Identifying Antique China Cabinets

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We all know what a china cabinet is—and certainly what counts as antique—don’t we? Well, probably not. Understanding the value of a china cabinet might be more complicated than you expect. 

What Makes Antique China Cabinets Antique?

For a china cabinet to be antique, it should be over 100 years old. You can still have a beautiful, valuable china cabinet even if it’s not antique. Any piece from a previous or distinct time period that is not 100 years old are considered vintage. 

Antique China Cabinets

There are a number of distinguishing characteristics in identifying an antique cabinet: 

  • Design – If you are particular about an antique style, do some research on it. Various time periods, like Victorian, have specific design features. Look for the types of wood, stains, and elements that feature in your favorites.
  • Handcrafted – Antiques are most frequently (and most valuable when) handcrafted.
  • Wear Marks – Over time, the lives that our furniture supports show on it. An antique shows its authenticity with the minor scratches, water marks, and wear that it gathers.
  • Not Too Perfect – An antique is older, so the piece will have all the touches of time and imperfections of their making. The boards may not fit together or be perfectly smooth, the way high-volume machine manufacturing creates. Look for the imperfections that make a piece unique. Slight unevenness or imbalances are signs of handmade work.

    There are specific tool marks that depend on authenticating each piece. For example, machine tooling didn’t happen until 1860. Machine marks, like those from a circular saw, show it’s older than 1860. Pre-1860 furniture may show hand tool marks, like a chisel or plane.

    Joints are another indication of a time period. Handmade furniture will show uneven joints, particularly dove joints.
  • Painting and Stain – The finishes used are indicative of their time. Often, things can be painted over (and that can be reversed). However, if there is an original indicator, it may be in where the paint or stain is applied. Often, unseen areas on antiques were not stained or painted. So, if you look at the underside of a chair and it’s not painted, that may actually be a good sign.
  • Tags – You can often find a manufacturer’s tag either marked into the piece, painted on, or attached with a metal plaque.

Even with newer furniture, there are other incredible qualities that make a china cabinet a spectacular find. Look for unique features, solid construction, and quality craftsmanship or brands. If something is unique or rare, these characteristics increase its potential value. 

So, technically, that gorgeous 1930’s mahogany china cabinet is not quite yet an antique. However, its worth will play out as it ages, provided it’s the right quality. It also works perfectly to display that Wedgewood china set your grandmother got for her wedding.

At online auctions, you are more likely to find rare items that distinguish themselves from the high-volume everyday items you find in retail outlets.

Maybe you will find antique china cabinets, or maybe you have one to sell. Know what to look for.

What is a China Cabinet?

China cabinets are also called cupboards or hutches. However, while cupboards can be built-in and often house more common items, a china cabinet has come to more commonly refer to a freestanding display cupboard intended to house and display china or formal dining ware. Unlike most hutches, a china cabinet is often one piece instead of a top display resting on a bottom storage piece. 

A portion of the china cabinet will often be solid, featuring doors and/or drawers. However, the upper part is commonly made with glass panels for displaying pieces. Some china cabinets also feature lighting to heighten the display effect.

Learn more about restoring furniture and things you can put in china cabinets such as Waterford Crystal and stoneware dishes

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