True, vintage federal-style furniture is circa 1770-1820, give or take a decade. If you actually find a piece in this style, and it is not too badly worn or damaged, it could actually be worth a lot of money. However, like many other styles of vintage furniture, there are modern reproductions and knock-offs. Because the federal style is very easily faked, you will want to get the real deal if and when you buy a piece from an auction or estate sale. Here are a few tips on how to identify a good fake from a real piece of vintage federal style furniture.
Solid Mahogany, Inside and Out
The go-to wood for early American furniture making during this period was mahogany. Mahogany is a darker, warmer toned wood that is thick and heavy. It does not chip, dent or peel easily. If you can get a closer look at an auction piece that you think might be true federal furniture, press a finger nail into the wood. If it does not mark or flake, it could be real mahogany. If the piece has drawers, like a side table or buffet, open the drawers. The drawers should be made of mahogany boards too, with no veneer applications anywhere. If you spot any dings or scratches, take a closer look at any exposed slivers of wood to see the wood coloring and pattern underneath, which should reveal tightly packed and fine wood fibers.
Dove-Tailed and Glued
Most furniture made during the neoclassical revival period (such as the federal style of furniture) was rarely put together using metal hardware. Look for dove-tailed joints, wooden joists and wooden bolts, and small traces of glue. Artisans of this period took pride in their work, so there should be no globs of glue or smears of glue residue visible. If there is, then the piece is not vintage but a reproduction, and a sloppy one at that.
Limited Use of Metal Hardware and/or Metal Decorative Features
Hardware of any kind was reserved for drawer pulls and maybe the occasional couple of very small, headless nails that would not be seen unless you were looking for them. Drawer pulls were often made of brass or bronze, as these metals hearkened back to the classical age of the Greeks. Some pieces of vintage federal furniture might have casters on the feet of the furniture, especially if the pieces are large, heavy and quite dense, but the casters should not be plastic (since plastic was not invented yet!). Contact a business, such as Julie Bova, for more information.