually any repair substance (epoxy, plastic, glue)

 Pin: Scratch-test epoxy repairs; compare bone and ivory with plastic and celluloid


Black Light

 Ultraviolet (UV) light is a deep purple wavelength invisible to the human eye, but it produces fluorescence (color glow) in many materials when viewed in the dark against a black, non-reflective background. Be sure all surfaces are clean; detergents, grease, and other adulterants often fluoresce on their own. Long wave, rather than shortwave black lights are preferred; fortunately, they are the most commonly available. Use fluorescent bulbs; don’t bother with incandescent “party lights”—they’re mostly visible blue.

 Black light fluorescence may be used to detect:

 Repairs or alterations: Materials used to patch ceramics often glow differently under UV than the original, surrounding body. Check fragile areas like feathers, petals, spouts, handles, fingers, noses, and necks for new paints and added substances. Hard-paste porcelain fluoresces deep blue or purple; soft paste fluoresces white. Cracks and chips are enhanced under black light.

 New glazing over a maker’s mark may indicate a forgery. Ground-off and replaced glazing fluoresces differently from the rest of body. Examine the hard-to-reach interior base of hollow ware for cracks and filled holes from lamp modifications.

 Cracks and chips in marble may be filled with wax (Latin “sin cere” means “without wax!”) or borax which glows differently from the surrounding medium. 

 Over-paints and touch-ups: When examining metal toys, furniture, and even paintings, original enamel paint looks the same under black light as in normal light, without fluorescence, while modern acrylic paint may fluoresce or even look muddy and dark under black light. Touched-up surfaces on naturally-patinated metals like bronze will look different from the surrounding metal.

 Paper and textiles: Since the 1950s, chemicals added to paper produce brighter UV fluorescence in photographs, art prints, postcards, books, posters, and other paper goods. Some mild fluorescence may be seen in earlier 20th century paper, but virtually none in 19th century paper.

 Post-WWII polyester, polyester-cotton blends, and even natural silks and cotton fibers treated or blended with synthetics glow white, as do earlier materials washed in modern, phosphorus detergents.

 Forgeries: UV can detect glues, bleaches, erasures, and additions (signatures, features, borders)

 Glass: Fluorescence in glass is not an indication of age, but of additives, and the same additives have been used during different periods. Some old glass fluoresces apple green or yellow green (the presence of uranium oxide in both new and old Vaseline glass gives it a brilliant yellow-green glow under UV illumination), while newer glass may fluoresce pink, purple, or not at all.

 Old American Brilliant and new quality cut glass fluoresces dull yellow, while poor repros glow pink. Post-WWII playing marbles do not fluoresce; many earlier marbles do.

 Crizzling (fine crackling), sick glass (acid-etched), and missing pieces may be complemented with polymers which produce a white or blue-white fluorescence when the interior surface is UV illuminated.

 Radium dials: Pre-1952 radium chloride clock dials glow brilliant green.

 Gemstones: Some gems fluoresce differently from synthetics and fakes.

 Ivory: The tusks of elephants, pigs, and walruses, and teeth of whales and hippopotamuses, fluoresce a dull, mottled yellow when they’re old and patinated, but white when they’re fresh, scratched, or alcohol-cleaned. Fake staining by smoke, tea, or manure glows brilliant yellow, while artist-applied stains glow brown or blue. 



 X-rays will often detect repairs. For example, in expertly-restored but damaged wood decoys, they will reveal nails that have been concealed, cracks and flaws, distribution and density differences of paints.




Note: Carrying Furniture

 Never lift or carry case furniture by its top or chairs by their arms, only by their frame or base.



 Bail: C-shaped drawer pull, hinged at its ends to posts or a plate.

 Baluster: A heavily-rounded turning.

 Case piece: A cabinet or chest.

 Curule: A Roman seat, two half-circles joined back to back, “X” style.

 Dentil molding: Decorative trim molding of square or rectangular blocks resembling teeth.

 Escutcheon: Decorative or protective plate as around a keyhole (not the hole’s key surround)

 Étagère: A tall, elaborate, corner stand for displaying whatnots.

 Finial: The small, knob-like, decorative piece on a clock, lamp or other furniture

 Fretted: Openly cut-through, reticulated or lacey pattern in chair backs and skirts.

 Japanning: Finished in heavy, glossy lacquer.

 Jardinière: Tall planter.

 Ormolu: Gilded-metal castings used as furniture decorations.

 Pediment: An arch or crown on the top front of a cabinet; may be “broken” or “broken with finial.”

 Pilaster: Imitation column along the side of a case piece.

 Plank: A broad board cut from a wide tree trunk.

 Quatrefoil: Four-lobed clover-like design or cutout in a furniture panel.

 Rail: Horizontal divider between drawers in case furniture, or horizontal chair members (crest rail top).

 Reeded: Straight, parallel lines scribed down legs.

 Slat: Horizontal backboard(s) on a chair. Multiple-slat-back chairs are also called ladder-backs.

 Splat: Vertical backboard in a chair; urn-shaped in Queen Anne, pierced (fretted) in Chippendale.

 Stile: Vertical support pieces, called posts if round turnings in a chair.

 Suite (not suit): A set of matching furniture.

 Trefoil: Three-lobed clover-like design or cutout in a furniture panel.


American Periods and Styles

American period furniture had inspiration from the English, but was independently styled by region, city, and maker. The Pilgrims brought furniture with them in 1620, but 1650 is the oldest surviving example.

 Reproductions and revivals began in the Victorian period, as exemplified by the lavish Rococo revival of 1850-1870, still admired and copied today, and the first Colonial revival at the American Centennial exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, featuring Renaissance and Eastlake styles. 

 19th century reproductions are usually hand made and skillfully executed, hard to tell from the original, while 20th century reproductions are mass produced, with many cost-saving shortcuts which became prominent during the Great Depression and continued into the 1940s.

 By the 1920s, Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation movement accompanied by the invention of lumber-core plywood signaled the end of solid-wood furniture. Two layers of veneer, grains running at right angles, on each side of a piece of inexpensive wood, provided great strength and economy. Quality furniture of the period featured up to 11 tiers of veneer on tops and fronts.

 Quality points: Three-ply drawer bottoms, sides and backs; beech and sycamore rather than gum or poplar; dust covers between drawers; center guide under drawer with metal or wood rail; posts, legs, and feet continuous, not pieced; solid wood of the same variety as the veneer; hand painted decorations rather than decals or prints; and hand-carved, solid-wood applied trim rather than stamped wood or molded composition.  

 The Great Depression brought such cost-cutting measures as three-layered veneers on tops and fronts (or even the substitution of “veneerite,” grain patterns printed on paper and glued to the bare wood, or worse, stamped or printed directly on the painted wood, then finished with a high gloss to imply quality), omission of dust covers between drawers, thinner and cheaper wood on drawer sides and bottoms, and elimination of drawer center guides.

 This cheapest furniture was called borax, named for its common acquisition by borax-based soap premium coupons.

  Reproduction shops continued to grow, peaking in the 1920s, when High Point, North Carolina became America’s leading furniture producer, passing Grand Rapids, Michigan. During the Great Depression (1929-1939), High Point and the South made furniture for the masses, while Grand Rapids and New York continued to supply high-end products. That North/South distinction largely continues to this day.

 From the 1870s well into the 1930s, mass immigration to the large cities and rapid industrialization created an “urban blight” reaction among the affluent who sought escape. Camps and the national parks were established, and rustic twig art, mission/arts and crafts, wicker, and art nouveau were popularized by this movement.




 1620—1680 Pilgrim Era, Early Colonial

 1680—1700 William & Mary

 1700—1740 Queen Anne

 1740—1775 Thomas Chippendale

 1775—1780 Adams Period

 1780—1790 George Hepplewhite & Thomas Sheraton

 1791—1815 Early Federal Designs (Hepplewhite, Sheraton)

 1816—1824 Late Federal Designs, Greco-Roman & Classical Motifs

 1825—1845 Neo Classical, Greek Revival

 1846—1875 Victorian Era

 1876—1890 Eastlake Period

 1890—1910 Art Nouveau

 1910---1920 Mission Era

 1920---1940 Art Deco



Periods and Styles


















Elizabeth I



(to c. 1650)

Early Colonial


Oak Period
(to c. 1670)


James I



Charles I


Louis XIII





Louis XIV



Charles II



James II



William &Mary

William &Mary

William &Mary


William III

William III

Dutch Colonial




Queen Ann


Queen Ann

Walnut period




George I

Early Georgian



George II

Early Georgian

Louis XV


(from 1750)


George III

Late Georgian

Louis XVI





Early Federal






George III




Later Federal



George IV



William IV

William IV

Louis Philippe

2nd Empire

3rd Republic




Arts & Crafts






Edward VII


Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau


Primitive (from settlement through the 19th century), hand-made, crude, unstyled, utilitarian pieces made from available materials. Solid woods, no veneer. These days, we call such current crafting “home made.”


Colonial/Pilgrim (Jacobean, James I, and 17th Century: 1620-1700)

Appearance: Large, massive, strong, boxy, medieval look. Dry (unglued) mortis and tenon assembly with wood pins; nails used later. Wood panels in some chairs, cabinets. Often elaborate, geometric, floral carvings, or applied split turnings.

Wood: Oak and pine, some maple. Ornamentation often painted.

Chairs: Legs and stretchers may be spiral twisted, turnings bulbous (but not as massively  bulbous as the previous Elizabethan melon bulb). Straight backs. Rush seats. Turned post and spindle legs and uprights like Brewster (two rows of vertical back spindles) and Carver (one row), named after Pilgrim fathers who brought them.

Cabinets: Lidded chests later followed by chests of drawers; square, straight legs; square or bun feet.

Drawer pulls: Small, round.

Tables: Butterfly, trestle, and gate-leg tables have aprons and baluster-turned spindles.


William and Mary (1690-1702)

Appearance: Less bulky than Jacobean, more suitable for smaller American homes. Highly decorated in baroque style with inlaid marquetry, some heavy lacquering

Wood:  Walnut and maple, solid or veneer.

Cabinets and Dressers: Appearance of highboy (chest of drawers on a dressing table) and  lowboy (dressing table itself) with ball-shaped feet, curved stretchers, delicately-turned legs. The secretary first appeared.


Note: Jacobean and William and Mary, known collectively as Tudor, Renaissance, Carolean, Early American, and Baroque.


Queen Anne (1702-1760):

Appearance: Elegantly detailed with prominent, graceful, cabriole leg (curves outward at the knee, tapers at the ankle, with typically a padded or slippered foot, later claw and ball; bail pulls on stamped-brass openwork (fretted) escutcheons.

Wood: Walnut; occasional maple and cherry; mahogany later.

Chairs and sofas: Hogarth’s curve: William Hogarth designed his Queen Anne chair seats, front cabriole legs, backs, and vase-shaped splats with an S-shaped “line of beauty,” the front view and profile of which represented the graceful curve of a woman’s back. Flaring wings on upholstered pieces.

Cabinets and dressers: Highboys with S-shaped, broken-scroll, pediment tops; scallop-shell motif common on knees of cabriole legs, and as accents on cabinets..

Drawer pulls: Sand-cast teardrop pulls on thin-cast, hand-filed escutcheons (back plates);  later, bail pulls.

Tables: Drop-leaf (square, rectangular, oval, and round); swinging arms replaced the gate leg.

Mirrors: The first fine American-made mirrors, with separate upper and lower sections.


Note: Unrelated to the period, the American Windsor chair appeared around 1725. A thick, shaped, pine seat was drilled to receive turned back spindles and legs of maple; three turned stretchers. 


Chippendale (1760-1790) (also called Georgian or Edwardian)

Appearance: Straight, boxy outlines. Combined English Gothic motifs, French rococo designs, and Chinese fretwork.

Wood: Mahogany. Occasional walnut, maple, cherry. Crotch-grained veneer, geometrically arranged, very popular.

Chairs and sofas: Thomas Chippendale introduced the claw and ball foot. Outwardly-curved uprights with Cupid’s-bow top rail and ears. Chair splats commonly fretted. Arms flare outward; arm supports tilt forward. Foliated-knee cabriole legs, or straight, square legs on Chinese and Gothic styles.

Cabinets and dressers: Straight tops or broken arch pediments. Dutch shell carving. Foliated-knee cabriole legs, or straight, square. Ball and claw, ogee, or bracket feet. Break-front cabinet introduced (large central cabinet flanked by two narrower, shallow side sections); also bombe’ highboys, block-front desks, serpentine chests of drawers.

Drawer pulls: Bail pulls on posts with round nuts on flat brass escutcheon.


Federal (named for the post-Revolution federation of states) (1790-1825):

Appearance: Light, slender furniture with clean lines, delicate features, and straight legs. Wood: Light mahogany, often veneered to highlight grain pattern.

Chairs and sofas: Introduction of the Martha Washington chair--upholstered low seat, high back, and open arm rests. The Windsor chair (spindle back, carved-plank seat with rounded or S-shaped edge, splayed legs) grew in popularity.

Cabinets and dressers: Flat surfaces often string-inlaid, occasional fans or shells.



 Appearance: Curved lines; fine inlays of eagles, shields crossed arrows, stars; square, tapered legs with spade feet.

 Chairs: Side chairs often have shield-shaped, interlaced hearts, or oval backs. Splats may be carved with plumes, ears of wheat, or leaves.

 Cabinets and dressers: Sideboard fronts are serpentine with concave ends.

 Drawer pulls: Either round brass knobs, or bail pulls on stamped brass ovals; simple or embossed with branches, leaves, grapes, etc.



 Appearance: More delicate than Hepplewhite. Straight lines, plain fronts and tops; turned, reeded or fluted  round leg.

 Chairs: Often angular or squared back with open-carved center splat or vertical splats shaped like chair legs.

 Cabinets and dressers: Sideboard fronts are serpentine with convex ends. Some cameo cutting, festoons, swags, and rosettes on larger pieces.

 Drawer pulls: Round, brass “cup” faces showing a stamped rosette, mounted on turned shanks over a round escutcheon.   


 Note: “Hepplewhite” and “Sheraton” are commonly used synonymously due to their similarity.


 Duncan Phyfe:

 Appearance: Although best known for his adaptation of Sheraton, he also made Empire style. Lyre motif with square, outwardly curved, reeded legs.

 Wood: Dark-stained mahogany veneer.

 Chairs: Featured lyre splats; legs were square, outwardly-curved (saber), and often reeded or floral-carved.

 Tables: Legs square, outwardly-curved, frequently reeded, although can be floral-carved; ending in claws with brass foot covers. Tabletops supported by lyre or vase pedestals. Edges may be beaded.

 Cabinets: Often had beaded edges.


 Note: Hepplewhite, Sheraton, and Phyfe were contemporaries, not successive styles.


Empire (1815-1840):

 Appearance: Reflects Napoleonic tastes with Roman, Greek, Egyptian influence. Massive, monumental. May be plain or lightly accented with Roman fascias, gilt stenciling, Egyptian sphinxes, laurel wreaths, acanthus leaves, carved pineapples, fluted columns. Increased use of marble and mirrors.

 Wood: Dark crotch mahogany veneer and some rosewood veneer.

 Chairs and sofas: The curule seat first appeared. Sofas often have roll-over arms, winged-griffin feet.

 Cabinets and dressers: One overhanging top drawer supported by plain or designed columns. Greek-curved legs with knee projections, lion paws, multiple sections in pillars and posts, and painted or stenciled imitations of metal ornaments.

 Drawer pulls: Early brass pulls were stamped with a patriotic motif; later, a ring pull in the mouth of a brass lion’s head.

 Tables: Massive, heavily carved legs; smooth or decorated columnar pedestals.

 Mirrors frames: Broad, curved or flat.



Shaker (1790-1900)

Appearance: Simple, slim, utilitarian furniture; no moldings or decorative hardware. Narrow cupboard drawers, narrow drawers on stands and tables.

Wood: Pine dominant, but hardwoods were used as available in settlements. Plain or varnished, or painted red, green, or yellow.

Chairs and sofas: Slat backs, simple-turned legs and stretchers. Seats were splint, cane, or leather; later rush. Production became rather commercial by the 1870s, including upholstered chairs, chairs of various sizes, and with taped seats in a choice of 14 different colors.

Cabinets and dressers: Plain boards with bracket feet.

Drawer pulls: Wooden pegs, round heads.

Mirrors: Plain framed, drilled arch top for hanging on a peg. May have pegs on bottom board.


Note: Shaker membership dropped dramatically after the Civil War, and by the early 1900s, furniture production had virtually ceased.


Regency (1811-1820)

 Named for the reign of George IV, Prince of Wales.


Country (1800-1940)

Appearance: Hand made or machine made, often in the provinces rather than capitals. Simple elegance, but not primitive. Assembled with wooden pegs until 1850.  Made for vacation cottages, rural homes, and farms. This freely-mixed style includes porch wicker and twig furniture.

Wood: Light-colored, including oak and ash.

Chairs and sofas:

Cabinets and dressers:

Drawer pulls: Wooden pegs or knobs, white porcelain, or fruit carvings or moldings. Pressed glass pulls and knobs after 1825. Keyhole escutcheons could be wood, iron, or brass.   

Beds: Sleigh style introduced, four-posters continued with heavy, foliated, turned posts.


Victorian (Revival) Period (1840-1900):

Appearance: There is no one Victorian style, and French rather than English influence was stronger on furniture design, featuring Gothic, Renaissance, Rococo, and  Elizabethan styles. Earliest examples were an extension of the previous Empire period. American cabinetmakers added considerable variety of style and heavy ornamentation with gingerbread appliqué. 

Wood: A wide variety from rosewood to oak, with much veneer.


 By the 1860s, the industrial revolution allowed machine-made pieces to replace craftsmanship, and mass production was the key, resulting in furniture suites of popular, early styles.

