Collectibles-General (Antiques)/Furniture finishes


Stool carved leg.
Stool carved leg.  

Central ornament of connecting stretcher.
Central ornament of co  
I am trying to distiquish between the finish on an original 18th century foot stool and a later reproduction. The piece I'm looking at has significant crackling on the surface not unlike other older furniture I've seen. Is this type of crackling a good indication of an older original piece? See photos. Regards. Pete

This is a huge subject.  To answer strictly your question.  No; but it is one of the things you should look at.

First, how do we know the original coating on the 18th c piece.  Surely it has been recoated at some time with any one of many materials.  Additionally, how do we know what the original coating is; wax, long oil varnish, short oil varnish, shellac, wax, oil (linseed and others, which resin is dissolved in which oil to make a coating--lots of factors to consider, just to name a few.  

Crackling could be from age, but does not always indicate what age, could be 2 months or 200 years. It could be from atmospheric conditions (hot, cold, humid, dry), from improper mixing of coatings, poor or substandard material, recoating with non compatible coatings/materials which have differing expansion and contraction rates, could have been a coating meant to replicate crackling.

What I would do on what you have pictured is this.  clean with mineral spirits and a rag.  do a small area on the interior of the leg or post.  see what you get.  the rag should come off very discolored.  look at the wood wet and then dry.  determine what is happening.  Mineral spirits will not amalgamate the coating unless it is a wax.  what i see on this is probably not wax although wax may be present.  If you take a qtip, dip in alcohol, ethanol or methanol, not isoprophyl. If it tries to stick as you gently roll the wet but not dripping qtip over a coating it is most likely shellac.

the only sure fire way to determine coatings history and build is to take a sample of the coating and send it to a lab that analyzes coatings.  

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robert klein


In regards to American antique, vintage and collectible furniture I can help with wood identification, styles, age, periods, historical coatings, materials, techniques, repair, restoration, refinishing, and value. I do not study mid century and later furniture nor do I deal in lamps, and other smalls. You may ask for values and I will give you current market values, I will not give you 'feel good' values. Understand that there are many factors that contribute to market value. If you want a feel good, unrealistic number, please call a local inexperienced appraiser. It is my desire to help you and in doing so I increase my knowledge as well. For that I thank you.


I have been in the antiques furniture and restoration business and in the sales of antique furniture for 40+ years and have continued my education in the trade attending workshops and seminars by various organizations, institutions, and private collectors.

Professional Refinishers Groop, Int., AIC, Antiques Dealers Association

BA Florida State University BA University of West Florida 1971

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