Finding the best Chinese antique tables can pose a challenge, especially for people who are stepping into the field for the first time. Reproductions can imitate the look of antiques really well, making identification of genuine antiques all the more difficult. One should look closely and inspect each piece before purchasing. There are a number of signs — including inscriptions, wood type, finish and construction — to look for when seeking the best antique Chinese tables.
The first step is to examine the piece for any inscriptions. Some antiques come with inscriptions that describe how the piece was initially acquired. This can help reveal when the piece was purchased, possibly dating it to an antique time frame, but it's unlikely to indicate when it was created.
Next, inspect the wood used to make the antique table. There are at least 35 types of wood used in creating Chinese furniture, some imported from other countries. Furniture pieces made from imported wood types, such as huanghuali and jichimu, are rare and much sought after by furniture collectors. Native woods commonly used to make Chinese antique tables include the northern elm and camphor.
Determining the age of a piece by its finish can also be misleading. Furniture makers can recreate crackled surfaces, making the piece look older than it is. Look for areas where no paint or finish has been applied and feel the bare wood. Antique wood feels dry and fragile.
If there are no bare pieces, smell the finished surface itself. Traditional methods of finishing use materials derived from natural substances. More recent types of finishes include lacquer and wax or may emit an odor similar to petroleum.
One should also take a closer look at the way the joints are constructed. Prior to the 20th century, furniture pieces were made by hand. The use of mortise and tenon, dovetail and miter joints in construction were more common.
Compare the joints with one another. If the joints and pieces look too uniform, chances are they are were made on a machine and the table is a reproduction. The presence of screws and nails is also a strong sign that a piece is less than antique.
Chinese antique tables may also feature painted scenes and carvings. Finding out whether a scene or an element within the design is truly Chinese requires some knowledge of Chinese culture. Look for geometric shapes and floral motifs. One popular combination involves bamboo, pine and prunus.
Another way for one to pick the best antique table is to visit museums and auction houses that showcase Chinese antique tables. This is a great way to see how authentic Chinese antiques look. A brief conversation with the curator can also help one learn more about Chinese antiques.