Chicago Scene: Antiques and Modernism Show

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Doug Van Tress

The Golden Triangle

Antiques + Modernism Show Winnetka
November 3 - 5
Winnetka Community House
620 Lincoln Avenue
Show Hours:
Friday - 10:00am - 6:00pm
Saturday - 10:00am - 5:00pm
Sunday - 11:00am - 4:00pm

For more information:

Doug's Tips:

How can you tell a real antique from a reproduction?
Generally, reproductions are missing some of the key elements that we expect to find in an antique. For example, in the case of wooden furniture, A) the surface patina of a reproduction will be smoother and simpler and more perfect than an antique that has been used for a very long time. If a table has no scratches or is too shiny, it is probably a reproduction. If the back of the chest is clean and perfect, watch out! B) the wood itself will be different. Older pieces generally were made with larger and thicker and better pieces of wood. “Big wood” was more common when there were a lot of big trees to cut down. In recent years, many pieces are made with small pieces glued together. Look for the size of the planks. If there is ply wood or particle board, run away C) Look for construction technique –glue, staples, screws –these are all modern techniques for assembling pieces of wood together. Electric sander marks are also a give-away. It may look like an old table but up close, it is made like a new one. 4) Reproductions may have unusual proportions or details that were not found on older pieces. Or inconsistencies.

How do you determine the value of a piece?
First, you have to answer question (1), above. Is it a real antique, made in a particular time, in the style of that time, using materials and techniques that are appropriate to that period. If yes, value is partly based on how rare an antique it is, what similar pieces have sold for at auction or in stores and how the piece compares to modern copies. Google it! Generally, a good specimen can be had for a modest premium over the price of a new piece. A very fine, rare antique will cost much more. To know the value of a rare piece (or to even know if a piece is truly rare) one needs specific knowledge. There is no short-cut. Start with suspicion—“this piece is old, feels right, is beautiful, special” than get more info. Find out what species of antique it is, where it was made, if it was common at the time, what materials were used. Then research online AND find out if any local dealer has something similar, go visit in-person. This part is essential because photos are not enough. This is detective work; follow the leads.

Is it ok to refinish an antique?
If the piece is rare (and valuable) the answer is generally no. Careful restoration –yes! That means making small repairs, modest corrections. Fixing a broken handle. Waxing, fixing or replacing a broken foot, re-gluing a leg to make it less wobbly –all good. Changing the finish in a major way, changing the color, replacing all the drawer bottoms, stripping the finish –this erases the history of the piece and is wrong for fine antiques. It will lower the value because the customer for a fine antiques values originality and purity. It’s not a question of morality, it’s a question of the market and what people want. Most antiques (by definition, items that are over 100 years old) are not actually rare or extraordinary. It is OK to restore these pieces or make larger changes to them. It’s wonderful just to keep them in use, in the living world for another generation or two. If the owner wants a dark stain or to clean off the old dirt, put on new brass casters, polish the silver urn or whatever –it is OK; it’s personal choice. A lot of this is choice –experts were divided as to whether the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling should have been cleaned. Some love it all bright and colorful, others liked it sooty and ancient. They’re still fighting over it. Should you refinish your Granny’s bedside chest? Probably yes, go for it. If your Granny was Elanor Roosevelt, call in an expert and go slow.


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