You don’t need to be a furniture expert to differentiate a genuine antique from a good reproduction furniture piece if you know what details at which to look. As a general rule, genuine antiques are imperfect and contain inconsistent flaws, because of the manner in which they were constructed, by craftsman, not machines. Reproductions are smooth, flawless, and perfectly symmetrical.
Wood – Examine unexposed areas of the piece, such as drawers, to observe if those elements are crafted with a different wood variety that does not match the rest of the piece. Genuine antiques are typically constructed with multiple varieties of wood. Their construction was as such because building materials were once much more difficult to acquire, and it made little sense to waste costly wood in locations that would typically be unseen. However, reproduction pieces tend to be crafted in their entirety from a consistent wood variety.
Wear Signs – Real antiques will exhibit signs of wear in locations that would naturally be subject to the most contact. For example, the bottom of chair arms should appear to be more worn than the upper part or the underside of the chair arm. Dents and scratches should be distributed in a non-uniform manner on a piece, as blemishes are the normal result of use. If the patina is too pristine, it’s likely a reproduction.
Upholstery Stuffing – Synthetic materials didn’t exist until the 20’s, so pre-1920 upholstery in its original condition should be stuffed with natural materials such as horsehair or hay.
Hand-Carving – Genuine hand carving isn’t symmetrical or even. Machine carving is uniform and smooth. Look for tiny imperfections in craftsmanship to verify carving was carried out by a person’s hand.
Construction – The use of modern materials such as staples, fibreboard, and Phillips screws is exhibited in a reproduction.
Gluing – Antiques tend to have reinforced joints coupled with gluing. Check for dowels, mortise, or tenon. If a piece is attached only using glue, it may just be a reproduction.
Smell – True antiques should have a musty or moldy odor emanating from them. Reproductions will likely emit a clean odor and the wood scent may still be discerned. For more info see this site.