 Better pieces were constructed of rosewood, walnut, mahogany; lesser pieces were dark-stained red or brown maple, butternut, or other hardwoods. Veneer was used extensively, especially walnut burl on Empire styles. Cast iron garden and interior furniture was made through the entire period.

  The lazy Susan, ottoman, balloon-back chair, and single-end sofa first appeared. By the 1890s, a growing awareness of sanitation popularized brass and iron beds which could be disassembled and washed.


 Late Empire (1830-1850):

 Appearance: Greek like early empire, but less delicacy and detailing


 Gothic Revival (1840-1865):

 Appearance: Medieval cathedral look—pointed arches, cluster columns, trefoils, quatrefoils, rosettes

 Wood: Primarily rosewood, although walnut and oak were also used.

 Architectural periods: Gothic Revival (1835-1860); Italianate (1840-1880)


 Elizabethan (circa 1850, short lived):

 Appearance: Spool- and spiral-turned.


 Rococo Revival (1850–1900) (From two French words for “rock” and “shell”):

 Appearance: Intricate, serpentine, with non-symmetrical scrolls, with curves and elaborate, deeply-carved cornucopias, fruits, birds, flowers, and foliage. Aesthetic style of the 1870s-1880s was a high-fashion Rococo Revival subtype often using ebonized wood highlighted with flat decoration of tiles, lines, painted panels, and gilt figures.

 Wood: Heat-bent rosewood, veneered burled-walnut panels. Satinwood and birds-eye maple were  occasionally used as secondary woods.

 Chairs and sofas: Parlor suites introduced. Balloon backs with elaborate, button-back upholstery and elaborate, high-relief carvings of leaves, grapes, roses, on cabriole-leg knees.

 Cabinets and dressers: Bracket-footed with convex fronts. Wardrobes and bookcases were strongly developed.

 Drawer pulls: Commonly bails on elaborately patterned escutcheons (back plates).

 Tables: Drop-leaf tables common. The center table often had a scalloped, marble top and elaborate base and apron.


 Renaissance Revival (1860-1880):

 Appearance: French influence featured massive, heavily-carved pieces often with marble; straighter lines, arched tops, broken pediments, and prominent cresting. Inlays and incised lines, angular scrolls and  pilasters, fancy columns, central cartouche-like shields and portrait medallions, and bronze or porcelain mounts. “Too much is never enough!” is a popular reference to this excessively-ornate period.

 Wood: Black walnut was favored. Often with burl walnut panels and applied, machine-carved moldings and ornament.

 Chairs and sofas: Tapered, baluster-turned legs.

 Cabinets and Dressers:

 Drawer pulls: Round or pendant.

 Tables: Inlaid tops.


 Louis XVI (1850s-1870s):

 Appearance: Decorative carvings more restrained, and on straight-line forms.


 Eastlake (1870-1890):

 Appearance: Simple, boxy style. Reeded pilasters were common. Lots of square-tile panels of slats or lath; shallow carvings and flat moldings; chamfered and serrated edges. Much machined, geometric, incised  lines, chip designing like dentil molding and tile ornamentation. The first suites—bedroom sets--appeared  during this period.

 The later Eastlake period (1880-1890) was call the Aesthetic, offering nature-inspired furnishings like bamboo and wicker, and employing embellishments like peacock feathers. Many pieces “ebonized” with black paint.

 Wood: Cherry, walnut, oak, often with walnut burl or veneer. Some ash or chestnut used.

 Chairs and sofas: Considerable variety; not as specific in American designs as English.

 Cabinets and dressers: Legs and posts were straight (square or round and turned), massive; spindled top rails.  Finials were often used. Small shelves, brackets, and carvings became popular, and occasional wrought iron mounts were used.

 Drawer pulls: Round brass.


 Queen Anne Revival (1870-?)

 Appearance: Same as original 1725-1750, but short-lived.


 Cottage (1840-1900) (“Spool” style):

 Appearance: Simple form with “Jenny Lind” spool-turned elements. Commonly hand-decorated by owners and their children with flowers, stenciled lines, even imitation grain.

 Wood: Softwoods like pine, poplar, and birch common and painted in pastels of pink, blue, lavender, gray, green, or white.


 Oriental (“Turkish,” “Moorish”) (1870s-1890s)

 Appearance: “Cozy,” “Turkish corners” accented over-stuffed and over-upholstered furniture, bamboo pieces, over-use of pillows and draperies often decorated with Oriental patterns and themes.


 Centennial (1876): Interest in early American furniture was bolstered by the first centennial. While there were many pieces made to celebrate this event, collectors  more liberally use the term to refer to post-1876 reproductions of 18th century furniture (Queen Anne, Chippendale, Federal, and Empire), collectively called “Colonial Revival.” By the 1880s, interest in “manufactured antiques” was riding high. Ironically, these reproductions of earlier style are now collectible antiques themselves.


 Arts and Crafts (“Mission,” Prairie School”) (1894-1910): Like Art Nouveau, this movement was a deliberate reaction to the machine age and Victorian excess, but its emphasis was a return to rustic craftsmanship.

 Appearance: Plain, functional forms; rectilinear (boxy) outline. No nails or screws in better examples. Exposed tenons thorough mortises secured by pegs or keys; rows of vertical or horizontal slats.

 Wood: Stained oak, occasional mahogany.

 Names: Influenced by English designers John Ruskin, Charles Eastlake, and William Morris. American crafters include Elbert Hubbard (Roycrofters), Charles and Henry Greene, L & J.G. Stickley, Limbert, Dick van Erp, and Frank Lloyd Wright.


 Art Nouveau (1895-1910): Like Arts and Crafts, a retro against machine age industrialism, but with a back-  to-nature theme. Common style in period glass, china, and statuary, but less common in American   furniture.

 Appearance: Smooth, flowing curves and graceful transitions of themes, employing florals and vines.  Typical S-shaped lines terminate in a whip-like curl.

 Wicker porch and interior furniture; twig furniture in Victorian getaway camps.

 Wood: Walnut. Solid, handcrafted.


 Golden Oak (1880-1930):

 Appearance: Light stained, grainy, oversized, and heavy like Empire. Very popular then and now.

 Wood: Solid oak, virtually no veneer.


Turn of the Century (1890-1900): This transitional period offered every conceivable style. Primary woods were oak, mahogany, cherry, maple and walnut.


Art Deco (Called Art Moderne until the mid 1960s) (1925-1940, from the Paris Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes): Light-colored, exotic veneers featuring dramatic contrasts of geometric design and zigzag. Introduction of plastic drawer pulls, chrome and glass accents, waterfall bedroom suites.


Colonial Revival (Centennial) (First, 1920s; Second, 1945-1960; still popular): Federal style, shield mirror, dentil molding; thin, straight, tapered legs, extensively veneered.


Note: Revival pieces frequently mix styles and periods. Much to my horror, I discovered that my wife’s vanity had Chippendale feet, Eastlake dentil molding, a Queen Anne pediment, Hepplewhite pilasters, and a 20th century triple mirror! We don’t have it anymore.


Modernism (Mid 1920s-early 1940s)


Post World War II (1945-present)

 Scandinavian (1950s-1960s) (Danish Modern)

 Neo-Modernism (1960s)

 Pop (1960s)

 Craft Revival (1970s)

 Industrial Style (1970s)

 Memphis (1980s)


Early American (1970s to present)

 Appearance: Somewhat primitive.


Contemporary (1970 to present)

 Appearance: Heavily upholstered, sectional).


Modern Import Reproductions (Indonesian and Chinese)

 Appearance: Styling is predominantly Georgian and Chippendale. Elaborately hand shaped, with profuse, deep, crisp carvings. Blocking is well fitted and joints are both glued and screwed.

 Wood: Solid woods throughout; no veneer.


 Note: Key features of these modern reproductions include green (uncured) wood which often cracks prematurely, overly-elaborate carvings, wandering lines, rippled flat surfaces, soft opaqueness that hides the cheap wood, and virtually all surfaces are finished—drawer sides, backs, and bottoms.





 Many modern reproductions are anachronisms. Low coffee tables were introduced in the 1920s, so a Chippendale coffee or cocktail table would have to be a reproduction. Hepplewhite designed the sideboard around 1800, so it can’t be a Queen Anne. Three-mirrored vanities were introduced at the turn of the 20th century, so they can’t be Victorian. Avoid the Jacobean home entertainment center, the Queen Anne rocker, and the Duncan Phyfe telephone stand!



 Phillips-head screws: Henry Frank Phillips invented the cross-slotted screw in the early 1930s. It saw moderate use by 1934 for caskets, porch gliders, and other furniture, and was widely used for U.S. armaments during WWII. It never became as popular in Europe where Pozidriv took over in the 1960s. For most purposes, the presence of Phillips-head screws indicates an item was manufactured or repaired after WWII.

 Flat-head screws: Countersunk screws demanded flat heads; round heads are recent.

 Single-slot wood screws: Pre-1815 wood screws were hand cut with uneven threads. Machine-made screws from 1815-1846 had blunt ends, requiring a pre-drilled pilot hole. Pointed wood screws were introduced in 1846.

 Nails: Hand-wrought nails, characterized by four tapered sides ending in a point or edge, were used from early settlement into the 19th century. Machine-cut nails, characterized by two tapering and two parallel sides and hand-shaped heads, first appeared in the 1790s. Heads were hand-wrought until 1815 with a rectangular or rounded outline. From 1815-1835 heads were square, but irregularly-machine-shaped with a pinched neck under the head. From 1835-1890, heads were well-shaped, flat and rectangular. In 1890 disc-head wire nails replaced cut nails.

 Glue: Glue was not widely used until the late 18th century.

 Hinges: Cast-iron butt hinges became popular after 1820, with earlier being “H” or “HL” (Previous butt hinges would have been hand-hammered, showing visible layers).” After 1860, the butt hinge had machine-rolled edges, with mounting screw slots uniformly machine-made.



 Veneered, glued plywood was used by the Egyptians in 3500BC, but composition has evolved. European period furniture was usually solid wood, but 20th century revival pieces commonly used five-layered “lumber core” plywood (poplar, gum, oak or birch) about ¾” thick with a surface veneer of 1/28” finish wood (gum or poplar cross-grained on the top and bottom of the core, and finished on the face side with the desirable wood). The older the veneer, the thicker the finish layer, typically 1/10” or thicker. Exposed edges may be darkly stained or painted to hide the layering.

 To distinguish plywood veneer from solid wood, examine the grain pattern on the top and see if it matches the bottom.

 Art Deco pieces from the 1930s-1940s utilized light-colored, exotic veneers of satinwood, avodire, zebrawood, and Oriental walnut.

 Early wood planks were much wider because old-growth trees were abundant; boards narrowed over time. By the 19th century, backing boards were random widths, and by the end of the century, narrow.

 Because wood was abundant, good quality, original furniture will be heavy; unusually light pieces are reproductions.

 Wood shrinks across the grain with age. Round tabletops become slightly oval, and butted fittings often separate.

 Modern reproductions commonly use cheap wood and cover the grain with stain; surfaces are shiny and often tacky. Older finishes are patinated from generations of handling and polishing, and under-parts are frequently left unstained and white, and edges are sharp, uniform, and clean.

 Windsor reproduction chair seats will normally be made of two or more glued planks, smooth on the bottom as well as the top. Originals had single-plank seats with rough bottoms, often displaying tool marks.

 Worm holes can be old or new and are not an indicator of an antique. The worm and emerging beetle use a clean hole; if you see the channel, the wood has been planed down.

 Dents in the surface may indicate “distressing”--damaging the wood with chains, hammers, pebbles, or other blunt objects to artificially age the item. Look for identical dents repeated across the surface.

 Marriages may be as simple as using old wood on a new cabinet, or as extensive as mounting one case piece on another to make a high boy. Compare the matching woods and examine mounting methods and fasteners on suspect pieces.

 Saw marks: From 1700-1850 two-man pit (“gash”) saws made straight, unevenly spaced, often unparallel marks at an angle to the wood grain, while post-1840s, continuously-running mill saws made straight, evenly spaced, parallel cuts, at right angles to the board edge. After 1850, the circular saw made curved marks, sometimes bowing in both directions.

 Smoothing-plane marks (feel for these on wide surfaces like drawer sides and bottoms), pre-1850.

 Scribe marks (grooves) are present on pre-1880s dovetail joints.

 Dovetailing up to the 1870s was typically done by hand and usually large (2-4 joints typical) and slightly uneven, but machine routing by the 1870s made dovetails smaller, precise, and more numerous; the Knapp router made round dowel joints. 20th Century dovetails are machined smaller and symmetrical pins and tails.

 Drawer bottom sides and guides should show wear from years of use.

 Cabinet backs will be solid wood well into the 1920s.

 Screws and nails should look old and match the period.

 Unfinished outside backs of wood furniture turn dark with air exposure, while the upper drawer end stays lightest from lack of air circulation. Check for sharply-contrasted patina, indicating repairs.

 Check highboys for marriages: Should have identical upper/lower drawers, and in-line backs.

 All U.S.-made, 20th Century mirror backs are date-stamped, hidden by the backboard.

 Knobs and pulls will never show a screw head in the front on old hardware. Check for new hardware or stained putty covering old holes/marks, and for extra or newly-drilled holes.

 19th century locks often had maker’s name; make sure they match the period.

 Wear should be present on feet, stretchers, and aprons on old furniture.

 Wide planks and age cracks are common in older woods. If a chair seat is made of more than one plank, with the grain running front to back, it’s probably 20th Century.

 If chair stretchers (tenons) have tapered ends, they are likely 20th Century.

 Splashboards on tables, stands, and cabinets are pre-20th Century.

 Drawer sides are identical and fully sanded on machine-made furniture, but unfinished outside on old furniture. Feel for overall roughness or unevenness.

 In original furniture, primary wood (walnut, mahogany) or veneer was used for outside finish; secondary wood (pine or poplar) was used inside. Recent machined furniture often uses the same wood throughout.

 Painting was rarely done on drawer bottoms or sides, skirt bottoms, or backs. Old paint is often faded (examine for artificial aging with steel wool), and powders when scraped. Modern paint will curl off in ribbons or flakes.

 Rocking chairs were first made by adding rockers to the feet of straight chairs; the older the chair, the shorter the rockers.

 Rustic twig furniture has been widely copied. In larger case pieces, look for patina, old nails, and even dovetail joints.


Wicker: Several fibrous materials have been used for thatching furniture, baskets, and seats, including rattan (palm), reed (marsh grass stem), splint (wood strip, often white oak), cane (woody grass stem), willow (tree branch), rush (twisted, fibrous marsh plant), and twisted, paper-covered wire.

 Loose cane seats can be tightened once or twice in their lifetime by turning the chair upside down and covering the underside with a warm, wet (not dripping) cloth for about 30 minutes. Turn the chair right-side up and let it dry overnight; the cane will tighten itself.


Inlay: Carved-out wood sections replaced by another wood or material.

 Marquetry: Designs or figures like scrolls, florals; not geometric patterns.

 Parquetry: Symmetrical patterns like squares.



 Butt: Two flat board ends nailed together; weakest and cheapest.

 Dovetail: Triangular cuts in one end of a board receive triangular projections from the end of another board. Very sturdy; common for drawer joints. Invented by Egyptians 3000 years ago.

 Mortise and tenon: A tongue-line projection on one board end is inserted into a hole on another board; may be pinned or wedged. Common for stretchers and slats where they meet legs and uprights.

 Rabbet (lapped): One or both boards are square-grooved where they join.

 Box: Square, finger-like projections interleave on board ends, as in a cheese-box corner.

 Miter: Joined edges of two boards are beveled.

 Tongue and groove: Lengthwise ridge on one board edge slides into lengthwise groove on another; common for joining flooring and cabinets.

 Board and batten: A thin strip of reinforcing wood covers the joint between two vertical panels.



 Top, side and drawer-front surfaces should all be five-layered veneer, not three-layered

 Finish should be real veneer, not an imitational veneer print or paint pattern as used in 1920s “borax” furniture.

 Wooden center guides should be present and not be used for support of the drawer.

 Drawer sides should be solid hardwood (oak, maple, birch, sycamore), not plywood

 Drawer bottom should be finished oak, walnut or mahogany plywood, attached beneath to the sides and back by glued blocks.

 Chest drawers should have overhead dust covers.

 Vanities will have a sliding glass or wood tray in a top drawer for small items.

 Glass in doors should be held by interior wooden (not rubber or rope) molding strips on all four sides, finished and mitered at their corners where they meet.

 Locks should be mortised (recessed in the wood), not surface mounted.



 Examine for obvious signs of damage: scrapes and nicks, stains, water marks on legs. 

 Sniff the wood for odors of mildew/mold growth or rot, or solvent/lacquer repairs.

 Look for glue around drawer and case joints, indicating repair.

 Does the finish look too good for the age? Why was it refinished?

 Do drawers and doors move freely?

 Is the hardware original, consistent with the maker and period? Examine the interior for extra holes.

 Check for loose veneer by rapping the surface, listening for a hollow sound.

 Examine the interior by removing drawers, and wiggle the framework for solid joints.

 Check for consistent construction, looking for married pieces.



Cleaning and polishing

 After dusting the furniture off, clean it well with mineral spirits (paint thinner) or spirit-based soap like Vulpex to remove wax, oil or polish. Don’t use oil-based soaps or citrus cleaners; they leave a residue. For stubborn debris like tobacco residue, old wax and polish, dirt and oil, use naphtha or Go-Jo (non-pumice) hand cleaner.

 After drying, apply a thin coat of paste wax (pigmented if you wish to enhance colors) like Howard’s, Kiwi, Fiddes or Briwax (original formula with toluene to soften lacquer), then rub well with 0000 furniture-grade (not hardware grade!) steel wool or ScotchBrite ultra-fine refinishing pad. Don’t use spray-on silicone polishes as they hasten finish crackling; and don’t use popular, mineral oil or citrus oil products which never dry, leaving a perpetual smear.  Buff to a sheen with a soft, dry cloth like a T-shirt or old bath towel. Repeat once a year. To obscure scratches, use tinted wax after the cleaning.

