Fake Antique Furniture from China

Introduction to the Fake Antique Furniture Industry
(Fake antique furniture has the same basis and purpose as fake antique porcelain and other fake antiques.)

Genuine and fake antique furniture

With the Chinese government enforcing export restrictions for antique objects since about three or four years ago, the flow of antique furniture, along with other antique cultural objects and relics out of China has virtually come to a standstill.

Yet, in stores and online Chinese "antiques" are still offered directly from China, and in quantity. While some may have left China before enforcement of the export ban, those that are offered now for export from China itself are certainly suspicious. Usually they fall into one of the categories below. There existed a gray zone since before the export ban was strictly enforced. Some of the items from this period can be considered antiques.

  • Vintage (less than 100 years old)
  • Largely restored
  • "Multiplied" furniture (only minor part is antique) *see below
  • Reproductions made to look antique (fake antique furniture)
  • New

(See explanation below for details.)

Basic outline
As with other Chinese crafts furniture making relied largely on manual production by craftsmen until far into the 20th century. For this reason it is often difficult to detect any differences between real antique and vintage furniture: the same working methods and materials were used, the only difference may be that newer furniture is in a better condition than antiques.

With some woods, especially hard woods, it takes experience to recognize whether furniture has an age of 100 years or only 50. The patina may already be there, but some usage signs of the older furniture can still be missing or less pronounced.

As the export of antiques that are over 100 years old is now restricted, the market has already shifted and many collectors have a greater acceptance for vintage handmade furniture.

Reportedly, the difficulty of telling antique and vintage furniture apart has resulted in a situation where customs sometimes rejects even furniture for export even if it is only vintage.

Currently, many Chinese websites are touting antique furniture. Basically, these furniture items all fall in one of the above mentioned categories. Mostly they will be reproductions, but some of those exported in the previous couple of years, before the ban was enforced, may fall into one of the first four categories.
The main difference between reproductions or fake antique furniture and antiques often isn't their appearance, it is the manufacturing methods, or sometimes the wood type used.

Today, machines and electric hand tools are used to mass produce batches of the same piece of furniture with the same structures as those that were handmade in the past (which were often unique without any similar item). Seeing a number of the same or very similar items often points to newly made items. In old China (until the 20th century) furniture was made to order, even the wood was sometimes supplied by the client, who would have planted the trees long before the need to use their wood arose. A a carpenter or woodworker was engaged specifically to make furniture to order at the client's place. Most furniture pieces were unique and no two chests would have had the same size, doors, drawers, etc..
The existence of a series of the same furniture means always that an item is not antique.

Explanatory Details:
Look for these characteristics when buying antique or vintage Chinese furniture.

  • Vintage
    Obviously, this furniture is less old than antique furniture, but has some age.
    With Chinese furniture it may be of similar quality and making as antiques. Machine production of the same items started only later in the 20th century.

  • Largely restored
    This type of furniture consists often of cupboards, chests, etc. The front side, doors or drawers, or all of them may be old, but when you check the whole interior and sides, shelves, you discover that part or all of them is newly made.
    Such furniture can be completely different from the original, assembled with some old carved or painted front boards, doors or drawers to make it look old.
    With drawers often only the front board that is visible is old, all of the rest that is inserted in the chest is new. Mostly the hardware is new too.

  • "Multiplied" furniture
    This method for making antique furniture is best explained using a set of chairs as an example. Chairs originally often came in sets of six or eight. Over the years some of the chairs would fall into disrepair or suffer irreparable damage.
    To produce six chairs from two or three usable chairs, or their parts, the wood workers would disassemble the chairs and then reassemble them with a number of new parts, so that each chair has both new and old parts. This servers to give the appearance of restored antique chairs, while the number of chairs now is increased with the help of the new parts. The result may be several more "old" chairs to sell.

  • Reproductions made to look antique (fake antique furniture)
    In China various methods are employed to make furniture look old. We mention just a few. Wood workers everywhere in the world use methods to give new furniture or reproductions an old look like antiques. However, in China fake antique furniture is sometimes made in ways that are obviously  intended to deceive buyers. Judge yourself whether these methods would fall under deceptive practices.

    To give the wood an old or used look, it is rubbed off with a rag or tea cloth, wet with tea sediment. Such rags are usually used to wipe tea off tea wares, utensils and pots when preparing, or after drinking tea. The tea sediments may give the wood a darker, old look.
    Sometimes dirt or dust is applied with the same purpose. Tea or other liquids may be poured over furniture to simulate actual use.
    Furniture is also exposed to the rays of the sun and rain for prolonged periods, to give it the aged, weathered look of old wood. (Antique furniture faking at its best!)
    Usage signs may be added by scarring the wood, creating an artificial patina, and scratching to fake long use. Going a step further is the following. As traditional Chinese houses aren't very tight and rats could enter, old furniture was sometimes gnawed at by rats.
    Some antique furniture fakers will damage the wood intentionally in a way to imitate gnawing traces of rats artificially. It is also said that some fakers keep woodworms to actually "infect" the furniture and make it look like old wood with "old" worm holes.

  • New
    New furniture made to look like antiques often looks also appealing. However, the wood used often is of inferior quality than the originals of the same type would have used. This is due to the high price of those woods. Often easy to recognize that they were made by machine tools. Old handmade furniture never show traces of rotary tools, and sawing traces are irregular. These traces can be found underneath or behind furniture items, because the surface of wood is usually not worked with the same care as the surfaces exposed to people's eyes in normal use.

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