Period Antiques and Reproductions Defined: Important Terms That Every Antique Lover and Collector Should Know

The definition of the word antique varies from source to source, but there are a few terms that everyone can agree on, and that are important, when purchasing antiques.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and when it comes to antique furniture and accessories, just about everything has been copied. It’s important to know when an antique piece is a genuine antique, and when it’s a reproduction.

Definition of Period Antique
When a piece of furniture, silver, or china, is referred to as being a period piece, it means that the item can be dated to the period it represents. For example, if a chair or cabinet is called a period Chippendale piece, it means that it was made sometime in the mid-to-late 18th century in the United Sates. If a similar-looking piece is described as Chippendale Style, it may look very similar, but could have been made just about anytime, anywhere.

Period antiques are considered special because of their age, rarity, and condition; they also have a sense of history that newer items simply don’t have. Despite the fact that they’re old, and occasionally a little beaten up, there’s a quality of craftsmanship that is indicative of the time they were created: They have withstood the test of time and lasted hundreds of years.

What Circa Means
Circa is a term that is used frequently in the antiques industry, and it basically means “around” the date. Sometimes a piece is made in the style of a particular period, but wasn’t made in the period itself. In this case, the piece is referred as (for example) Queen Anne chair, circa 1820. This means that the chair was not made in the Queen Anne period (early-18th century), but it’s still an antique and represents a certain quality of craftsmanship.

When circa is used to convey a time period, the numbers will usually be expressed in multiples of 5 or 10 (circa 1840, or circa 1865). It’s very rare to see a specific year cited.

Reproductions Old and New
Reproductions are not necessarily a bad thing; the only time a reproduction is unfortunate, is when it is represented as an original. Reproductions are basically copies of original period designs: A lot of reputable furniture companies make faithful reproductions and sell them as such. The quality is often good, and they tend to retain much of their value over time. These can be a terrific alternative to period antiques, which are often expensive and a little more difficult to come by.

Reproductions become a problem when they are sold as the ‘real thing.’ At the beginning of the 20th century there was an explosion of antique reproductions being manufactured. At that time, collecting antiques became quite popular, and as a result, fakes began flooding the market. Now, 100 or so years later, these reproductions are often passed off as the real thing.

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference, because these reproduction pieces are now technically antiques. This is why it is important to do a little research, before purchasing antiques. People who aren’t familiar with the characteristics of real and fake period pieces, can easily be deceived.

Some people might ask why these differences matter: As long as the piece looks good and is well-made, what does it matter how old it is? In theory it doesn’t, but there is something to be said about the history and life that exists in a piece. Those who collect antiques, know that there is a certain character that exists in an antique piece, that simply cannot be recreated.

It is also important to know these differences, because the age of an item can mean a difference of hundreds, or even thousands, in the value. Don’t get taken advantage of; do a little research, become familiar with the styles and characteristics of antique periods, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

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