 It’s always tempting to put Old English (and other similar scented, mineral-oil stains) on a piece of furniture to make it look good, but this quick fix never dries, and attracts dust. Murphy’s Oil Soap cleans off dirt, but won’t dissolve oil or wax, and it doesn’t protect the finish. Silicone-base aerosols like pledge can cause long-term finish and repair problems. Lemon and orange oils may smell good and may help remove grime, but won’t restore scratched wood.

  It’s been said that more furniture has been ruined by over-care than by neglect!



 Never refinish valuable furniture unless the finish is unrestorable and severely detracts from the appearance. As a general rule, old furniture is more valuable un-restored than restored—to a point. The patina and mars give it character and authenticity. But if the finish is badly damaged, refinishing may be justified.

 A professional refinisher can probably re-amalgamate crackled finish and recoat without stripping; otherwise, use a commercial refinisher which is a blend of solvents. Alcohol works only on shellac (found on pre-1920s furniture). None of them works on polyurethane. When refinishing, use either shellac or newer water-base poly, including the wipe-on “oil” finishes.

 Scratches may be repaired with Minwax oil stain of the appropriate color. When the surface is clean, rub on a liberal coat of the Minwax with 0000 furniture-grade steel wool; leave it for five minutes, then wipe it off hard and leave it for 12 hours. The Minwax will soften and amalgamate the lacquer as well as clean and resurface the old finish all in one application.


Glue removal

 White glue like Elmer’s can be softened by soaking in vinegar. Tougher epoxies can be softened by soaking for several hours in denatured alcohol (wood alcohol or methanol) or lacquer thinner.


Stripping paint

 Use a semi-paste stripper like Klean Strip KS3, available at home improvement centers. Be sure to wear protective goggles, gloves and an apron, and do it where there’s plenty of ventilation. Don’t use steel wool; it pulverizes, leaving particles to rust and leave a textured finish. Instead, use a plastic scrubbing pad, rubbing gently so as not to force stain into the wood.

 After stripping, rinse with mineral spirits or lacquer thinner to neutralize the solvent, not water. After it’s dry, sand it smooth with 120 grit sandpaper, clean the dust off, and stain.     



 Don’t use steel wool on bare wood. “Fine,” “medium” and “coarse” sandpaper grit mean little in furniture restoration. Sandpaper grades vary around the world, so in the U.S. use 120 for removing lifted fibers and evening out color; 150 or 180 on a water-based finish; 180 for closing and polishing the pores so that it resists stain and finish; 220 to sand wood filler after drying before re-staining; 320 to sand out sealer and between applications of finish; and 400 to sand between coats of finish and remove dust particle from a cured finish.



 Toner is a colored lacquer used as a first coat for lacquer-refinishing of wood, followed by application(s) of clear or satin lacquer. Alternatively, wood stains may be used before polyurethane finishes.


Long-term storage

 Be sure the furniture is empty, clean and paste waxed. Climate control is strongly recommended to avoid temperature and humidity damage. Leave doors and drawers ajar for air circulation. Protect with loose bed sheets, not heavy padding or plastic sheeting which traps humidity and sticks, marring the finish. Stack table leaves and bed rails flat on the floor, not leaning against a wall which encourages warping.



 Is it an Armoire, a Wardrobe, a Chifforobe, or a Chiffonier?

A wardrobe (wooden storage cabinet) is often labeled “armoire,” but that’s only correct if it’s French! Combine a wardrobe’s closet doors with the tall, thin chest of drawers of a “chiffonier,” and you have the southern “chifforobe.”

 Is it a couch, sofa, davenport, divan, settee, love seat, settle, chaise lounge, day bed, or chair bed? Yes! Given variants for regions and family preferences, these may all be the same piece of furniture!



 The earlier the period, the less glass was used in windows and furniture due to its cost. Pre-20th century glass is typically rippled when looked through, and panes are held in place by wood strips (“muntin”). Leaded glass was unused before the mid-19th Century. Early glass was made in two consecutive periods:

 Crown glass: Up until about 1850, flat glass was made by a glass blower much they way he would start a bottle. He would put a molten batch on the end of his pontil rod, and then spin it so it would flare into a round disk. When cool, the disk would be cut into panes; the salvaged bulls-eye center would either be put back into the furnace, or used for transoms, but never windows.

 Cylinder glass: After 1850, the batch was blown into a cylinder; the ends were cut off and the cylinder was slit along its length, put into a furnace, and slowly opened into a flat sheet.

 To tell if a sample is crown or cylinder, look obliquely through it; if the wavy lines have a circular tendency, it’s crown, and if they are roughly parallel, it’s cylinder.



 Glass panes are not cut; they are scored to suggest a fracture line, and then broken. Antique glass is more brittle than modern glass, and considerable practice on broken pieces is recommended. Always wear gloves and goggles.

 Place the glass on a clean, flat surface, and then position a straightedge to guide the cutter. Dip the cutter in fine oil to assist the wheel to cut better and last longer. Use moderate pressure to make one continuous line the entire length of the glass; don’t go over the line again or it confuses the fracture.

 Lift the glass and use the ball of the cutter to lightly rap the underside of the line from the middle toward both edges. Lay the glass down on a thin board which is longer than the glass; allow the glass to hang over the board at its cut line.

 Lay a second board over the top of the glass above the first board, making a vise; place a third board over the hanging glass section. Pressing the vise gently with one hand to hold the glass, press the third board slowly with the other hand; this distributes the pressure evenly across the entire length, snapping the unwanted portion off. 



 When silvering oxidizes, leaving ugly blotches, remove the backing from the mirror and try the following steps before resorting to expensive and unpredictable resilvering:

 For smaller spots, rub the damaged portions clean with the abrasive side of a kitchen sponge, dust with a soft cloth, and then touch up with silver artist’s paint.

 For larger spots, clean as above, then apply silver Mylar from an art supply store, or substitute shiny aluminum foil. Don’t glue or tape it; let the backing hold it in place when reassembled. 



 While we consider glass a solid material, it actually behaves like a very viscous liquid. It should always be stored on edge to prevent sagging, and old glass panes are thicker at the bottom than at the top because of flow.




Note: When moving fragile items, lift them by their bodies, never by handles, spouts or other extensions, and place them in a padded tray or basket. When shipping them, wrap them in acid-free paper, not newspaper, and tape them closed. Pack the box with additional padding to prevent shifting during transport.



 By definition, china is simply fired clay.


Basic Types:

 Terra cotta: Fired clay used for vases, statuettes, and in architectural roofing, facing, and ornamentation.

 Earthenware (ironstone, opaque china): Coarse clay fired at low temperatures, usually thick and heavy.

 Stoneware: Contains finely-ground stone; as thick as earthenware, but heavier.

 Fine china: Finely ground clay fired at high temperature. Translucent; looks delicate, but it isn’t overly fragile.

 Bone china: Contains bone ash; calcium phosphate makes it strong, chip-resistant, very white, and translucent.

 Porcelain: Contains kaolin, a fine, white clay, first imported by European potters from Kaoling, China. Porcelain is highly translucent, and more easily chipped than other china. The best feldspar kaolin china is hard enough to ring when struck.

 Hard paste: “True” porcelain blend of 50% white clay (kaolin), 25% feldspar, 25% quartz, and fired at 1450 degrees C.

 Soft paste: “Artificial” porcelain, typically substituting powdered glass for the kaolin, sometimes including soapstone or bone ash, and fired at 1200 degrees C. It was vitreous (glassy) and translucent, and was gradually phased out for dinner and tea ware.

 Lithophane: Porcelain embossed with figures revealed when light passes through them.


Edges: Round, ruffled, wave crest, reticulated.


Coffee pot, teapot, or chocolate pot?

 The spout on a coffee pot is high to prevent grounds from pouring out, but it’s low on a teapot to avoid floating tealeaves. Both are likely to have spout strainers. The chocolate pot spout is at the top rim and has no strainer, the pot is usually an elongated or tapered china cylinder, and there is usually an opening on the lid flange to insert a stirring spoon. Matching cups, usually sets of four, six, or eight, are smaller than teacups or coffee cups.


Transfer ware:

 Developed around 1775 in Battersea, and by Sadler and Green at Liverpool, a warm, engraved, copper plate was rubbed with paint; excess was trimmed off with a palette knife. A damp tissue-paper “boss” was pressed onto the plate, lifted, and set onto the china by a woman “transferrer.” After the design was rubbed in, the china was placed in water where the tissue paper floated off, leaving the design. The piece was then warmed to dry the paint, dipped in glaze, and fired.



 Mass-printed designs and figures are commonly applied to pottery before glazing and firing.


Blue and White:

 No color combination comes close in quantity to that produced for the last 400 years as cobalt blue on white. Known in the Middle East 1000 years ago, it was the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that introduced blue and white porcelain to Europeans. Portuguese ships in the late 16th Century opened up direct trade routes to China, and Dutch war ships seized many of the loaded vessels and sold their contents (typically 100,000 pieces per vessel) at auction in Holland, setting off a craze for the new ware.

 The purloined pottery couldn’t keep up with the demand, so Dutch potters quickly developed a lead-based, tin-glazed earthenware we know as delft which was soon copied all over Europe.

 But the delft was clumsier than the Chinese porcelain, and it tended to crack with hot liquids like the growing demand for tea, coffee and chocolate. By the 18th Century, ships sailed to China with tea, gold, lead, tin, silver, clocks, and glassware, and returned with tea, spices, silks, and…ceramics. The profits to both sides of the ocean were enormous.   

 It has been estimated that nearly a billion pieces of porcelain were imported to Europe every year; potters were desperate to develop a competitive product. In 1710 Meissen successfully made the first true hard paste porcelain, and within 40 years both hard and soft paste factories were established all over Europe. By the 19th Century, Staffordshire transfer ware became—and remains--a perennial favorite.  

 From a collector’s standpoint, the most desirable is the English soft-paste, blue and white porcelain of the period 1745-1760.


Flow Blue:

  In 1781 Josiah Spode perfected blue under-glaze transfer printing; the slightly blurred image helped cover stilt marks, printing errors, and glazing bubbles. By 1818, more than 140 Staffordshire potteries were making glazed transfer ware, nearly all of it blue!

 Originally, the flown designs were errors, exported as seconds to less discriminating North Americans, but it sold so well the potters began to intentionally flow their patterns, eventually charging even more for the flow blue! 

 In the 1820s, Wedgwood potters discovered that the blue blur could be exaggerated, but large productions didn't start until about 1835. In this process, earthenware is first decorated with cobalt-blue (cobalt oxide) transfer prints, then lime or ammonium chloride in the kiln would cause the blue ink to bleed onto the white china during the firing of the glaze. The “flow” look was not a mistake; it was a deliberate innovation to overcome the mechanical appearance of transfer printing.


Flow Blue Periods:

 Early Victorian (1830s-1850s) heavy ironstone with angular, reticulated (laced), or incised (in-cut), edges or sides of 8, 10, 12, or 14 angles, but not circular. Intense blurred blue, mostly Oriental designs. Stilt marks on the upper surface of plates.

 Mid Victorian (1870s-1880s) still ironstone, medium to dark blue color. Scenic designs from Romantic patterns period with cherubs, elephants, castles, etc.

 Late Victorian (1890-1920) mass produced, rounded or scalloped plates, more china-like, less porous. Art Nouveau nature themes—florals, curves and swirls, gilding.


Blue Willow

 The legend--short form: This most popular--and most copied--pattern in ceramics history illustrates the romantic story ( of which there are many variations) of a Koong-Se (Shay), a Chinese maiden, imprisoned in her palace, surrounded by a zigzag fence, by her Mandarin father to keep her from seeing Chang, her banished commoner lover. Enraged after learning Chang had entered the palace to flee with Koong-Se, the father chased Chang over a bridge, then later dispatched his guards to kill Chang. Koong-Se, witnessing all this, ran across the bridge, along a lake with a boat, into Chang’s pagoda, and set it on fire, immolating herself. The gods transformed the dead lovers’ spirits into doves which fly for all eternity over the willow tree where they first pledged their love.

 The long form: There was once a Mandarin who had a beautiful daughter, Koong-Se. He employed a secretary, Chang, who, while he was attending to his master's accounts, fell in love with Koong-Se, much to the anger of the Mandarin, who regarded the secretary as unworthy of his daughter.

 The secretary was banished and a fence constructed around the gardens of the Mandarin's estate so that Chang could not see his daughter, and Koong-Se could only walk in the gardens and to the water's edge.

One day a shell fitted with sails containing a poem and a bead which Koong-Se had given to Chang floated to the water's edge. Koong-Se knew that her lover was not far away.

 She was soon dismayed to learn that she had been betrothed by her father to Ta-jin, a noble warrior Duke. She was full of despair when it was announced that her future husband, the noble Duke, was arriving, bearing a gift of jewels to celebrate his betrothal.

 However, after the banquet, borrowing the robes of a servant, Chang passed through the guests unseen and came to Koong-Se's room. They embraced and vowed to run away together. The Mandarin, the Duke, the guests, and all the servants had drunk so much wine that the couple passed them without detection, but Koong-Se's father saw her at the last minute and chased them across the bridge.

 The couple escaped and stayed with the maid that Koong-Se's father had dismissed for conspiring with the lovers. Koong-Se had given the casket of jewels to Chang, so the Mandarin, who was also a magistrate, swore that he would use the jewels as a pretext to execute Chang when he caught him.

 One night the Mandarin's spies reported that a man was hiding in a house by the river, and the Mandarin's guards raided the house. But Chang had jumped into the ragging torrent and Koong-Se thought that he had drowned. Days later the guards returned to search the house again; while Koong-Se's maid talked to them, Chang came by boat to the window and took Koong-Se to safety.

 They settled on a distant island and, over the years, Chang became famous for his writings; this was to prove his undoing. The Mandarin heard about him and sent guards to destroy him. Chang was put to the sword and Koong-Se set fire to the house while she was still inside.

 Thus they both perished, and the gods, touched by their love, immortalized them as two doves, eternally flying above.


 The facts:  The Chinese never heard of the myth; it was an English rhyme told by traveling story tellers. English and American merchants propagated the legend to stimulate sales.

Thomas Minton, a potter for Thomas Turner at Caughley, England, designed the pattern around 1780, combining an original Mandarin and another Chinese design using the transfer print process. Josiah Spode modified the pattern slightly and first produced the ware in 1790, and hundreds of other potters copied the design, variously called Standard Willow, Common, Traditional and Classic Willow. It has been in constant production from virtually every pottery in the United Kingdom, as well as potters from Germany, Japan, Sweden, India and the U.S.


Blue Willow Trivia: The preponderance of Blue Willow dishware from Sears and Woolworth’s led to its wide use in the restaurant industry, where it became known for the “Blue Plate Special!”

 But the Willow pattern may also be brown, red (pink), green, and purple as well. But for the pattern to be the authentic Willow, it must have a main tea house with an orange or apple tree behind it (possibly added later), a path leading from the front, a bridge with three figures on it, a willow tree, a boat in the water, two birds in the sky (possibly added later), and a fence crossing the path in front of the pattern.

 The traditional rim has an inner bowknot pattern with some geometrical motifs, and an outer, more extensive geometrical pattern with feathers, wheels, and flowers. The edge of the design shows a line of fish roe.



 Kaolin (named for its original source, Kao-Ling, China), the prime ingredient in hard-paste porcelain, was discovered in Limoges, France 1768. By 1820 it was the world’s center for the finest translucent porcelain, and a century later there were 48 regional factories and even more decorators producing Limoges.

 Factory marks were put under the glaze before firing (whiteware stamps were usually black or green), and decorator marks were put on after (you can feel these marks with your finger).

 Two marks usually indicate factory decoration, mostly by the transfer method, or by “mixtion,” a combination of transfer and hand painting. Factory hand painting will carry the artist’s signature prominently on the front of the piece.

 The peak of Limoges was in the Victorian era, when china painting was a popular American pastime. Most of these amateur painters were women, highly skilled but not allowed to achieve professional status. In 1916 there were 102 china decorating studios in Chicago alone, but not all of them signed their work.

 The term “Limoges” also describes an enameling technique in which successive layers of finely-ground enamel are individually fired to build an image that resembles a painting.


Victorian England 1830-1901 (U.S. 1840-1900):

 Very pretentious, luxurious, class conscious, frilly. Huge formal gardens, lavish decorations, plush furniture. Preoccupation with the occult, mystical East, Egyptology, spiritualism, and ritual formality at social gatherings, such as dinners.

 The dining room featured large furniture; often a sideboard with carvings of the food to be served.  It held large pieces of silver for the meal, as well as display items like fine silver, crystal, or china.

 The table was in the center of the room, covered by an ironed, center-creased white damask cloth that fell at both ends to within 20” of the floor; the table was surrounded by carved chairs. Overhead was an elaborate chandelier whose light shone through flattering ground-glass globes. At the center of the table was a flower arrangement. 

 A commercial dinner service made in 1835 might include four dishes, eight plates and soups, four muffins, 12 cups and saucers, two bowls, four teapots, two covered dishes, and one ewer and basin. As many as 24 or more of the larger plates were used, descending in size for dinner, supper, and “pudding “ (dessert). As many as 12 courses might be served at a main meal; a fresh napkin, silverware, and dishes were provided for each course.

 The typical dinner arrangement of 1869: Meat and carving utensils in front of the man; soup in front of the lady; vegetables closest to the elders; spoon accompanies each dish, with spares available; and two salt spoons each unless individual salts were provided to everyone. Special serving ware was provided for each type of food.


