The Importance of Originality in Antique Furniture

Antique furniture suffers from changes across its life. Many times these changes are subtle and for the benefit of the piece such as the patina it acquires from careful use, which most often benefits its character and beauty. But in general whatever alteration from its original state is harmful to the piece, diminishes and could make it lose all its value as an asset and as an investment.

Even any change with the intent to alter it or improve it could annul its value too. Later added carving, veneering and marquetry, change of supports/legs, handles of different period, even escutcheons that look like ivory, whatever change with the intent of giving the piece higher importance that its original one, is harmful to its value. In countries that have a long history and culture of antique furniture, these “alterations” are obvious and a good expert / dealer should be able to recognize them immediately, provided there is sufficient knowledge to detect them. During the last few decades in Spain there was antique furniture sold for high prices that were altered by the dealers who sold them. The great disappointment to the owner of the piece comes, when and expert gives his/her opinion about the piece and its value. We receive daily dozens of emails with photos offering us pieces that are supposedly antique. Unfortunately the great majority of them are not antique, nor are they desirable thus not having any value. As the great Albert Sack used to say: “there are people who own antiques and people who think they own antiques”. Naturaly at the level of Albert Sack, he also referred to people who own antique furniture wih originality problems, thus without any value.

Should one pay the same price for a painting that is confirmed original as one that is a copy? It would be like as one would consent to a bad investment. An antique piece of furniture is a work of art and therefore should be an original, it is a sculpture in wood.

Sometimes when an antique piece is bought as a utilitarian piece only, originality may have little importance, provided the price paid is small and inconsequential, similar to buying a contemporary piece. In past centuries as presently, there were mass production factories of useful pieces. As the emphasis was on the low price, the quality and beauty of the piece was a secondary factor. Buying such a piece today is quite common and can not be considered an investment and such pieces being in daily use and abuse, have suffered many changes and are not desireable even as antique.

To the contrary, when a antique piece commands a high price, representative of a piece of high quality, whatever change that it incurred during its history diminishes its value drastically.

Human beings have destroyed more antique pieces than any other factor. Curiously the principal destroyers of originality of antique furniture had “good intentions” and through the centuries have usually been:

* Owners of pieces who think that they can do their own restoration to avoid the cost of a professional restorer.

* Cabinetmakers who make present day furniture and have not full knowledge of the methods and techniques of the cabinetmakers of past eras and try to restore a piece.

* Restorers who without specific knowledge of a piece try restoring it for their own monetary gain, thus destroying it.

* Owners or restorers who intented giving a piece ” a light refreshement”.

* Owners of pieces who adapted a piece of furniture for their own personal use thus destroying it, such as ” reducing the height of the legs,  or the top so that it willl fit into a specific spot etc”.

* Antique dealers who change a piece or part of it, thinking they are making it more attractive and desirable to sell.

Finding an antique piece of great beauty in its original state is always a great discovery for us that fills us with joy as if we found “hidden treasure”. It is obvious that across the centuries, very few pieces survive without suffering small damages. Although these damages are small, restorting them incorrectly could annul the value of a piece. The restorer of a piece should have or should acquire specific knowledge of the original technique and meterials a piece prior to restoring it. Anything to the contrary would mean destroying it!



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