Learning how to identify and date an antique sofa can help you find the perfect piece for your period home or simply a personal and unusual touch for a modern room. Antique and vintage sofas share many of the same characteristics as other upholstered pieces, but fewer sofas have survived than side chairs and less-used pieces. Knowing the key characteristics of antique sofas can also help you avoid reproductions and make sure that the piece you choose for your home is authentic.
Start by examining the frame or structure of the sofa from the underside as much as possible. A vintage sofa or antique couch should have a well-constructed wooden frame, typically with dovetailed joints. Modern joints including glue or Phillips head screws clearly identifies a sofa as a reproduction. Look at the back frame, arms and legs. Make certain that the wood and construction matches so you will be aware of later modifications or repairs.
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Examine wooden details. An antique sofa may be very finely carved but should still show signs of being handmade. Use these details to date a 19th century sofa: Rosettes, finials, incised lines and elaborate feet may all help to identify antique sofas. Vintage sofas dating to the 20th century are typically more heavily upholstered and do not have visible wooden elements, outside of legs.
Look at the padding and springs. Many antique and vintage sofas have been reupholstered, so these elements may be less important on the whole, but can raise or lower the value of an antique sofa. Older sofas should have strong metal frames and horsehair padding. Down may also be used. Modern fiberfill or foam is a clear sign of reupholstery or a reproduction piece.
Consider the fabric and its condition. If you plan to reupholster your antique couch, settee or chaise, this may be less of an issue; however, original fabric is quite desirable on an antique sofa. Velvet or tapestry fabrics are common on Victorian sofas. Sturdy and practical wools appear in vintage sofas of the early 20th century, along with richer velvets and leather upholstery.
Review the whole piece. Look for inconsistencies in the materials or quality to assess authenticity. Check to ensure that the structure is sound or repairs are worthwhile. Mildewed wood or upholstery, significant water damage or weak joints can all be costly or impossible repairs.
With a master's degree in art history from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michelle Powell-Smith has been writing professionally for more than a decade. An avid knitter and mother of four, she has written extensively on a wide variety of subjects, including education, test preparation, parenting, crafts and fashion.