Dinner China:

 Plates: 10, 9, and 8 inches

 Platters: 10-22 inches in two-inch increments

 Poultry dishes (“well-and-tree platters”—so named for its pattern suggestion): Gravy well molded at one end with channels leading to it to drain the meat.

 Drainers (“dish strainers”): Disc-shaped china with a large center hole and drain-hole pattern used with platters to drain water from fish or serving meat.

 Tureens: Handled soup dish with lid and notch for ladle; accompanied by under-tray (“liner”). Handled dishes, or tureen stands, are sometimes misidentified as tureens. Rectangular tureens are usually older than round tureens. 

 Gravy boats: Accompanied by an affixed or separate under-dish. Two spouts and two side handles indicate a sauce server for fish.

 Vegetable dishes: Open or covered, may have inner water pan liner.

 Butter dishes: With lid; may be round, rectangular, or hexagonal. May have an internal strainer to drain water from freshly churned butter, or to hold ice chips or ice water during hot weather.

 Pickle Dishes (also called celery or relish dishes): Often leaf-shaped with dentil edges.

 Custard cups (“punch cups,” “toddy cups”): Small, open, handled, often footed cups to serve egg custard just before dessert. Also used for punch or toddy.

 Toddy plates: 5-1/4” – 5-1/2”.

 Teapots: Two sizes, one for hot water if a hot water urn is not available.

 Cups and saucers: Originally, handle-less tea bowls in the Chinese custom before 1820s. Early saucers were deep, bowl-shaped for those who wished to drink tea from them as the Chinese did.

 Cup plates: Held empty cup after tea was poured into the saucer.

 Waste bowls (“slop bowl”, “slop basin”): Held dregs from used teacups.

 Milk pitchers: Held a pint of milk (often warmed), 6-1/2”-7” high.

 Cream pitchers: Roughly 6” high.

 Water pitchers: Up to 2 quart capacity.

 Sugar bowls: Large and wide-mouthed, holding tongs, until mid-1860s to accommodate commercial sugar chunks cut from five pound, cone-shaped “loaves.”

 Bread and butter plates (“cake plates”): 8”-9”, paired, often square with embossed handles.

 Muffin plates (“pie plates”): 6”-7-1/2”.

 Honey or jam dishes: 4” by ¾” deep, these held spread for scones.

 Dessert plates: 8-1/2” – 9”.

 Tazzas (“cake stands”): Broad (larger than a dinner plate), shallow compotes to hold nuts or sweets like bonbons and candied fruits. Often had ornate handles.

 Ice pails and bowls.


The Boudoir

 The pampered ladies of the Victorian era indulged themselves in luxury as illustrated by this quote from The China Decorator (May, 1889):

   “All sorts of dainty things for the toilet table are brought out in fine china. The hairpin holder, hair receiver, pin tray, manicure set and the small tray upon which it lies, powder boxes, cold-cream casket, lotion bottles, rouge pot, comb and brush, jewel boxes, frames of the hand and triple mirrors, bonbonniere, perfume bottles, sachet holders and the cunning little barrel for small change are all of china and all match. They are usually decorated with small isolated flowers-pansies, violets or daisies-scattered carelessly over the entire surface.”

 For the common woman, things weren’t all that bad, either. A typical dresser top could hold a tray filed with items including a brush set, mirror, hair receiver, pin tray, hatpin holder, toothbrush holder, soap dish, talcum-powder jar, rouge jar, powder box, perfume flasks and bottles, trinket box, glove stretcher, button hook, nail buffer, manicure scissors, nail file, cuticle shaper, clock, picture frame, and shoe horn.

 These items were sold as sets of six to twenty-four pieces, and would be made of celluloid, hand-painted porcelain, or a variety of decorated metals including silver, silver plate, and gold plate.


Inspecting for Quality

Look for:

 Flaws in the glaze, including ripples in reflections.

 Pinholes (dimples) under a bright light.

 Spots, discoloration, or bumps that don’t wash off.

 Fine cracks where the handle joins the container; a glazed-over crack isn’t likely to worsen. Rub suspected area with a pencil to see if graphite reveals a rough, open crack.

 Symmetry: Two plates face-to-face shouldn’t gap; a plate on a flat surface shouldn’t wobble, and it should be even height all the way around (a stack of identical plates is best for this test).

 Bumps on the base which may scratch other plates in the stack, or the table surface.

 Designs in the best floral, classical, and Art Deco china which should be even and precise. Borders should be equidistant from the rim; elements evenly spaced; lines and pinstripes straight. Colors should be uniform.


Spotting new china, pottery and figurines

 New slip casting is a process by which water-thinned clay is poured into a mold and cast. Rather than high-temperature-fired vitreous china or porcelain, repros are often low-fired soft clay. Entire pieces of hollow ware with handles are quickly made rather than the earlier procedure of applying handles separately.

Slip casting produces holes where the handle meets the body, and lid knobs are hollow; originals are solid because they were applied separately as lumps of clay. Due to the thin casting, inside surfaces may show the same contours as the outer design.

 New gold trim is more mirror-like than the softer luster of old, and doesn’t show normal wear around handles, knobs, rims and lids.

 Originals were usually practical for everyday household use; does the item fit this description, or was it made to look like an “antique?”

 Check suspicious pottery for ill-fitting lids, poorly- or non-pouring spouts, awkward handles. If the china is functional (gravy boat, pitcher, etc.) the inside should also be glazed if it’s an original. 

 Painted details are a giveaway: Original faces are lifelike with expressive eyes, often turned to their left, not dead-staring ahead. Original eyes are almost always blue rather than the newer pale green. Repro hair is done with a few broad strokes of sharp yellow paint, not the older fine brush strokes which suggest single strands.

 Original marks are commonly found on modern repros; McCoy and Brush McCoy are even stamped on copies of other brands like Hull and Shawnee. At least 30 fake McCoy designs are on the current market, with most being cookie jars.  Sadly, this is not illegal; once a company is out of business and the trademark rights expire, the name can be re-used and even re-registered.

 Fakes can be detected, however. New molds made from original pieces will cast measurably-smaller copies, from a sizeable fraction of an inch up to an inch. Of course, you have to know the original height for this tip to be useful, and there were minor size variations in production of the originals.

 Color is another useful guide; many repros are using colors never issued by the original manufacturer.

 Finally, check a comprehensive reference book. If it doesn’t show the piece, there’s a good chance it’s a fake. Examples include the “McCoy” Little Red Riding Hood cookie jars (originally made by Hull) and “McCoy” wall pockets (originally made by Shawnee).

  There weren’t “loaned” or “experimental” molds or “unsold warehouse samples.”   


Fake Regimental Beer Steins

 At auctions and flea markets, beer steins abound. Fake German regimental beer steins have been produced since the 1960s and are far more prevalent than the authentic (1890-1914) which ended as Germany entered World War I.

 Originals could be made of metal, glass, porcelain or pottery, but they all had heavy, cast-pewter lids; new lids are stamped and lightweight, and have a uniform color inside and out, while originals have different inner and outer patination.

 Nearly all counterfeits are porcelain with a translucent lithophane in the base, often erotic or a nude which was never found in the originals. 

 Most new steins have a bump midway on the handle, while originals are smooth.

 New artwork often displays errors: wrong flag, mixed service branches, English spellings of German cities, decal transfers rather than hand-painted owners’ signatures, and inaccurate uniform details.  



 Wedgwood agents traded with the Cherokee Indians for kaolin clay in Clay County, North Carolina, and Tiffany jewelers mined gemstones in Macon County.

 Square china pin trays with folded corners have a secret risqué picture on the back, revealed by a pencil rubbing.

 An oval platter in the U.S. is known as a meat dish or charger in England.  An English platter is round.

  Victorian lords and ladies despised kitchen smells, so dining rooms were separated as far as possible from kitchens. On large country estates, covered bowls were required to keep food warm over the long trek.

 After the American Revolution, tea drinking was frowned upon by the American working class until well into the 19th century because it was a British custom, and tea was heavily taxed (50%) by the British. New Yorkers often substituted wine for their “tea” parties, and westerners renounced all imports, preferring to brew their own sassafras, mint, wild root, and spice wood teas.


Dating marks:

 English china after 1810 had a printed mark and the name of the pattern. A diamond-shaped registration  mark was used after 1843, and after 1884 used “Rd.” followed by the registration number. “Bone china”  and English Bone china” are 20th century marks.

 From 1891-1921, the McKinley Tariff Act required the country of origin (“Germany,” “Bavaria,”  “England,” “Nippon”) to be marked in English on all U.S. imports. After 1921, “Made in…” had to  accompany the name of the country. (So how come many imports now are unmarked or simply say  “Taiwan?”)

 In 1921, “Nippon” (Japanese word for “Japan”) was ruled a foreign word, and was replaced by “Japan.”

  “Made in U.S. Zone Germany” 1945-1949.

 “Western Zone Germany” 1945-1990

 From 1945-April 28, 1952, throughout the period of American forces occupation, Japanese imports were  marked “Occupied Japan,” “Japan,” or “Made in Japan.”

 If a zip code appears on a U.S. item, it was made after 1963.

 The Hobby Protection Act (16 CFR 304) merely requires that all reproductions of political items and coins must be marked with the year of manufacture. No other collecting category is protected because the FTC says these are already covered by existing regulations, and adequate education and warnings about reproductions already exist.

 An FTC review for 2003 is being conducted for the Act. Write comments to Neil Blickman, Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Division of Enforcement, 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or call ph (202) 326-3038. For more information and updates, view the web page



 First, determine that glazing covers hand painting, signatures, or transfers (I’ve accidentally rubbed this off—the seller wasn’t happy!). For light stains (tea, coffee, rust, fruit), wash with kitchen detergent, then brush with commercial 5.25% chlorine bleach (Clorox). More persistent stains may require soaking for several hours or overnight. Do this in a well-ventilated area.

 Chlorine-resistant stains may be removed by brushing with weak hydrofluoric acid (like “Whink”), slightly-diluted hydrochloric (muriatic) acid (second choice), or phosphoric acid (like “Heddy”). NOTE: Use muriatic acid only in a well-ventilated place, and use gloves and rinse quickly and thoroughly to avoid etching the glazing!

 China stains do not usually respond to ammonia, sulfuric (battery) acid, hydrogen peroxide, sodium hydroxide (lye), or vinegar. Deep, sub-glaze stains may not respond to any of chemical treatments.

 Paint stains may be removed with commercial paint and varnish remover, but first try softening the paint with mineral spirits and brushing or rubbing it off.



 Specialists do a good job on repairing china, often re-firing clay and glaze. This requires training and skill. Cold repairs can be done with epoxy or with Acryloid B-72. A Smithsonian restorer prefers making the B-72 himself using acetone and a small amount of fumed silica (60-65% by weight or volume).

 Another professional restorer uses two-part, quick setting epoxy, tint powders from an art store. Missing parts are filled with epoxy clay (art store or hardware), then touched up with acrylic paint.


Shipping and handling:

 When moving fragile china items, lift them by their bodies, never by handles, spouts or other extensions, and place them in a padded tray or basket. When shipping them, wrap them in acid-free paper, not newspaper, and tape them closed. Pack the box with additional padding to prevent shifting during transport.





Glass is an amorphous (non-crystalline) blend of sand, potash, and metal salts to give it body or color. It is collected by style, pattern, period, maker, country, color, use—or because the collector likes it!


Basic Types:

 Art glass: Handmade from the late 1880s through the 1950s, unique. Made by Tiffany, Steuben, Loetz, D’Argental, Durand, and others.

 Contemporary glass: A continuation of art glass from the 1970s by Chihuly, Lotton, Lundberg, and others.

 Carnival glass: Pressed with prominent patterns like grapes, usually colored glass that was re-fired with metal salts to give it iridescence (satin finish or “radium” sheen). Won at carnivals and fairs by throwing a penny into it. Vintage Carnival glass (“Poor Man’s Tiffany”) was made from 1905-1920.  In the 1960s Carnival was revived with new colors to differentiate vintage from contemporary by companies like Indiana Glass.

 Stretch glass: Made from 1916 to the early 1930s, an iridescent, plain, pressed or blown molded glass without patterns that displays “stretch marks” (crackling or cob-webbing) from uneven expansion of the dope when fired.

 Vaseline glass: Has a yellow-green glow produced by the addition of uranium oxide to the batch. The radiation will often trigger a Geiger counter and show brilliant green fluorescence under black light.

 Pressed glass: The design is squeezed into the hot, plastic blank by a die.

 Molded glass: The design is cast by pouring hot glass into a mold.

 Depression glass: Machine-molded, everyday glassware produced in copious quantities from the mid 1920s through the 1930s, and given away as  premiums with food and soaps as well as by gas stations and movie theaters. Patterns continued from 1940 through the 1960s by new companies who acquired the old molds or copied their designs.

 Kitchen glass: Depression period utility glass like bowls, towel bars, cabinet knobs, canisters, beverage glasses, and measuring cups.

 Elegant glassware: Handmade, high quality glassware produced from 1930 through the 1950s. Machine molded, but reshaped, etched, ground, and polished by hand. Sold in high-end gift shops and department stores, popular as wedding and anniversary presents.

 Crystal: Quality decorative glass from Lenox, Baccarat, Gorham, and others throughout the 20th century. Contains up to 40% lead sulfide (galena), giving it weight and hardness, allowing it ring when gently flicked with a fingernail (Don’t do this in an antique shop without asking!).

 Cut glass: Produced from the early 1800s through 1915, this heavy glass had its patterns cut by hand using grinding wheels on a lathe.

 Press-cut: The die-pressed pattern is further hand-cut.

 Early American pattern glass: Made from 1840-1915, pattern is molded, not cut, into the heavy glass.


Carnival Glass Repairs

 Because of the iridescence, chips and cracks are hard to see in Carnival glass; hold it up to a bright light to reveal the flaws, especially near the center and tips of leaves, etc. Check the smooth edges of the top or base for grinding dips. Make sure the molding seam is still present in the feet.  


Cut Glass: New or Old?

 New cut-glass patterns are often unusually sharp-edged, while older cut glass has depth, but not sharp edges because points and edges were polished to make it feel softer.

 Newer cut glass will often have unfinished polishing, especially in tight crannies, revealed as translucent, white-frosted patches.

 American brilliant cut glass patterns are precise; reproductions are sloppier. Look for lines that don’t meet symmetrically, non-uniform ribs, or starbursts that intrude into other patterns.


Milk Glass

 Highly collectible, white milk glass was originally produced in the 16th Century as a cheap substitute for porcelain. It was manufactured by adding bone ash or tin oxide to clear molten glass. But not all milk glass is white or opaque; it may be translucent glass of any color. 

 U.S. milk glass production peaked in the 1880s as ostentatious Victorians demanded more color in their glassware. Key 19th Century manufacturers included McKee, Atterbury, Challinor, and Westmoreland. Animal dishes were especially popular.

 Over the decades, milk glass manufacturers have shared molds and patterns, and have reissued earlier popular designs. There is no easy way to tell the old from the new; even the familiar Westmoreland Glass “WG” may be found on newer Summit Art Glass products since they purchased the molds after Westmoreland closed in 1985.

 Only occasionally are these familiar tips true: “Old milk glass has sharper detail,” “Newer milk glass is brighter white,” “Old milk glass has fire around the edges when held against bright light,” “New milk glass is heavier,” and “Old milk glass has a ‘foot’ (C-shaped molding mark).”

 Colored Sharon glass was made by Federal Glass from 1935-1939 and came only in amber,  bright green (Coke-bottle green is a repro) and deep, peachy pink (pale pink is a repro); any other color is a reproduction. Repro mold patterns are not sharp and seams are sloppy, with lots of bubbles in the glass which feels greasy from the silicone release compound.


Oil Lamp Chimneys

 The top and bottom rims of vintage oil-lamp chimneys were fire-polished smooth; reproductions are almost always ground.

 Old top and bottom rims are the same thickness; modern chimneys are frequently of different thickness (by as much as ¼”!).

 Modern, wooden, pattern molds are often whittled, leaving a whittled texture in the glass; originals are smooth.



 Although glass bottles have been around for 3000 years, the first American bottle making was in Virginia’s Jamestown Glassworks in 1609. The first successful manufacturing was in 1739 in New Jersey by a German immigrant, Caspar Wistar. It was followed in 1763 by Henry Stiegel in Manheim, PA.

 Between 1840-1900 western settlement and gold strikes contributed to the high demand for glass bottles to be used for beer and whiskey, medicine, and food.

 Bottles were all free-blown with a blowpipe until 1860, or molded until 1900 when Michael J. Owens invented the fully-automatic bottle-making machine, accommodating the screw top.


Salt and Pepper Shakers, or Hatpin Holders? Hatpin holders were manufactured from 1860-1920 and normally have flat tops and bottoms, with a small or no hole in the bottom. Salt and pepper shakers generally have domed tops and concave bottoms with and a large filler hole and stopper.



 The shapely, 6-1/2 ounce Coca Cola bottle was designed in 1915 to resemble a cocoa bean pod so that consumers would instantly identify the product they were holding.

 In 1915 Corning trademarked Pyrex. To compete, from 1940-1976 Anchor Hocking made “Fire King” which, in Latin, is “pyre rex!”



 The approximate age of a bottle can be determined by its mold seam, color, and pontil scar (“punty”).

  In pre-1900 bottles, the lip was applied last; thus, the mold seam will run up to the lip. In 20th century machine-made bottles that are made in one piece, the seam runs over the lip.

 The higher the mold seam runs on a bottle, the newer it is. Before 1860, the seam ended low on the neck or at the shoulder; from 1860-1880 the seam ended about ¼” from the top of the bottle; after 1900 the seam went clear to the top.

