Wooden Antique Furniture – How To Identify It?

How to identify a wooden antique furniture? We have to know how to recognize the type of timber which makes antique furnishings. One of the most well known timbers is the Mahogany, which is mostly imported from the nations like Cuba, San Domingo, Bahamas and Honduras. It is red-brown. There are others trees that have come to be known as Mahogany but they are not actually Mahogany. Cuba produces the best variety of Mahogany during the second half of the 18th century. Mahogany is one of the best timber to work with and easy to maintain.

At one time Queen Anne walnut furniture was very popular in the United States, but it was soon found that central-heated rooms caused glue to dry up and veneer to fall off in an alarming manner. Consequently, veneered furniture is no longer looked on with affection in America.


An rare pair of George III painted satinwood armchairs in the style of English Cabinet maker, George Seddon.

Mahogany is such a well-known timber that it is scarcely necessary to say much about it in the way of description. To most people it is a familiar reddish-brown wood, and it has been used for making furniture since about 1730. The timber was imported from the Bahamas, from San Domingo, from Cuba, and from Honduras. Strictly speaking these different places produced trees that were not usually true mahogany, but the use of the word spread to cover all timbers of a red-brown color that resembled it closely in appearance and could be worked in a similar manner.

It is the Cuban variety that has the very distinctive markings beloved of cabinet-makers in the second half of the eighteenth century. This variety was used often in the form of veneers, as was walnut, in order to show the light and shade of the figuring to the best advantage.


A fine George III Mahagony bookcase cabinet circa 1765

Mahogany is very strong, seasons quickly and does not tend to warp and split, is seldom attacked by woodworm, and is a good timber to work. It could be obtained in large enough pieces to make large table-tops without joining, which had not been possible before, and not only does it take a pleasing smooth finish but is excellent for carving. It is therefore not hard to understand why, once it had been introduced, it quickly became popular and stayed for long the principal timber used in cabinet making.


Queen Anne walnut side tables, circa 1710

Satinwood came from the West and East Indies, and was in use for furniture making from about 1780 until 1810. It is a wood with a warm yellow color, and has a close grain that takes a high polish. It was used mainly as a veneer, but unless handled carefully by the cabinet-maker it has a tendency to split. Towards 1800 it was used in the solid for making chairs and for the legs of veneered tables. Satinwood was an expensive timber, and it was used, on the whole, only for special pieces for wealthy clients.


An extremely rare George III satinwood and inlaid cabinet on its original stand with square tapered legs. The gold tablets on which the oval marine scenes on this cabinet appear are surrounded by borders painted en grisaille and giltwood pearl mouldings. 1793.

Satinwood furniture was sometimes elaborately inlaid with other light-colored woods, but mostly it was decorated by having oil painting as part of the design. Much of it is said to have been the work of the woman artist, Angelica Kauffmann, but this is seldom, if ever, true (Kauffman’s designs were widely used on walls, ceilings, porcelain and furniture; she may have provided some sketches for architect and designer Robert Adam).

George Brookshaw-artwork

Side table (detail of shepherdess figure), George Brookshaw, about 1785

George Brookshaw set up a cabinet-making business in London in 1777. His workshop dealt almost exclusively in painted furniture, typically with closely observed floral decoration and figurative medallions adapted from engravings, chiefly after Angelica Kauffman. Chairs, as well as tables and cabinets, were decorated with painting, and this took the form of small bouquets of flowers and garlands of trailing leaves, which suited the slender shaping of the woodwork.


Commode of Madame du Barry, 18th century

About 1900 there was a revival of interest in 18th-century satinwood furniture. Old pieces were brought out from cellars and attics, where they had been hidden as unfashionable, and were restored and sold for large sums. At the same time, a large number of copies and near-copies were made for those who could not afford the real thing. These pieces have now had half a century of wear and tear, so the prospective buyer should be on his guard. Often, too, the old painting on an 18th-century piece has been removed because it was worn, or for some other reason, and has been replaced by the work of a modern artist. This happens commonly with tabletops, which inevitably get scratched and stained in daily use. Such restored pieces are worth less than those on which the decoration is original.


Antique Painted Bedroom Suite c. 1890, England; constructed in mahogany in the Louis XVIth manner, of superb quality, and comprising a breakfront triple door clothes press, a pair of night stands with doors and drawers, a three drawer dressing table, a jewellery vitrine with a rising top and a three door commode, opening to reveal banks of drawers.

Unlike Mahogany, which is very strong, seasons quickly and does not tend to warp and split, is seldom attacked by woodworm, and is a good timber to work, the Satinwood is a wood with a warm yellow color, has the tendency to split if not handled carefully by the cabinet-makers. It became out of fashion to use the satinwood for furniture in the eighteenth century but 1900 furniture saw the revival of this wood and were sold on high prices and even fake copies were brought for those who could not afford the original. Such was the demand for the satinwood furniture.


A rare walnut and burr walnut bachelor’s chest, England, early 18th century

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