Imported Fake Antique Furniture

Even arts and Crafts
poorly carved Cigar Store Indian
A stacking book case that is 1 piece not 4
Davenport desk
This piece has grain, but the finsh and hardware are similar in quality and style

This weekend I went to a flea market that had an “antique store liquidation sale” in an adjacent building. The building contained numerous rows of furniture. I would guess between 70-100 pieces total. The event was advertised on television and radio as an antique tag sale however; all the pieces were pricey reproductions.

I wanted to take pictures, but there were signs posted stating, “no cameras”. It would have been difficult to snap a shot because there were sales staff cruising through the isles constantly. I looked on the web for images of this type of furniture for my blog, but I only found one example that resembled the inventory I saw (see pic).

The furniture spanned many periods including colonial, country/primitive, Arts and Crafts, Shaker, fantasy/eye sore, and a style I will simply call “Tacky Asian”. All of the pieces had an oil rubbed look (like Pottery Barn furniture) with artificial distressing under the finish. The wood species appeared to be the same for every piece. It was soft wood with no prominent grain pattern.

The construction of each piece was poor with horrible dovetailing, chunky proportions, visible plane marks, weeping glue joints that did not get sanded, etc. The hardware was thin, artificially patinated, and too exaggerated for each period (particularly the Arts and Crafts and Asian pieces). The interiors of the cabinets also had an imported smell that resembles the odor of poorly tanned leather from India or Mexico, or the smell of every Pier One Imports store I’ve been in.

Each piece was marked with a sales tag bearing the name of the piece, period of manufacture, and price. My wife and I chuckled over the circa 1900 Arts and Crafts entertainment center… perfect for your turn of the century big screen Television. I felt a pit in my stomach as I walked past pieces with a red “Sold” tag dangling from them because many of them had sold for what a real example would cost.

I guess the moral of this story is buyer beware. Study real antique pieces before spending money on anything and learn from experts you trust. Once you have been around real antiques, fakes will stick out and offend your eyes.

The pieces I’ve mentioned in this blog were probably made with the intent of being marketed as inexpensive reproductions. It was the people leasing the building space for the liquidation sale that were misleading the public. Cheap repros are easy to spot, but there are also fakes created by skilled craftsman. These pieces require serious examination of the wood, construction, smell, finish, and hardware. You also have to watch out for period pieces that have been refurbished.

Sellers seldom mention flaws in pieces they are selling, unless you ask direct questions. I’ve also learned when you are evaluating an item with the intent to purchase, if something doesn’t add up it’s best to walk away from the piece because you will never be fully content with it.

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  1. ThomPattie says:

    Chris,

    You are right! The pieces you are seeing are poor quality copies and most are made in Indonesia.

    In the 1970’s some interject antique dealers started factories in Korea that primarily made copies of Chippendale and Queen Anne dining chairs and banquet tables. The quality and craftsman ship was excellent and the copies commanded very good money.

    As time passed the cost of labor in Korea made the bottom line bulge to much and the factories or other entrepreneurs moved to Thailand and Indonesia. Yes much cheaper to make and the production was in high gear by the late 1980’s.

    Now however quality is not of consequence and the copies look like a 5th grader made them. i have included some photos of items that are being made now.

    This is important for people starting to purchase item for their homes to realize. Learn about things before you buy!!

  2. sandrar says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  3. George says:

    Thankyou for the site. I had the pleasure of having my instincts prove me correct spotting a “re-pro”for the first time.
    An acquaintance raved of an antique “centuries old” desk in her attic and if I could sell it for her.
    Once up in the attic in the usual dim and glare, not to mention stifling heat, the piece looked like photo #4 in your feature. A “score” until I got in under a light bulb and started to look at one of the drawers. The lacquer/stain was the distinct color of low end furniture.
    The signs dominoed from there and I was going over the piece as soon as I got out of my truck! I didn’t quite know for sure but something was not quite sticking.
    Then irregularities flew at me like bats at sunset. The mismatched screws,separations at the seams,tasteless wood,dripping glue etc.
    Your column answered all my doubts.This was my first encounter with one of these. Now to soothe my friend!

  4. Chris Hughes says:

    Thom,
    Thanks for adding the pics. These are good examples of the furniture that was being sold at the event I just attended. I’ve seen that one-piece stacking bookcase a million times. Pretty ugly in my opinion. Now that original stacking bookcases are not fetching what they used to 10 years ago, I am sure I will seeing many more original and repro ones on the market.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the Korean-made furniture you speak of. It is well made, but the finish wasn’t right on the stuff I saw and it was being sold as refinished pieces. I thought the pieces still would have made nice, functional furniture for those of use who cannot afford real Chippendale, but I remember the pieces being too pricey for what they were!