 After 1880, food packers wanted clear glass so that housewives to see the contents of their bottles, but prior to that, color wasn’t important. Glassmakers used iron slag to produce dark olive green or amber, now called “black glass.” Clear or transparent coloring was produced by adding metallic oxides to the glass batch: cobalt (blue), sulfur (yellow and green), manganese and nickel (purple), nickel (brown), copper or gold (red), tin or zinc (milk glass).

 The presence of a pontil scar on the bottom of a bottle usually indicates a manufacture between 1618-1866 (or a modern reproduction).

 Dating by labels: 18th century labeling of pharmacists’ bottles was in Latin on the glass itself. In the early 19th century, glued-on paper labels were used. By 1858, the paper labels were covered by a curved glass glued to the bottles. Some labeling was printed on the paper; some were reverse-painted on the curved glass. In 1862, a glass label was set into a recessed part of the bottle to make the surface even. Between 1860-1900 embossed lettering was developed.



 Although commonly called “apothecary” or “drug-store” jars, these containers were not made for pharmaceuticals, but to display other bulk salts, powders and liquids. They were listed in the period trade catalogs as “shop furniture” or “shelf bottles.”

 These large jars made from the mid-19th Century into the 1920s are now being mass produced in India. So how can you tell the old from the new?

 (1) Originals were molded with the tops and bottoms separately; the two seams won’t align properly between the body and the base. Repros reveal a continuous seam down, across the base and back up the body.

  (2) Originals fluoresce yellow-green under longwave black light; the older the jar, the stronger the fluorescence.

 (3) Older jars are much thicker, usually about ½ inch at the rim; new jars are about 1/8 inch thick at the rim.

 (4) Old jar bottoms are not ground smooth for leveling the bottoms; many new jar bases are deliberately ground, revealing about a ¼ inch band to level them.

 (5) Old patterns are sharp and deep in relief; new jars are faint, shallow and flatted.



 The “Gone with the Wind” lamp is an anachronism; Margaret Mitchell’s novel was placed in the Civil War period (1861-1865), but the parlor lamp wasn’t invented until the 1870s. Millions were produced through the turn of the century.


Electrical Insulators

 Created for early telegraph lines, plate-glass panes, spherical spools, and glass blocks set in wood were first used; pin-type insulators replaced them by the Civil War. These were stuck on iron or wood pegs with sulfur, cement, or other adhesive. By 1865, the holes were reverse-threaded, allowing a threaded insulator to be screwed tightly onto the peg. By the early 20th century, porcelain began to replace glass insulators, and by 1969 glass insulators ceased manufacture.




Precious Stones or Fakes? The “4Cs” of gemstone valuation are color, clarity, cut, and carat. A carat is 1/5 of a gram (200 mg). Synthetic stones are identical in composition to natural stones, but they are made in a laboratory. Fake stones are “artificial,” “simulated,” or “imitations,” made from plastic (resin), glass (“Rhinestone”), or altered stones.


A Girl’s Best Friend All natural diamonds are 1-3 billion years old, formed 100 miles beneath the earth’s crust by intense heat and pressure, and brought to the surface at supersonic speeds in volcanic lava. They are found (but not formed) in kimberlite, the cooled lava that transports them. Diamond, the hardest mineral, and graphite, the softest mineral, are both made of pure carbon; the difference is the crystal alignment.

Diamond simulations like YAG (yttrium aluminum garnet), GGG (gadolinium gallium garnet), strontium titanate, and synthetic rutile are rapidly declining in use, replaced by superior CZ (cubic zirconia) and moissanite (silicon carbide; “carborundum”).

 Diamonds and moissanite test alike on a heat-conductivity diamond tester, but a combination diamond/moissanite tester can distinguish between them. Diamond facet edges are sharp, and their facet corners meet at points, not ridges. Their flaws are natural-looking fractures and grain lines. Diamonds exhibit singular refraction. A diamond is likely to be set in assay-marked white gold, yellow gold, or platinum, not silver or an unmarked metal.


 Amber and copal are ancient resins; amber is fossilized at 20-60 million years old, while copal is softer at hundreds to thousands of years old. Amber fluoresces white under LW UV, while copal fluoresces blue or yellow. Alcohol and ether soften copal, making it sticky within 10 seconds, but not amber remains unchanged. Insects in amber are extinct, but in copal are current.

 Cameos are most commonly made of shell, but may be sculpted stone like onyx. Obsidian, plastic, gemstones and glass have been used as well. The upper layer is the relief (carving), set against the lower base. Although a woman’s profile is the most common subject, men, groups, scenery, animals, and flowers are also found.

Examine them under magnification for too-distinct layering; feel for a separation with a blade. Natural stones like onyx have abrupt, but smooth color transition.

 Victorian brooches had simple C clasps and the pins extended beyond the rim of the brooch. The subject’s hairstyle was usually Greco-Roman, while 20th Century styles are typically bobbed. The Victorians liked the classical long, straight nose, but more modern examples are shorter and upturned.

 Value is determined by skilled carving, size, subject, detail and, of course, condition.

 Jade is a generalized term used for two stones, jadeite (the more valuable; has a crystalline composition and a mirror-like sheen) and nephrite (only one-sixth the value; amorphous composition with a satin finish). Jade doesn’t scratch easily, while imitation soapstone does. Natural lavender jade fluoresces brownish red; dyed lavender fluoresces to strong orange; green jadeite fluoresces very weak whitish.

 Opal may be only a thin top stone fused to low quality, lower stones into a thick sandwich (doublet or triplet) which can be seen under magnification. White opal exhibits blue, brown or green fluorescence; fire opal fluoresces green to brown. Black opal usually has no fluorescence. Sugar-treated black opal has no fluorescence, and may exhibit fine pinpoints on the polished surface under magnification. Opals are often phosphorescent after exposure to light.

 Pearls (natural white) fluoresce light red (LW); cultured white fluoresce strong bluish-white if new, becoming tannish with age; natural black fluoresce red or brownish; natural black-dyed show no fluorescence; cultured black show no fluorescence; cultured black-dyed show greenish fluorescence; freshwater pearls fluoresce strong, pale green.

 Rhinestones are usually glass and easy to spot with their large size compared to the low-quality setting. Like spinel, widely used to imitate blue sapphire and aquamarine, they have spherical gas bubbles.

 Rubies may be lab-grown corundum, inexpensive and used abundantly in birthstones, class rings, etc. and disclosed by curved growth striations and spherical bubbles. Rubies fluoresce red, with the synthetic much stronger than the natural. Dark Thai rubies may not show very weak or no fluorescence.

 Sapphire (blue, white) has no fluorescence, but the lighter “Ceylon” blue found in old jewelry fluoresces red to yellow-orange; Ceylon yellow fluoresces orange; pink sapphire fluoresces strong orange-red; synthetic orange fluoresces red; colorless fluoresces orange-yellow.

 Spinel: Natural and synthetic red fluoresce strong red; blue fluoresces weak red or green; mauve fluoresces yellow-green; green fluoresces weak red. Synthetic spinel has gas bubbles.

 Topaz (blue) fluoresces pale green; (red) weak brown-yellow; (pink) light orange-red or whitish-green; (yellow) weak orange-yellow or orange.

 Turquoise weak greenish-yellow or light blue.

 Yttrium Aluminum Garnet (YAG) has no fluorescence.

 Zircon (blue) fluoresces light blue; (red, brown) weak dark yellow.




  Natural and cultured pearls are formed when a saltwater or freshwater oyster, clam or mussel is irritated by a small particle like a grain of sand or shell fragment; it secrets a covering of nacre to cover the object. The layers build with time to form the pearl. Most pearls are irregularly-shaped. Fakes may be plastic, shell, or even painted glass.


 Value considerations:

 Luster: The reflection of ambient lighting commands attention.

 Smoothness: A surface free of blemishes is most desirable.

 Color: A white pearl with a rosé overtone is the most valuable; however, a woman often chooses a color that complements her skin tone and hair and eye color.

 Shape: Roundness is the key here.

 Size: Large, perfect pearls are a premium.


 Tests for Real Pearl:

 (1) Examine under a magnifying glass. Real pearls are solid, not hollow. A hot pin will not mar them, but will melt or char plastic. Outside color will not run into the drilled hole (often seen on a painted fake). Hydrochloric acid will cause them to effervesce (This is destructive! With owner’s consent, do quickly, then rinse). A real pearl feels cool around the neck. When bitten, real pearls feel gritty, while fakes are smooth and glide across your teeth.




 The tusks of elephants, mammoths, boars, warthogs, and walruses, seals, and teeth of whales and hippopotamuses are all chemically similar, although varying in hardness and enamel. Ivory takes on a natural yellowing patina with age, and this is desirable. It should only be cleaned with warm water and mild detergent or soap, using a soft-bristled brush. Artificial aging can be done quickly in a tea bath.

 There are many natural ivory imitations on the market including bone, antler, vegetable and hornbill ivory, shell, coral, meerschaum, ivoryite, chalcedony and amber. Bone carvings can be deceptively well done, and carved cow bones glued to wood bases are plentiful. Ivorine is a mix of ivory shavings and a polymer, while celluloid and plain polymers are used as well.

 Identifying the Tusk under Magnification:

 Elephant: Longitudinal, straight grain pattern with hazy, parallel, alternating, light and dark serrated bands. Cross-hatching revealed on polished, rounded cross-section.

 Mammoth: Same as elephant, except cross-hatching is finer and closer together, making long, narrow angles.

 Walrus: Polished cross-section reveals a center with marbled or crystalline appearance (secondary dentine fills the cavity).

 Hippopotamus: Three differently-shaped teeth:

  Lower canine: Prominently curved with triangular cross-section.

  Upper canine: Prominently curved with oval cross-section, deeply indented on one side.

  Incisor: Straight and sub-circular.

   A polished cross-section shows fine growth rings following the tooth’s shape.

 Sperm whale: Cone shaped, usually somewhat worn at the tip, revealing inner ivory.

 Warthog: Strongly curved, rounded-rectangular cross-section, indented on three sides.

 Boar: Strongly curved (often nearly circular), triangular cross-section.


  Tests for Ivory and its Imitations:

 (1) Hold it to your cheek or upper lip; ivory feels cooler than bone or plastic.

 (2) Under magnification, ivory will reveal a grain pattern or even growth rings like a tree; synthetics are uniform coloring, and bone.

 (3) A pin will scratch ivory, which has a hardness of 2.5 on the Mohs scale.

 (4) Stick a red-hot pin into a hidden spot; ivory (and bone) will leave a black char mark, but the pin will not melt and penetrate it as it will plastic. Be careful with this test on celluloid imitation ivory--it is highly flammable!

 (5) Black light will cause ivory to strongly fluoresce (depending upon the amount of patina) bluish white, while plastics and other imitations usually appear dull yellow or light purple (mauve).

 (6) Place it in hot water; plastic and celluloid will soften and have a resinous odor.

 (7) Ivory scrimshaw feels coarse, not polished, and under magnification reveals file marks and many fine scratches. Most authentic scrimshaw is rather crudely executed.

 (8) Scrimshaw artists rarely signed or dated their work; if “New Bedford, Mass” and similar identifications are in the carving, watch out!

 (9) Natural aging on the inside of a tooth should appear spotty or dirty; uniform darkening suggests artificial aging.

 (10) Ink and paints in engraved lines should appear dried out (“crackly”) under magnification, and dust and dirt should be evident.

 (11) Because of the softness of fresh ivory, recently-incised lines will often show fractures where they cross.  

 (12) Bone is lighter and thinner than ivory, and will be long and flat, revealing canal pores in cross-section, as well as a hollow interior. Darkish lines along the length appear as an irregular dot-and-dash pattern.

 (13) Antler is knobby, ridged and furrowed on its main beam, sub-circular or ovoid in cross-section, solid interior. No longitudinal grain pattern, but may appear mottled. Irregular holes in cross-section.

 (14) Ivory nut (tagua) is rounded or triangular in shape, small to egg size. Pieces may be glued or screwed together.

 (15) Ivory has an “inner glow) luster lacking in resins; better-looking resins have a slick, oily feel.

 (16) Plastics are unable to duplicate the natural grain patterns in ivory.




 The value of most silver is greatly exaggerated; while silver is considered a precious metal, it is widely available. Antique silver is more desirable than modern silver, and sterling more than plate. Most 20th Century silver and silver plate flatware is valued at a few dollars per piece.  

 Silver plate: Electroplating, marked “Electroplate,” “EP,” or “EPC,” has been around for nearly two centuries. As the name implies, a thin layer of pure silver is deposited in an electrically-charged bath on a base metal like copper, brass, Britannia, spelter (white metal) or nickel silver.

 Sterling: Solid silver of high purity (.975 fine, or .925 British). British marked after 1860.

 Coin silver: Early silverware was often made from re-cast silver coins.



 Applied: Figures are soldered on the surface of the work.

 Cut: The design is ground into the surface of the piece with a wheel.

 Engraved: The design is tooled away.

 Embossed: The design is hammered into the back to lift relief on the front.


Dress clip, shoe clip or fur clip?

 Confusion reigns in the proper identification of these three popular jeweled clips. A fur clip has to penetrate both the lining and the fur, so it normally has two prongs and may even have a safety catch. Dress clips have a flat, hinged flap, usually with small teeth along the edges. Shoe clips have short fasteners, occasionally with one or two teeth.  


Dating Jewelry

 Victorian jewelry (approx. 1840-1900) featured revivalist elements of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Celtic and Renaissance styles. Some naturalism was featured as well.

Precious and semi-precious stones (especially garnets, amethysts and cameos) were set in gold and enamel lockets, brooches, pendant watches, mourning jewelry and bangle bracelets. Serpents, bowknots and fleur de lis patterns were popular with women.

 The art nouveau period (1890-1910) emphasizes artistry in silver and brass rather than precious gems, although semi-precious stones like garnets and pearls were used, with outstanding enamel work evolving. Designs featured sinuous, flowing lines and life forms of floral and naturalistic motifs, with understated colors.






 The Kentucky rifle, a flintlock named for its use in the western frontier of the Kentucky Territory, was principally developed in Pennsylvania by German settlers. They were typically .30-.36 caliber. Most large animals east of the Mississippi had already been killed off, and small calibers were preferred due to the scarcity of powder and lead.

 The length of the barrel is dictated by the slow burning rate of black powder; for calibers under .45, 44 inches was the magic length. Little additional velocity is achieved with longer barrels, although some 60 inches or more were produced. 

 Most American antique guns were made in Connecticut, primarily New Haven. Colt and Winchester are representative. The American Revolution (1775-1783) was the catalyst. Before that, troops relied on the British “Brown Bess” and French muskets. After that, there were hundreds of New England gun makers. 

 Congress designated the first armories in 1794: Springfield, MA and Harpers Ferry, VA (not yet WV). Production began in 1795 of an exact copy of the 1763 French Charleville musket, with 800,000 made by 1844. In 1798 contracts were also let to 27 private gun makers. These early weapons were all flintlocks.

 Although Eli Whitney is credited with the invention of the cotton gin in 1794, he was America’s leading gun maker. His cotton gin was widely copied without compensation, and he was out of business by 1797.

 Converting his factory to guns, he received a government contract for 10,000 guns in 1798. Later production included long guns, revolvers, and pistols, many of which were used in the Civil War. Still, he couldn’t compete with Winchester who bought him out in 1888 and closed him down.

 All of these early weapons were flintlocks, many of which were converted later to percussion (cap and ball).

 More commonly encountered are Whitney-Kennedy lever-action rifles, resembling a Winchester; 15,000 were made from 1879-1896.

 Samuel Colt patented his revolving-breech pistol at age 21 in 1814, spawning variations like the Paterson revolver and ring lever rifle, made in Paterson, NJ from 1837-1842, but he went bankrupt.

 Returning to Hartford, he started over in 1847 with the introduction of the Colt Walker revolver, his larger handgun. It was suggested by a former Texas Ranger, Samuel Walker, who recommended the .44 caliber gun for Army during the Mexican War. Of the original 1,100 made (in Eli Whitney’s factory), only about 100 survive.

 Although Samuel Colt died in 1862, his company made hundreds of thousands of rifles and pistols for the Civil War. In 1873 they made the single-action Army revolver, the first weapon to employ a metal cartridge, variously called the Colt .45, the Peacemaker, and the Frontier Six-Shooter.

 Some models have extremely long runs: The Colt’s model 1873 first generation was made from 1873-1940; the second generation from 1956-1978; and the third is still being made!

 Oliver Winchester founded the New Haven Arms Co. in 1857; their first .44 caliber rifle was called the “Henry.” 14,000 were made from 1860-1866, including 1,700 for the Union Army. Winchester died in 1880. In 1931 the company was acquired by Western Cartridge Co., a division of Olin in Illinois.

 Christian Sharps produced rifles from 1849-1878; it was his 1853 that John Brown’s men carried when they attacked the Harpers Ferry armory in 1859. 115,000 models 1859 and 1863 were made for Union soldiers. Later, Sharps made 6,000 model 1874 large caliber rifles for the western frontier buffalo hunting period 1871-1884.

 Christopher Spencer produced a repeating rifle in Boston between 1863-1868; Winchester bought and closed his plant.  



 Rifle: A long gun with a spiral-grooved bore

 Shotgun: A smooth-bore long gun

 Pistol: handgun with an integral chamber and barrel

 Revolver: A repeating handgun with a revolving, multi-chamber barrel

 Caliber: Diameter of the bore of a gun in decimal inches

 Carbine: A lightweight, short-barreled Cavalry rifle



 Original flintlock musket, $6,000-$20,000; conversion, $500-$1,000; Whitney-Kennedy rifle, $800-$2,000; Colt Walker, $100,000+, Colt 1851 Navy revolver (1850-1873) $700-$15,000 (a military inspector’s mark adds $1,000); Winchester Henry rifle (1860-1866) $15,000-$25,000; Winchester 1873 (“The gun that won the West”) $900-$1,500; various Springfield “trapdoor” rifles/carbines (1866-1888) $300-$600; Sharps Civil War carbines $1,000-$2,500; Sharps 1874 buffalo gun $4,000-$7,000; Sharps “pepperbox” pistol $300-$600; Spencer carbine $1,200-$2,000.




