China cabinets were popular as early as the 1600s when the queen of England introduced china cabinets to display her vast collection of porcelain dishes. China cabinets then became popular among the wealthiest people in Europe. The popularity of china cabinets spread, and they can now be found in the homes of anyone, regardless of wealth. Your cabinet is an antique if it retains at least 50 percent of its original components and is at least 100 years old.
Inspect the finish on your cabinet. If it is an antique, you should see some patina on the drawer pulls. Fingers tugging at the drawer pulls over the decades gives the metal a mellow finish, or patina. Newer cabinets do not have this change in its finish. The feet on your cabinet should also show some scuffing and the finish will be less shiny than the rest of the cabinet. If the cabinet is painted, the color will be dulled on surfaces where there has been lots of contact with hands or fingers over the decades. There may be crackling of the paint or areas where the paint has disappeared as a result of exposure to bright sun or moisture. These are all suggestions of age, but it takes a professionally trained antiques dealer to know if these marks are caused by age or are modern reproductions.
Find a screw in an inconspicuous place on the cabinet and carefully remove it. If the cabinet is an antique, the screw will have wear on the threads and the head of the screw will most likely be slightly off-center. The screw should not look shiny and new.
Lift out a drawer and examine the wood. The wood should be mellow in color, not bright as a new drawer would be. Are there any dovetails? These fan-shaped cut-outs are used to join two pieces of wood and they are a sign of fine craftsmanship. Are the dovetails irregular in size, indicating that they are handcrafted? If so, the piece might be an antique. Newer pieces of furniture usually do not have dovetail joints. If they do, they tend to be machine-made, which makes the dovetails uniform in shape and size. Also examine the bottom edges of the drawer. The wood should be a lighter color where the drawer has been slid in and out of the cabinet.
Examine the glass. If the glass is wavy and has air bubbles, it has been hand-rolled which is characteristic of antiques. Manufactured glass is uniform in thickness with no air bubbles. It is often used in contemporary cabinets.
Check the back of the cabinet and inside the drawers to see if there is a paper label or a signature. A signature would provide you with the name of the craftsman who made your piece. A label would provide you with the name of the manufacturer and possibly where the cabinet was made. These pieces of information can help you to research the history of your cabinet.
Take a photograph of your cabinet so you can show it to several antique dealers. An experienced dealer will be able to look at the photograph and give you information about the age and the history of your cabinet.