How to Identify Antique Dressers

By Karen Malzeke-McDonald
Drawer pulls can help date a dresser.

What is thought to be an antique dresser may be something else. Fakes exist, with dealers trying to make money from such furniture. Become aware of what to look for, and develop a trained eye. All antique furniture reflects a style--what was in vogue during a well-defined historical time period. Make a checklist of what to look for if you are in the market for an antique dresser.

Wood grain and color tell a lot about the history of furniture.

Identify the style to judge the approximate date of a dresser. A general knowledge of furniture styles throughout history is important for estimating the time period in which a dresser was made. A dresser is of a certain style if most of its features represent what was popular during a time period.

Patina of old wood is irregular in color and wear.

Study the color and texture of the wood. A genuine antique dresser will have a patina. This is a natural mellowness attained with age and use. The tendency is for the shade of natural wood to darken. The color also will vary on antique furniture. To avoid being fooled by forgers and fakes, check the dresser's out-of-sight areas, such as its back and side edges that would be placed against walls.

Tool marks can be found on antique furniture.

Check for signs of tool marks. Run your hand over the surface of raw edges. The back of the dresser is the best place to check. You should feel a slightly wavy undulation on the surface of the wood. You also might feel undulated patterns under drawer bottoms.

Look for scratches or marks produced by a scribing awl and chisel.

Look for nails or dowels. They can aid in deciding the approximate age of a dresser. Old nails are soft, resilient to rust and bend easily. Their heads are squarish and sharply pointed at the tip. Dowels are usually found in primitive American furniture. Old dowels were never made exactly round or alike.

Dresser drawers can tell you a lot about age.

Inspect the drawers. Dresser drawers of the early 18th century moved on runners that fit into a grove about halfway up the side of the drawers. One or two nails in the back were used to keep a drawer from rattling. Dovetailing can appear at the front of the drawers. On more elegant pieces, dovetailing is finer. The bottom of the drawers of an antique dresser are apt to show split wood due to shrinkage over time.

About the Author

Karen Malzeke-McDonald is both an illustrator and writer in the children's publishing market. She has an A.A.S in art and advertising from The Art Institute of Dallas and a B.A. in art history and studio art with a minor in English literature from Hollins College. Malzeke-McDonald has enjoyed many career challenges, from designing a nationally licensed character to creating and marketing new businesses.