 The earliest engraved American powder horn is inscribed “Daniel Tuttle, 1727.” 17th century pilgrim horns exist, but they are plain and simple. Most classic examples are typically 13”-17” long.

 The oldest horns are larger—up to two feet long--because of longer hunting expeditions, or to feed cannons or the 7-foot “punt guns” (shotguns) used by commercial hunters in the late 19th century.

The large end of the horn is sealed by a non-removable butt plug; powder was put into and poured from the small end, which is stoppered by a hand-made peg. Either plug may be lost in time.

 Most prized are horns with incised maps, often showing historic towns or forts; some were actually used for directions, others carved for memories well after their military service.

 Less abundant are flattened horns, boiled soft and squeezed for easy carrying in a pocket or sack; some may have been softened for easier carving. Yet others were stained green with copper sulfate (blue stone) solution to repel moth larva destruction, often visible as tiny “worm” holes.

 Powder horn use diminished by the 1830s with the advent of brass powder flasks and leather pouches.



 The Civil War was from 1861-1891; beware of any “Made in (country)” marking which began in the 1900s.

 Saddles: An authentic Union McClellan saddle is covered in rawhide, not tanned leather. It has leather skirts, but no “US” as was embossed on western cavalry saddles after the Civil War.

 Canteens: Union canteens were wool covered, usually butternut colored (blue is scarce). Three sling loops are present and stitching shows on the exterior at the top, and on the interior at the bottom.

 Confederate canteens are wood and may bring as much as $8000, but may be confused with War of 1812 canteens worth $800. There is no display of “CS” (except for those in the Smithsonian).

Spurs: Repros are bulkier than originals, often displaying eagles’ heads. Make sure the pair matches.

Field glasses: There is no nose cutout and the bridge is symmetrical on Civil War field glasses. Unscrewing the front lens reveals a number, the last two digits being the year of manufacture.



 Old horns are lightweight, translucent to reveal their contents, and have a golden-brown patina, although chemical baths can be used to simulate this age. Bright surfaces indicate recent manufacture or unfortunate cleaning. There should be no applied finish.

  Old engravings start deep at the beginning of the line, but reduced pressure makes the rest of the line of uniform depth. Lines made with a knife don’t end abruptly, but extend slightly at the end of the line, while modern dentists’ drills make sharply defined lines.

 Images were originally brought out with suet or ink; repros use India ink or shoe polish. The architecture on a dated piece must be correct for the time period.

 The butt plug will be hand carved and secured by nails, wooden pegs, or staples. Hand-made plugs are often pine; shop-made are often walnut or fruitwood. An aged plug is often loose from shrinkage.



 Arrowheads abound, and values vary considerably. The most common points are valued in the $2-$10 range, with better specimens commanding several times that amount. Value drivers include condition, shape, size, material, scarcity, age, and authenticity.


 Reproductions: Flea markets offer a profusion of modern flint fakes, many well executed. Modern shops determine the natural cleavage (“grain”) of the flint, saw it into thin slabs along that plane, then pressure-flake the piece with a drill press. Beware of all flint thunderbirds, fishhooks, and animal effigies (turtles, buffaloes, lizards, etc.). Stone carvings are popular forgeries as well.

 Beware of any flints that are unusually thin and flat (authentic points have continuously rounded surfaces), extremely sharp (weathering takes its toll), perfect in execution (or amateurishly crude), new surface (aged points are patinated), over 6” long, suspiciously low priced, or exhibit saw or grinder marks.  

 Some enterprising shops reshape authentic, broken points; look for differences in patination on reworked surfaces or points.





 Handles of kitchenware often match kitchen coloring schemes: 1930s kitchens were green and beige, or red and cream; 1950s were gray and pink, yellow, or turquoise; 1960s were avocado and gold; 1970s earth tones--beige and brown with copper- or coffee-colored appliances. Late 1970s introduced chrome, glass and high tech.; 1980s appliances were silver or almond, while the 1990s went to black, brushed chrome, and wood. The country look has always been faded red, white, or blue and distressed wood.



 Original Griswold is black with decades of use, smooth textured, long handled, sharply lettered. After Griswold closed, Wagner bought their molds.

Griswold is widely imitated; fakes include:

 (1) Toy ham broilers, alarm clocks, matchbox holders, toy heart-and-star muffin pans, square-egg skillet ashtrays, “00” skillets with a logo on the cooking surface;

 (2) Hanging holes that are partially filled (finned);

 (3) Corn and wheat stick pans with crude kernels in the pattern;

 (4) Santa cake pan with no tongue, poor eye detail, crude and uneven lettering;

 (5) Rabbit mold with uneven Griswold lettering and no serifs;

 (6) Artificially rust-colored orange;

 (7) Coarse, grainy finish with gray/silver color;

 (8) “0” waffle iron;

 (9) Waffle irons with stubby “cigar butt” handles.



 To test a piece of graniteware to see if it has been fraudulently epoxy-dipped, place acetone on its surface with a cotton ball or swab; after a few minutes, attempt to scrape it with a sharp edge. If it softens, it has been re-dipped; original enamel graniteware will not be affected. Denatured alcohol or lacquer thinner can be used for the test as well, but the reaction takes much longer.





Coffee percolator (1908); toaster and toaster stove (1910); frying pan (1911); table stove and broiler (1916); waffle iron (1918); automatic toaster (1924); mixer (1927); juicer (late 1920s); blender (1935); home coffee grinder (1937); heating tray (1948); can opener (1956).



Vacuum-tube radios (pre-1950) are in far greater demand than transistor radios (although the original Regency 1954 TR-1, as well as 1957-era Japanese pocket radios like Hitachi command prices in the hundreds of dollars).

 Table models are generally more saleable than consoles. Average prices for common, working, plastic-cabinet radios are $35-$50, with wood-cabinet models cases-$50-$85. Cathedrals, tombstones, and ornate consoles bring $100-$200. Non-working, rough, incomplete, or battery-operated farm radios bring much less ($25).

 Among post-WWII sets, look for those with the little Civil Defense “CONELRAD” triangles at 640 and 1240 on the dial, and those with colored, rather than black or white cases. .

 Tube testers are available at hamfests and antique radio swap meets for $25 and up. Nearly all old radios need to have their filter, coupling, and bypass capacitors (condensers) changed. Old rubber- or fabric-covered line cords frequently need replacing.

 If operable, listen for loud hum, noisy (“scratchy”) controls, broken dial cords that won’t move the pointer or dial, bad speakers.

 Wind-up console phonographs are very popular and sell typically for $200-$400 at auction. Even non-working, they are easily repaired and saleable. Check for broken main springs, missing cranks, ruptured transducer diaphragms, broken tone arms.

 Tubes and parts, as well as repair and restoration services, are readily available from advertisers in Antique Radio Classified and on the Internet.



 As a general rule, all phonograph records are worthless; they were made by the trillions (literally!), and only a few titles command high value. 78 RPM platters have little interest, even Edison recordings. Forget 8 tracks, cassettes, and videos.

 33-1/3 RPM LPs and 45 RPM records (1948, 1949 to present) have modest value if they are in pristine condition with their original dust jackets, and feature perennial favorites like Elvis, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys. Early pressings of later-famous performers are especially desirable, as are 45 RPM extended-play, early-1950s rhythm ‘n’ blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and colored-plastic pressings.

 Low values include jazz, country and western, classical, gospel, big band, children’s, and adult contemporary.



 Crank-handled wall phones and candlestick phones are certainly the most desirable, but even more recent dial phones are increasing in value. The familiar black bakelite phone followed the candlestick of the 1920s and was introduced as the Western Electric102 in 1927; it had the raised cradle and round base, and now sells for as much as $300. It was replaced in the 1930s by the oval-base model 202 (now typically $200) which utilized a separate ringer. The square-base 302, introduced in 1937, had the ringer in the base. The original model was made of metal until World War II and sells for around $150; it was replaced by a plastic version ($100) which was produced into the 1950s. The colorful, compact Princess phone was introduced in 1959, and the Trimline phone, with its dial in the handset, in 1965. Such originals sell in the $100-$150 range.



 Electro-therapeutic quackery abounds from the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries. Most common are either “Faradic Batteries” (wooden boxes with battery-operated, high-voltage coils) or “Violet Ray” devices (hand-held wands with plug-in glass electrodes). In good condition with all accessories, a Faradic battery typically sells for $50, while a violet ray device goes for $100, with more elaborate mechanisms bringing more money.



Clocks: Use a magnet to detect iron or steel in clockworks (but do this delicately and quickly, without rubbing the parts which could magnetize the works). Mechanisms made of iron were produced from 1880-1895, replaced by bronze from 1895-1905, after which castings of mechanical parts continued through 1919, with stamped steel parts (even if they are surrounded by castings) after 1920.

 Electric Appliances:  Nickel plating on appliances is found from about 1897-1922, when chrome plating began. Crackle finishes started in the late 1920s, continuing into the mid-1930s. Smooth, non-chip paint is post WWII, typically after 1950. Formica cabinets started in 1960.

 Electrical ratings were 110 volts through the 1940s and raised to 120 volts in the 1950s.

 The first consumer-style line cords (“lamp cords”) (1900-1926) were twisted pair, cotton insulated (typically green or tan), terminating in a screw-in fixture for light-bulb sockets (porcelain, 1905; bakelite, 1915; and a bakelite housing with porcelain tip insulator, 1920). Round, brown or black bakelite, twin-blade plugs and wall receptacles were introduced in the late 1920s. The familiar screw-in, light-socket adaptor for bladed plugs was introduced in 1927. By the 1930s the twisted pair was covered by a woven, colored fabric, and plugs were flattening. In the 1940s, both round and flat, thick rubber cords replaced the twisted pair, and the plugs were oval rubber or flat, brown or black Bakelite. By the 1950s, thinner, flat “zip” cords with molded flat plugs (white and brown nylon) were introduced and remain through the present. 

 Three-prong plugs, polarized plugs (one wide prong), and 120 volt ratings are no earlier than the 1950s.



 Celluloid: This first plastic, introduced in 1869, combined nitrocellulose (smokeless gunpowder) with camphor, and could be molded and colored to imitate a wide variety of natural substances like tortoiseshell, jet, coral, ivory and amber. By the turn of the 20th century, it was universally used for men’s cuffs and collars, dresser sets and combs, jewelry, decorative boxes and toys, as well as motion picture film. Its tendency to burst into flame when heated often had tragic consequences for smokers and movie fans. Its replacement by non-combustible cellulose acetate began in 1927. Carefully touching it with a hot pin will melt it, and rubbing it briskly with the thumb, or heating it with water, will cause it to emit a mentholated camphor aroma.

 Casein: First appeared in Germany in 1899, sliced from tubes, rods, shaped blocks, and thick sheets of this extruded plastic, and impressed with decoration before hardening. Used in the U.S. for buttons, beads, buckles, jewelry components, ink pen barrels, fan sticks, and knitting needles. Absorbed moisture, resulting in crazing and fading. Extremely hard; exhibits shiny, waxy appearance when polished.

 Bakelite: Developed in Yonkers, NY in 1909 by Leo Baekeland. A combination of formaldehyde and phenol (carbolic acid), press-molded with asbestos or clay to produce brown, black, maroon, dark green, and butterscotch electrical and mechanical parts as well as radio and clock cases. A hot needle won’t melt Bakelite, but rubbing it briskly with the thumb or heating it in water will cause it to emit an acrid, “hot electrical” odor.

 Beetle: This thiourea formaldehyde product developed in 1924 could make pure white and rainbow-colored picnic sets, cups and bowls, and even cases for clocks and radios, but its tendency to absorb moisture made it chip and crack.

 Catalin: A purified phenolic resin developed in 1927 that was cast, sliced, carved and polished into an unlimited range of colors primarily for radio cases, but also used for umbrella handles, buttons, jewelry, game pieces and trinket boxes. A hot needle won’t melt Catalin, but rubbing it briskly with the thumb or heating it in water will cause it to emit an acrid, “hot electrical” odor.

 Acrylic: (Plexiglas or Lucite) was developed in 1931 in Germany; resists shattering and is crystal clear. Replaced celluloid for use in jewelry, purses, dresser sets, compacts, and kitchen items.

 Poly: By World War II, rayon, nylon, polyester, vinyl and polyethylene had overtaken the resin market. From the 1950s-70s, Melmac kitchenware, polyethylene Tupperware, vinyl Barbies and GI Joes, polystyrene Plasticville railroad towns as well as dollhouse furniture and other toys sets were endemic.






 1943 pennies: In 1943 the U.S. Mint changed the alloy from 95% copper to zinc-plated steel. More than one billion of the steel cents were struck, but a small number of copper cents were accidentally struck as well; only 40 of these are documented in private collections, and they are worth tens of thousands of dollars each. The steel cents, now well circulated, are worth less than a dollar.

 Lesser known is that the following year, a similar mistake was made when the Mint went back to copper; an unknown run of steel cents was struck.

 Identification: By now the steel cents are dark gray, gray-black, or even rusty, but they will all cling to a magnet. The copper coins will be characteristically brown like any other penny, and are non-magnetic. A legitimate copper penny weighs 3.11 grams.

 Copper plating of steel cents to imitate the solid copper was common; there are thousands of these in collections.

 Similarly, altering the date of a 1948 penny may be revealed under a magnifying glass. If the “3” is actually a ground-down “8,” scratch marks will be apparent, and the 3 will be the same height as the “1” and “4” (on a legitimate 1943 copper cent, the bases of the “3” and “9”extend below the bases of the “1” and “4”).

 Handling coins: As with most collectibles, condition is the prime consideration for value. Touching a coin with sweaty hands can indelibly mar its surface. Coins should be examined over a felt or other soft cloth (not wool which contains sulfur), and lifted by its edges, not its surfaces. Be sure your hands are freshly washed and dry; better, wear clean cotton, vinyl, or unpowdered latex gloves.

 In general: 1964 was the last year that the U.S. Mint struck silver coins. Except for silver, mint errors, and 1943 copper or 1944 steel, circulated coins made after 1940 are pocket change. The older the coin, the more valuable, as there were fewer made because the population was smaller, and there has been more time to lose them or wear them out.


Reproductions and fakes

 Modern replicas of early, valuable coins are very common. Some are obvious: Look for uneven detail, crudeness from molding rather than striking; ground off or altered dates; dates inconsistent with original production dates; silver- or gold-plated plated base metal coins.




 “Covers” refer to mail-circulated envelopes, many of which are imprinted with quotes or images. Common covers may bring $2-$8 while historic patriotic themes command up to $250.  Web site:





 The vast majority of old books have only nominal value. Very few books are worth thousands of dollars; even an autographed copy from a well-known author may be bring only a few hundred dollars. 19th and 20th Century Bibles are so common that they have little value with the exception of family Bibles with genealogies.

The worth of a book is determined by condition, binding style and design, illustrations, subject matter, age, scarcity, demand, first edition, well-known author’s autograph (especially if deceased), and dust jacket.

 Books of historical significance, especially if written then and there, are valuable (Civil War accounts, Alaska gold rush, wild west, automobile and airplanes 1900-1910, space travel 1950s-1960s).


Condition (All defects should be noted):

 As New (“Mint”) implies the same immaculate condition as when published, including dust jacket. No tears, markings, creases, or other damage.

 Fine approaches the as-new status, but not quite as crisp.

 Very Good  shows some signs of wear, but no tears.

 Good  is the average used and worn book, but all text pages and illustrations are present.

 Fair indicates that all pages and illustrations are present, but wear is more extensive than average.

 Poor (“Reading copy”) implies a complete, legible text, but loose binding, missing plates, staining, or other defects are present.

 Binding Copy has perfect pages, but loose binding.

 Always note a former library copy (“Ex-Library”) or book club edition.


 Magazines have very little value because of their enormous print runs, but value is also driven by the same factors as books.



Internet Web Sites:




Note: Always carry framed artworks in a vertical position and by the frame; avoid touching the front or back surface of the art.



 Modern Giclee printing uses a high-resolution computer scanner to copy the original work, and then prints it on canvas where it is subsequently lacquered to emulate an original painting. There is, however, a flatness to the texture revealed by viewing the surface obliquely for glare. On an original, the canvas pattern should be covered unevenly with paint strokes, while a Giclee surface is smooth; this can be felt lightly with the fingertips. Even if the canvas or cardboard is artificially textured, the texture doesn’t match the brush strokes. Under magnification, sometimes the lines of the printer can be seen. Finally, since a Giclee is a print, the frame can be dismounted and the edge of the work revealed; Giclee will have a sharply-defined border, whereas an original will show an uneven border of brush strokes.


 The backs of old framed paintings are usually covered with Kraft paper. Oils will be on canvas, and the texture of brush strokes is apparent, especially under magnification.



 Original metal sculptures are likely to be bronze, while reproductions are typically bronze-painted spelter (“pot metal”). A slight pin scratch in an inconspicuous spot will reveal the base metal.



 Lithographs were made by etching a limestone block, then inking and printing it. Separate colors were done in layers, so soaked-through bleeding (“silhouettes”) are common, as are faint rectangular indentations framing the subject from the pressure of the plate on the paper.

 Laser and ink-jet printing consists of fuzzy, randomly-colored dots; printing presses deliver half tones which are repeated patterns of equal-sized dots of red, yellow, blue and black. Magnify the image of any print to detect the familiar half-tone dots of modern printing, especially in colored areas which should be solid in originals.

 More difficult to recognize is the collotype reproduction of a print (1880-1989). A magnification of at least 10x is required to show the characteristic “squiggly tadpole” pattern in the gray areas.

