You just know. Okay, I realize that’s an ambiguous answer, but in some cases it’s true. This is one of those learn as you go things my mother taught me about in her antique shop, and sometimes she actually uttered the words “you just know.”
Over time I found, too, that the more you look at, handle and learn about genuine antiques, the easier it is to distinguish old things from new ones.
What to look for in General Terms
When determining the age of an object, look for:
- Materials or techniques not often used in modern production such as square nails or hand stitching;
- Hand applied ornamentation that would likely be machine applied today;
- Styling indicative of a certain time period such as Art Deco, the Arts & Crafts movement or Mid-Century Modern, also referred to as Eames-era design.
Additionally, antiques and older collectibles are not going to be absolutely new looking in most cases. This is why people pay so much more for items in "mint” condition, because they don’t crop up as often as pieces with telltale signs of aging and wear.
Remember that Quality Counts
It’s a sad but true fact that many items produced years ago possess a distinctively high level of quality when compared to their new counterparts.
For instance, decorative accents are more likely stenciled now than hand painted. Mechanized assembly has replaced hand craftsmanship for the most part. And less expensive materials are used now to keep costs down and profitability up, especially when we’re talking imports.
Recognizing quality not only serves to help in determining the age of an antique or collectible piece, however. Developing an eye for quality serves the antiquer well when it comes to picking up bargain pieces that are worth far more than their asking price, also known as “sleepers” in the antiques biz.