Dating antique furniture dovetails

As with virtually all cabinetmaking techniques and developments, there were anomalies and overlapping periods as the uptake often met resistance in what was a heavily tradition-based trade.

With late seventeenth-century case furniture, the ratio of drawer front end-grain to drawer side dovetails was often about equal, exposing a considerable proportion of the end-grain to moisture (figs. The cognizance and practice of this refinement in dovetailing was widespread (due in part to the long established tradition of journeymen cabinetmakers), not only in the capitals of England, Ireland and Scotland, but in major provincial centres too, where many exceptional cabinetmakers plied their trade.

The place to check is the back of the drawer front, if you see holes that don' t appear to have any function then the handles have been replaced.

Original handles will often leave a bruise mark on the drawer front from hitting against the wood over hundreds of years or even leave a shade mark by blocking out the sun which can be seen in this photograph.

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Handles were often changed to make a piece of furniture look more fashionable and some chests will have had two or three different types of handle over the years.If it is early 18th Century it may well be in walnut and if it is Georgian or later it is probably made out of mahogany. If they are made in pine the chest is probably of secondary quality whereas if they are of oak or mahogany it is of superior quality.Also look at the way the grain of the bottom board runs, if it is from front to back the chest is probably of early 18th Century construction, the grain running from side to side suggests a manufacture of post 1750.This is because the cabinet-maker has specifically chosen select cuts of timber to give life and interest to the chest.Cabinet-makers also added bandings, stringings and even carving to enhance a chest's appearance and if they are original this will also add value to the chest.When you have considered all these issues you need to look at the proportions of the chest.A fine quality chest will have elegant proportions with a good graduation to the drawers and good crisp mouldings whilst a chest of secondary quality will have a more utilitarian feel.Bun feet were highly fashionable at the beginning of the 18th Century but by the 1740s a bracket foot was more typical.In the Sheraton period this bracket foot was shaped to give it a more elegant profile in keeping with the elegance of the period.Chests will have other enhancements that effect their value.Some chests are made out of solid wood whilst others are veneered and veneered chests are usually better quality and more desirable.

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