 Pencil signatures are good indicators of an original work (assuming it’s not a fake), but many Currier and Ives, A.B Frost, and Winslow Homer prints don’t have signatures.

 Paper made before WWII won’t fluoresce.


 Similar to magazines, the value of photographs is largely dependent upon the historical significance. A photograph of your great-grandfather is important to you, but if your great-grandfather was Thomas Edison, it’s of interest to everyone.

 Celebrity photos, especially autographed, command good prices.

 Old photographic paper is thicker and rougher than slick, new paper, and it doesn’t fluoresce under black light if made before WWII.


Photographic Eras:

 Daguerreotype (1839-1860): Silver-clad copper plate attached to glass sheet giving it a shiny, mirror-like appearance visible only from certain angles. A decorative brass frame seals the packet which is encased in wood (usually pine) case covered with thin Moroccan leather (or less-commonly made of brown, black or even red-orange or green thermoplastic) and often elaborately embossed with ornamentation.

 Case shapes were usually rectangular, but could be nearly square, octagonal, circular and oval. The inside case cover is padded with silk- or velvet (often design-embossed)-covered cotton.

 Calotype (1845-1855): First paper photographs, very yellow. Not popular; virtually all surviving examples in museums.

 Ambrotype (1855-1862): Thin image on glass, backed by red or black paper, cloth or metal. Image low contrast, grayish-white. Commonly hand-colored, especially on important subjects. Encapsulated in wooden, leather or thermoplastic case.

 Tintype (1854-1941): Thin, black iron plate (not tin), back rust-protected by lacquer. Pale whitish image, no glass. Very popular during Civil War due to affordability and durability. Attracted by magnet (Ambrotype isn’t).

 Carte de visite (1850-1889): Small photo pasted on 2-1/2” x 4” card imprinted on back with photographer’s name. Common.

 Cabinet card (1866-1899): Same as Carte de visite, but 4-1/2” x 6-1/2”.


Tintype Periods:

 Introduction (1856-1860): Heavy metal plate stamped “Neff’s Melainotype Pat 19 Feb 56” along one edge. Often in gilt, leather or thermo-molded frames.

 Civil War (1861-1865): Thinner metal plate commonly bordered by patriotic stars and emblems of Potter’s Patent paper holders. Uncased tintypes may have cancelled tax stamps on back, dating them from Sept. 1, 1864-Aug. 1, 1866.

 Brown (1870-1885): Chocolate-tinted surface made by the Phenix Plate Co.

 Gem (1863-1890): Tiny, postage-stamp size prints.

 Carnival (1875-1930): Itinerant photographers brought backdrops and novelty props to carnivals and fairs for tintype comic portraits.

 Post-mortems (Late 19th Century): Deathbed portraits of loved ones.

 Cabinet Card (1859-1914): Paper; much larger, 4-1/4” x 2-1/2” (“visiting cards”) up to 8-1/2” x 5-1/4”.

Cabinet Card Periods:

 1859-1880 Lightweight, white card stock with red or gold rules, single or doubled lines, in a square, lightweight mount.

 1880-1890 Different colors for face and back of mount, wide gold borders, in a square, heavy mount with scalloped edges.

 1890-1900 Impressed border; gold, metallic green, or uncolored.

 1900-1914 Oval photo pasted on card, or surrounded by dark gray or black.

Stereographs: 1849-1925 side-by-side stereoscopic (3D) images to be used with stereopticon viewers.

Wet-Plate Print: 1853-1902 large contact print made for large subjects; wet glass negatives were 10” x 13” up to 20” x 24”. Irregular edges from runny emulsion shows on negatives, but rarely on prints which were trimmed to eliminate edge irregularities.


Dating Images:

 1600-1700 heavy beards; 1700-1800 wigs, not beards or mustaches; 1800-1860 sideburns; 1860-1880 beards, mustaches, mutton-chop sideburns, goatees; 1880s beards began disappearing, but small mustaches remained; 1920s slick-back hair, clean shaven; 1940s mustaches; 1945-1950s crew cuts, clean shaven; 1960-1970s long hair followed by beards and mustaches; late 1980s to present, beards continuing to diminish.



 5: Perfect picture, matt and frame (scarce!).

 4: Very good picture, matt and frame; obviously flawless, but traces of aging.

 3: Average condition; good picture, some matt damage.

 2: Poor condition; picture has some irreparable damage.

 1: Very poor condition; major destruction, usually discarded.



 Like photographs, subject matter determines demand. Descriptions of battles or other historical events are of great interest, as is the familiarity of the signature.


POSTCARDS: Periods are divided into Pioneer Era (1870-1899), Private Mailing Card (1889-1901), Undivided Back (1901-1907), White Border (1916-1930), Linen (1930-1945), and Chrome (1946-present). There are two categories, views (geographical) and topicals (subject matter). Collections may be sorted by subject, maker, or artist.

 Paper, postcards, and cardboard made prior to WWII won’t fluoresce under black light.


COMPUTER FAKES: While computer emulations of documents, photographs, posters, artistic works, currency, and other renderings are very convincing, the universal use of modern paper which fluoresces under black light is effective in determining age.






 The reproduction of toys is not a new art; there are many fine, old copies as well as modern knock-offs on the market, and many of the originals have been repaired or repainted. Most toys are on wheels, and these are very revealing.

 Original cast iron toys were made by building fine-sand molds, almost as fine as jewelers’ rouge, around the pats of a disassembled wood model. Strategically-located vents allowed steam to escape from the molten metal which would fill the cavities after the model was removed.

 Modern reproductions are made from coarser-sand molds which are formed around disassembled original castings, typically, with less care, resulting in significant structural flaws and a grainy appearance. With the singular exception of repro banks which are often slightly larger than the originals, size is not a good comparison tool.

 Original cast-iron banks are best determined by their bottom plates which are embossed with patent and manufacturing information, while modern repros are flat blanks.

  Finishing: Originals were hand finished, even tumble polished, while repros are machine-finished, exhibiting grinder marks and clumsy fits.

 Surfaces: Originals look and feel smooth throughout; repros are rough, often exhibiting “blows” (holes) and “scabs” (lumps). 

 Wheels: Rims of originals are smooth; repros are frequently ridged. Spokes should be spindle-like and well defined; recasts spokes are often chunkier and have “fins” (excess metal webbing) between the spokes near the hub and rim.

 Paint: Originals were thickly dipped or hand painted with enamel which flakes off in irregular, sharp-edged chips with normal wear; repros are typically thinly airbrushed with acrylic which rubs off with wear, leaving smooth edges.

 Seams: Original halves fit tightly together; repros leave crude gaps.

 Color: Old cast iron darkens to a brown or black with age; new cast iron is lighter gray. Some new pieces are chemically treated or heated to darken the metal, so be careful here.

 Fasteners: Originals were usually fastened with wire that is peened (round-headed) or pinched on the ends; if any screws were used, they were threaded into the castings. Repro wires will often be bent-ended, or assembly may use nuts and bolts which go completely through the casting. Phillips-head screws scream “modern!”

 Repairs: Cast iron is magnetic; patches of aluminum, brass, copper, epoxy, or plastic are not.


Tiffany Items:

 Tiffany animal paperweights are being reproduced cheaply. Originals are very detailed, smooth and sharp, including a die stamp, “TIFFANY STUDIOS NEW YORK” along with a model number. Fakes are molded, showing crude raised letters and numbers; rough grinder marks, chipped “patina” (paint), rough burrs and bumps, and prominent mold seams are obvious on mass-produced, modern fakes.  


Firecracker packs:

 Pre-1949 packs are printed “MADE IN CHINA” (Class 1); From 1949-1954 they are marked “MADE IN MACAU” (Class 2); Between 1954-1967 an ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) box is added to the “MADE IN MACAU” stamp (Class 3). From 1967-1971 a “CAUTION” stamp is also added (Class 4); from 1971-1977 the ICC box is replace by a DOT (Department of Transportation) box, and now the product is identified as “MADE IN CHINA” (Class 5). From 1977-1995 the wrapper is printed “FIRECRACKERS CONTAIN LESS THAN 50 mg. OF POWDER” (Class 6). From 1995 and currently, the DOT box has been replaced with the code “UN 0336 1.4g., but still say “MADE IN CHINA” (Class 7). 

 Keep in mind, however, that labels are easy to fake by photocopying originals, but often these wrappers don’t fit right. Then there are the fantasy labels created by artistic fakers which sport all the correct legends, but the art is bogus.



 Many new marbles are being bagged with vintage-looking paper headers. But they can be identified:

 Full-colored headers are new; originals are printed in one or two colors

 Original printing was half-tone printing press (dots) or silk screen (solid color)

 Modern copies of original art and text often displays angular or jagged edges, or otherwise distorted images

 Misspellings indicated modern printing

 New headers commonly have advertising that predates the bags 

 1950s-60s headers are sealed with flat staples; fake and fantasy headers used round staples

 New header paper and recent printer inks fluoresce under UV

 New plastic bags are seamed at the bottom; old bags have a wide vertical seam

 Clear, shiny, plastic bags came into use in the 1950s; 1940s used mesh bags; old bags have a dull or cloudy appearance



 First arriving on the scene in the 1903 time frame from Margarette Steiff (German) (her first stuffed animal was an elephant pincushion in 1880) and Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. (American), Teddy bears were named for President Theodore Roosevelt who ostensibly refused to kill an old bear that had been captured after being attacked by hunting dogs for him to shoot on a hunt (because of its injuries, he ordered it put down).

 Toy manufacturers copy each other, and once a tag is lost, identifying the maker of a Teddy bear is usually impossible. Reproduction Teddy bears are common and are often misrepresented as originals.

 Fabric: Early bears were wool mohair covered; silk plushes were introduced in the 1930s, while synthetics like nylon plushes were seen in the 1950s.

 Intentional stains to imitate age looks unnatural, usually greasy and hard to remove, while natural dust would settle evenly over time. Sometimes bald patches to imitate wear are made by clipping hairs in an area.

 Eyes: Early eyes were glass (1920s), pin-back, or shoe-buttons; plastic eyes are post WWII, and may be put on older bears as replacements. Loose or unnaturally-spaced eyes are probably replacements.

 Appendages: Early Steiff bears have long feet, arms, and noses, with curved hands to pose the bear on all four paws. The paw pads of early bears were of a different material than the arms, usually felt; painted canvas (rexine) and velvet were seen in the late 1930s. Recent hand pads may be shaved and painted to simulate different material. 

 Original long muzzles with black-embroidered noses and mouths became progressively shorter and are usually woven with silk thread.

An exaggerated hump back is usually early.

Stuffing: Earliest bears were filled with wood shavings; kapok (a light, cotton-like material) was introduced in the 1920s. From then through the 1950s, wood wool in the head and kapok in the body were common. Squeezing the bear will reveal the use of crunchy wood wool or softer, lightweight kapok.

Late 1940s-1950s saw the use of textile waste or foam chips, with a better foam that retains its shape was introduced in the 1960s.

Some companies release correct replicas of early bears which are labeled, but fakers remove the labels and buttons and dirty them to make detection difficult.


Disney Copyrights:

 Mickey Mouse first appeared in 1928; his enormous popularity gave rise to an immediate following of Disney-authorized products like toys, games, radios, cameras, dishes, watches and clocks. From the 1920s into the early 1930s, markings included Walt E. Disney, Walter E. Disney and W.E. Disney. From the mid-1930s through 1939 the mark was Walt Disney Productions or © W.D.P.



 While the Victorians loved ornamentation in their gardens, it has been estimated that some 90% of garden castings now being sold as antiques are actually modern reproductions. Similar to toys, check for the following:

 Casting: Originals have fine-fitting seams, while modern repros are likely to have wide, irregular gaps, and finning from protruding seams. The originals were sectional, held together by interlocking rims, square or round head bolts, but never hex-head bolts or nuts, and never welded.

 Finishing: Grinder marks, pitting and jagged edges are usually signs of a repro.

 Weight: Victorian originals are thicker and heavier than reproductions.

 Rust: Old rust is dark or even black; orange rust is new.

 Pairs: Old pairs are mirror images, made in two different molds; new pairs are identical.


Weather Vanes:

 Weather vanes have been in American history since the early 1700s. Originally carved wood, by the mid-1800s they were mass-produced copper castings made in iron molds based on carved wooden templates. The two identical halves were soldered together, and then gilded with gold leaf. Barnyard-animal figures were popular. The last 25 years of the 19th Century are considered the peak period for weather vanes.

 Lightning-rod weather vanes, which came out later, were smaller and plainer, and generally made of tin or zinc. 20th Century silhouette-styled vanes were made from iron, brass, sheet steel or aluminum;

 Prices vary, with the ornate, early originals often commanding thousands of dollars—even tens of thousands—and the simpler vanes, even animal figures, bringing low hundreds. Value is governed by age, condition, patina and rarity. Early vanes were highly-detailed, as indicated by definition of feathers or head features. Original gold leaf has worn off in most cases, exposing the green, patinated copper below—a very desirable state of preservation.

 Repaintings or fakes can often be detected by uniformity of the surface; on a real piece, traces of gold may remain on the less-exposed underside and rear.






 Cremona, Italy, was the center of violin making in the 17th century when Stradivari and Guarneri were at their prime. Although Stradivari made some 1200 violins, about 600 survive, many of which are worth as much as $5 million. But labels bearing the prestigious names of Stradivarius, Guarnerius, Amati, and Ruggieri are widely found in violins that turn up at auctions, antique shops, and flea markets. These later copies are typically valued in the $100-$400 range, and were made during the 19th century in a variety of countries including Germany, Bulgaria, China, France, Japan, England, and Czechoslovakia. There was no original intent to defraud the buyer.

 Strads are extremely lightweight and internally reinforced. The wood was carefully carved to shape, not steamed and bent as other manufacturers do. Strad ‘cellos, however, used paper-thin wood and less reinforcement. (Cellos are held steady while being played, while violins are subjected to considerable movement)

 While the choice of woods has been traditionally credited with the unique sound, recent experiments have proven that it was chemical treatment, most likely applied to prevent worm destruction of the precious instruments.

 Web site:  






 By hand or by machine? A magnifying glass will reveal whether the needle goes between the threads (hand) or through them (machine). The hap-hazard deflections of the machine needle will pull the fabric thread awkwardly, while the hand-stitched needle leaves the fabric weaving uniform.

 Additionally, on the back of the work, machine stitching leaves a continuous ridge along the pattern where the top thread catches the bobbin thread. The awkward pattern makes individual stitches nearly impossible to follow. The smoothness of hand stitching is easy to follow and leaves no ridge.

 In a repeated element like a row of petals, a machine passes the thread exactly the same from element to element, while hand stitching rarely is that exact.





 Split-cane fly rods are the most valuable and aren’t being reproduced (each one takes 40-60 hours to produce). Lightweight (a typical fisherman makes 2000-3000 casts in a day) and strong, and comprised of six, triangular-cross-section pieces of Chinese bamboo or cane, these rods appeared in the early 1800s; formerly, rods were made of stiff, solid wood. Highest prices are paid for complete sets: Fly rod, extra tip, sock wrapping, and tube (usually aluminum). Damage to the cork handle or rod, worn varnish, warping, missing guides and wraps, all substantially reduce value.

 Mass-produced fly rods form companies like Orvis appeared in the 1930s, and tubular fiberglass rods by the mid-20th Century. Later graphite rods put an end to split-cane rods by the 1970s. Shorter rods (7-½’ - 8’) are now more popular than longer rods (8-½’ - 9’) used in the 1940s-50s. Rods are identified near the handle. Examples of makes and values (excellent condition with original tube): 

 Contemporary rods: $1000 and up

 Dickerson: $4000

 Phillipson Peerless 5: $1250

 Garrison, Payne: $6000-$7000

 Leonard 9’: $800

 Leonard 7’: $2500-$3000

 R.W. Summers: $2300

 Modern fiberglass or graphite rods: $50-$100


 Common, flea-market fly reels are valued in the $5-$50 range, but there are good collectibles, too:

 E. Vom Hofe hard rubber/German silver, $4900

 Fowler fly reel (1-1/8”D) (ca. 1875): $5500-$6500

 H.L. Leonard salmon fly wheel with leather case (1896): $1500-$2000

 Fin-Nor “wedding cake” style reel (1950s): $1200-$2000

   Philbrook & Paine German silver, raised-pillar, orange-and-black-marbleized hard-rubber plates and    handle grasp, trout reel (1-7/8”D x ¾”W): $9000-$12,000

 Loosely-woven creel: $150

 Turtle or George Lawrence tightly-woven creel: $1800


 The fishing lure to watch for is the original Hedden who also made minnow lures for Abbey & Imbrie (Hiawathas), Edw. K. Tryon Co. (Kingfisher), Von Lengerke & Antoine (Killer), and Fletcher Hardware Co. (St. Clair). These lures now command upwards of $500 -- $800 with the original box. Fakes are widely available. Original red appears rusty colored under black light while modern red stays red; original yellow looks yellow under black light, while modern yellow paint will turn mustard color.





 An auction sale may artificially inflate values by:

 (1) Two buyers (or two heirs at an estate sale!) locking horns;

 (2) Bidders who simply don’t care about the price so long as they get it;

 (3) Illegal shills or phantom bidding by the auctioneer;

 (4) Exaggerated promotion or media hype;

 (5) Association of the item with a prominent person, time, place, or event;

 (6) Ambience of the auction hall and crowd; “auction fever.”


 An auction sale may artificially deflate values by:

 (1) Low attendance from lack of interest, bad weather, inadequate publicity, or competing events;

 (2) Poor bid-calling practices;

 (3) Mistrust or dislike of the auctioneer by the attendees;

 (4) Shabby facilities;

 (5) Dirty or poorly-displayed or presented merchandise;

 (6) Misrepresentation of items, whether intentional or accidental;

 (7) Coloring of sale by junk;

 (8) Too many of the same or similar items;

 (9) General market conditions;

 (10) Competition from other merchandise;

 (11) Too long an auction.


What sells and what smells?

 In a normal economy, the antique market represents only 6% of auction sales, topped by automobiles (42%), real estate (22%), farm livestock and equipment (18%), and commercial and personal property (11%).

 Desirable auction merchandise varies considerably across the country. The following items endure on the Internet auctions (in no particular order):

(1) China (cookie jars, plates, McCoy, Roseville, Noritake, Nippon, Wedgwood, teapots)

(2) Glass (Carnival, Avon, Pyrex)

(3) Figurines (Avon, Hummels, Dolls

(4) Toys and dolls

(5) Clocks

(6) Advertising tins

(7) Jewelry

(8) Furniture and lamps


Local Desirables (does not imply high prices):

Slag-glass lamps (in the style of Tiffany, Handel, Pairpoint)

Oil lamps (kerosene, parlor/“GWTW,” railroad lanterns)

Clocks (mantle, tall case, carriage, parlor)

Guns and knives (any style and period)

Militaria (uniforms, buttons, medals, posters)

Indian artifacts

Rocks and minerals (colorful or crystalline)

Costume jewelry

Old photos

Silver settings (if not tarnished or worn through to base metal)

Statuary and figurals

Old china (crocks, churns, large colorful platters and bowls, hand bells, Bavaria, Germany, England, Meissen, McCoy (except planters), Hull, Staffordshire, Rookwood,  Wedgwood, Weller, Roseville, Jewel Tea, flow  blue, Occupied Japan)

Glass (Depression pink/green/amber, Carnival, cut crystal, Tiara, Fenton, Northwood, ruby, milk, early  refrigerator ware, stained windows)

Wood furniture, especially ornate (hall trees, gate-leg tables, wash stands, dry sinks, chairs, demi-lunes, china  cabinets, smoking stands, telephone stands, sewing stands,  small tables, rocking chairs)

Housewares (tools, iron and copper kettles, Griswold skillets, granite ware, wood-handled implements, oriental  rugs)

Primitive farm implements (lightning rods, scythes, sickles, saws, yokes)

Medical instruments (not quackery)

Toys (old and elegant porcelain dolls, vintage tin and cast toys, pedal cars, wagons, model trains)

Advertising (original signs, thermometers, clocks)

Hand bells (especially if marked)

50s-60s memorabilia

Wood-cabinet radios

Hand-cranked phonographs

Crank telephones

Coins (especially gold and silver)



Christmas ornaments and decorations

Clothing and shoes

New items, especially low-end imports

Hobby craft items (small textiles, potholders, art projects, single-size crocheted or knitted garments, painted saw art)

“Collector’s editions” (Franklin Mint, fast food premiums, Avon, Jim Beam, Beanie Babies)

Bottles and insulators

Modern electric appliances (TVs, VCRs, stereos, computers, radios, recorders, sewing machines, kitchen)

Modern furniture (upholstered, plastic, metal, particle board, Masonite)

Musical instruments, including pianos and organs 

Precious jewelry (unless sold cheap)

Artworks (paintings, lithographs, prints, common photos)

Silver utensils

Brass figures

Books and magazines (common, 20th Century) 

Plain glass and china  

Phonograph records



Postage stamps

Modern plastic (toys, kitchen and house wares)

Partial sets (miscellaneous china, games and puzzles without all pieces)

Broken anything (Chipped or cracked glass and china, rusty tools, non-working appliances)

…and too many of any one thing!


Where and When to Look:

 Auctions, antique shows, and yard sales. Flea markets have become quite commercial, often overcharging and misrepresenting modern reproductions as originals.

 The two best times to buy at any sale are when the seller first displays his merchandise and doesn’t know the values, and at the close of the sale when he doesn’t want to repack everything to take it home.



1. Bidding by auction team: Legal in North Carolina, but inform the crowd that members of the auction team pays as much as anyone else. To allay natural suspicion among attendees, the auctioneer should:

 1. Inform the crowd that members of his team are eligible;

 2. Avoid bidding on items of high value;

 3. Emphasize that the team must pay for the item just like anyone else;

 4. Be vigilant that all bidders are given a chance to bid before selling the item;

 5. Not commonly bid at his own auction


2. Seller bidding: It is unlawful for a seller to bid on his own merchandise without clear disclosure made to the audience.


3. Retracted bids:  A bidder may legally retract a bid at any time before the item is sold. The retraction does not automatically revive a previous bid; it sends the bidding back to zero unless a previous bidder reasserts his bid.  


4. Tie bids: No such thing unless multiple bidders are recognized at the same time by spotters and/or the auctioneer, not because their hands went up at the same time. If bidding is reopened, the entire crowd may bid, not just the tie bidders.


5. Late bids: They don’t count under any conditions. However, if a spotter had recognized a bid just as the auctioneer cried “Sold,” the bidding may or may not be reopened at the discretion of the auctioneer.


6. Missed bids: Once the auctioneer cries “sold,” it is. Bidding cannot be reopened just because the auctioneer missed another bid. This would be a violation of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC).


6. Absentee bids (proxy or left bids): Auctioneer must not take them because it would be a conflict of interest. He is a contracted agent of the seller who wants to get the most he can, while the bidder wants to get the item for as little as he can. Typical nightmare scenarios include:


 (a) Auctioneer sells to absentee at lower than his maximum; seller claims violation of fiduciary duty.

 (b) Auctioneer initiates absentee bid at the maximum without absentee’s authority.

 (c) Auctioneer forgets to execute absentee bid; absentee claims negligence.

 (d) Auctioneer accidentally bids successfully on the wrong item; absentee misses correct item.

 (e) Auctioneer accidentally bids too low an increment; absentee misses item.

 (f) Two or more absentees want auctioneer to bid on an item; whom does he represent?

 (g) Auctioneer sells item to final live bidder at the same maximum amount of absentee bidder.

 (h)Absentee bid is cancelled by a phone call, but it was a competitor who called it in.


7. Buyer’s premium: Used to get good merchandise consigned by charging a lower commission, but bidders perceive it as greed, calling it a “buyer’s penalty.” Sotheby’s is 20% on the first $100,000. Unless otherwise stipulated in the auction contract, the premium is part of the selling price and belongs to the seller, not the auctioneer who is the seller’s agent. It is not a commission paid to the auctioneer by a buyer since acting on his behalf would be a conflict of interest. The use of a buyer’s premium must be clearly disclosed to the bidders.


8. Guaranteed payment:  Most auctioneers unnecessarily assume liability for worthless checks, money orders, and credit cards. Since the auctioneer is actually an agent of the seller, there should be a stipulation in the auction contract holding the auctioneer harmless in such cases. The auctioneer may choose to hold final payment in escrow until all such transactions clear.  


9. Absolute auctions: Majority of items brought to the block must be sold to the highest bidder, regardless of selling price, without reserve. Non-absolute items must be clearly introduced. An auction not advertised as being absolute is assumed to have reserves.


10. Changing the lot--“Sweeten it up”: A lot cannot be altered once the bidding has begun unless the seller reserves the right to approve and sell, or to recombine and re-offer items, and those conditions are properly advertised and announced prior to the auction. UCC clearly states that once an auction begins, the bidders have control of the sale.


11. Guns: An auctioneer is an agent of the seller, and thus does not need a firearms license to sell an occasional gun, provided the owner is present and the auctioneer has not taken possession of the gun. Long guns, antique guns, and curios or relics more than 50 years old collected because of their uniqueness, not for firing, don’t require registration, and may be sold to out-of-state bidders.

 To take possession of a licensable side-arm, the successful bidder must present a pistol permit issued by the licensing agency of his resident county.

 It is illegal to possess or sell machineguns, silencers, shotguns with a barrel length under 18 inches, rifles with a barrel length under 16 inches, smooth bore handguns, disguised weapons, certain firearms having a bore greater than one-half inch in diameter, or destructive devices (bombs, grenades, mines, etc.).


12. Used bedding: Under North Carolina health statute, used bedding, unless sanitized by an approved sanitizer, cannot be sold or given away at an auction, and must be separated from other sale items. Bedding includes any mattress, upholstered spring, sleeping bag, pad, comforter, cushion, pillow, decorative pillow, and any other associated item thicker than one inch.


13. Estates: If advertised as an estate sale, the ad must also state whether living or deceased, and the majority of items for sale must be from that estate. Non-estate items must be identified as such before they are sold.


14. Real estate: A personal property auctioneer may not sell real estate, even with a broker present to conduct the transaction. Exceptions:

 (A) The auctioneer has a real estate sales license or broker’s license, or

 (B) The auctioneer has a firm license and hires a licensed real estate salesperson or broker, or

 (C) A real estate broker gets an auction firm license and hires an auctioneer only to cry bids, or

 (D) A property owner or court-assigned trustee or executor appoints an auctioneer to cry bids, but the actual property transfer is conducted by an attorney.


 15. State sales tax: State sales tax must be collected on all items sold at an auction house since that location is acknowledged as a commercial establishment. Exemptions include buyers with sales tax exclusion, charity auctions, and on-site estate auctions.


16. Bailment: It is expected that the buyer (bailor) will remove the merchandise from the premises following the auction upon payment. If he leaves it for later pickup, he effectively consigns the property to the bailee (auctioneer) for safekeeping. In case of theft or damage, the auctioneer is only responsible for repayment if he is proven guilty of gross negligence (indifference to others and an utter disregard of prudence). 


17. Period vs. style: Unless it was made in the 1700s, it’s not Queen Anne; it’s in the Queen Anne style, manner, a revival, or a reproduction.


18. Auctioneer liability: Negligence is the key factor, answered by the simple questions, “What would a reasonable person have done under the same circumstances?”

 Negligence is determined by the presence of four factors:

 1. He has a legal duty owed to someone;

 2. There has been a breach of that duty;

 3. That breach caused harm to the other person;

 4. The harm resulted in damages.

If an auctioneer has ordinary skill and knowledge, yet fails to exercise due diligence to correctly identify a valuable item, selling it for very little, there may be cause for the seller to sue for recovery of damages. This would be determined by a jury.


19. Auction firm license: An auction firm license is required if the auctioneer is an owner or is affiliated with a corporation, limited liability company (LLC), or partnership, or if he teams up with a broker or another auctioneer. It is not required of an auctioneer who is a sole proprietorship.This is to prevent harmed buyers or sellers from being told that recovery is the corporation’s problem when only an auction firm is governed by such regulations.


20. Bankruptcy auctions: The auctioneer must reveal to the bidders that all sales are subject to confirmation by the bankruptcy court.



 Absentee bid: A bid from a non-attendee left with someone at the auction to represent the absentee.

 Absolute auction: An auction with no reserve.

 As is: Merchandise has no warranty implied.

 Auction fever: The spirit of the moment that spurs bidders to offer more on a lot.

 Auction subject to confirmation: The seller may accept or reject the final bid.

 Auction with reserve: The seller may reject any or all bids, and may withdraw an item before it is sold.

 Backup bidder: The second-highest bidder.

 Bid assistant: “Ring man,” “ground man” who moves merchandise, spots bids and assists at auction.

 Bid off the wall: (See phantom bid)

 Bid rigging: The illegal collusion between bidders who agree not to compete to hold bidding down.

 Block: The platform or location from which the auctioneer calls bids on items brought to him.

 Bottom feeder: A bidder with the reputation of paying only lowest prices.

 Box lot: A container holding multiple items to be sold as one lot.

 Buy-back (buy-in): An auctioneer or seller buys an item to keep it from being sacrificed; fraud unless    revealed.

 Buyer’s premium: A percentage surcharge added to a final bid.

 Buyer’s (or bidder’s) remorse: Regret by a buyer who paid too much, or a bidder who stopped too soon.

 Caveat emptor: “Let the buyer beware.” Buyers assume all risks if there’s no guarantee.

 Chant: The auctioneer’s familiar, rhythmic combination of filler words and bid calls to keep momentum.

 Choice: The highest bidder on a multiple lot takes as many items as desired at that price each.

 Colonel: A traditional title awarded to an auctioneer dating back to the Civil War when colonels would    auction off the spoils of war.

 Commission: An auctioneer’s fee charged to the seller, usually a percentage of the proceeds.

 Consignment: Items authorized by a seller to be sold at auction.

 Crying the auction: A reference to the auctioneer’s chant as he calls bids.

 Cut bid: A signal from a bidder that he is willing to offer half the increment called by the auctioneer.

 Dime: Slang for a $10 bid increment.

 Disclosure: The revelation to sellers and bidders of all pertinent information about an auction.  

 Due diligence: Gathering information to make an intelligent decision for buying or selling.

 Dutch auction: Bids are called in reverse, starting high and dropping until a bid is  accepted.

 Estate: A person’s property, whether alive or deceased.

 Fraud: The most serious problem in auctions--the misrepresentation of merchandise.

 Hammer price: The selling price when the gavel goes down and the auctioneer cries, “Sold!”

 House number: An auctioneer’s own bidder number to buy an item when bidding is low (see buy-back).

 House packing: Fraudulent auctioning of goods brought to an estate sale and misrepresented as estate    items.

 Increment: The amount of increase for each called bid.

 Jump the bid: A bidder offering a higher amount than the next called increment.

 Knock down: The auctioneer sells an item to the highest bidder (see hammer price).

 Late bid: A meaningless term referring to a bid that comes in after an item is sold.

 Left bid: (See absentee bid)

 Lot: The contents of a single sale; may be one item or multiple items.

 Minimum opening bid: The least initial offering acceptable to open bidding on a lot.

 Nickel: Slang for a $5 bid increment.

 No-sale fee: An assessment charged by an auctioneer for calling bids on a reserved item that didn’t sell.

 On-site auction: An auction held on the premises of the seller’s goods, such as a business or an estate.

 One money: Slang term for a multiple-item lot being sold for the highest bid.

 Paper shill: Fraud by an auctioneer holding a fake absentee bid.

 Pass: An auctioneer withdraws an item during bidding because it does not reach reserve.

 Phantom bid: Fraud by an auctioneer pretending to accept a bid from a non-existent bidder.

 Picker: A seller who acquires merchandise to be sold at auction.

 Pooling: (See bid rigging)

 Preview: An advertised time designated for prospective auction attendees to review the merchandise.

      Public auction: An auction open to anyone to attend and bid.

 Puffer: (See shill)

 Reproduction: An imitation of a collectible item.

 Reserve: A minimum price that must be reached before an item can be sold.

 Ring man: (See bid assistant)

 Rolling back: An auctioneer calls lower and lower bids until accepted by an initial bidder.

 Sold: The declaration of a legal transfer of goods from the seller to the winning bidder.

 Sealed bid auction: An auction in which confidential bids are collected, then opened at the time of sale.

 Set-in price: An opening bid called by the auctioneer to start the bidding process.

 Shill: A co-conspirator of a crooked auctioneer planted in the crowd to fraudulently bid, but not buy.

 Strike it down: (See knock down)

 Tie bid: A meaningless term that refers to an auctioneer accepting one bidder over another.

 Times the money: A multiple lot sold by multiplying the bid times the number of items.

 Title: Legal claim of rightful ownership.

 Two ways: Selling a multiple lot, typically a furniture suite, by choosing between “held” bids for the    items individually, then for the entire lot: “Pull ‘em apart and put ‘em together.”



 Fraud is widespread in the auction market, most often done to artificially inflate bids, or to favor an insider who wants something.

 Typical frauds include:

(a) Shill bidding (an ally bids without intention to buy, or paper shills are concocted as absentee bids);

(b) Phantom bidding (the auctioneer pretends he has received a bid from the crowd);

(c) Misrepresentation of an item to increase its perceived value;

(d) Selling fakes for authentic items;

(e) Undisclosed seller bidding;

(f) Intentional clerking errors;

(g) Buy-ins (sold artificially to an auction-house number to go back into stock).

 Absentee, telephone and Internet bids allow great opportunity for auctioneer fraud. Similarly, illegal bid rigging is found among attendees. A group of interested bidders/investors withhold their bidding while only one of them actively bids. They may have additionally spread false information about the auction, the auctioneer, or the item itself to suppress competitive bidding.

 Winning the valuable item at very low cost, they then resell the item and divide the profit. This is a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and is punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment in a federal penitentiary and a fine of up to $350,000. If it’s a corporate group, the fine rises to as much as $10 million per violation.  



 With a worldwide audience, virtually anything will find a willing buyer somewhere. Recently, a personally-autographed photo of Jesus was successfully auctioned, and a grilled-cheese sandwich with a toast pattern resembling the Virgin Mary sold for $28,000.

 Over 270 million sales per year are made on eBay, selling more than $27 billion in merchandise. 90% of all Internet fraud cases were auctions, with a total reported loss of $54 million per year, an average of nearly $2600 per loss, and it’s increasing rapidly. Specific violations include:

 (1) Non-delivery of prepaid items or non-payment for merchandise sold (31%)

 (2) Fraudulent credit/debit cards (12%)

 (3) Undisclosed seller or phantom bidding, or shill bids to hike bids;

 (4) Misrepresentation of goods or delivering a lesser item;

 (5) Selling stolen merchandise.


 Additionally, con artists will lure bidders from a legitimate item by email offers to sell the same product at a lower price (bid siphoning), but never deliver when an item is paid for. Fraudulent buyers may submit very high bids to discourage others from buying, then retract the bid, making it available at a lower price.

 Another type of fraud occurs when sellers or buyers pose as an escrow service (or recommend a specific, but non-existent escrow service) to improperly obtain money or goods.

 For more information on this, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website at To file a complaint, contact the government Internet Fraud Complaint Center:; or phone 800-876-7060.



(1) An estimated four-hour estate auction will last ten hours.

(2) An overhead canopy is as sturdy as the first person who leans on a pole.