Dating Antique Furniture by Examining Its Feet: A Comprehensive Guide

Dating Antique Furniture by Examining Its Feet: A Comprehensive Guide

Antique furniture is a beautiful and unique addition to any home but dating it can be a challenging task. One way to determine the age of antique furniture is by examining its feet. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the most common types of feet found on antique furniture and their respective time periods.

Ball Feet

Ball feet were a popular choice for furniture in the early Baroque era, from the 1600s to the late 1800s. The simple round shape of ball feet was commonly used in chests and sideboards. These feet were typically made of wood, but metal versions were also used, especially in furniture made during the 19th century.

Other variations of ball feet include onion, turnip, and bun feet:

  • Onion feet have a slightly elongated shape, resembling an onion, hence the name.
  • Turnip feet are more bulbous in shape and resemble a turnip vegetable.
  • Bun feet, which are wider at the bottom and narrower at the top, were popular in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

These different types of ball feet were often used to add a decorative element to furniture. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, ball feet also served a functional purpose by raising the furniture off the ground, which helped to protect it from dampness and rot.

Today, ball feet are still used in furniture design, although they are not as common as they once were. When used in modern furniture, ball feet are often made of metal and have a sleek, contemporary look. Despite their evolution over time, ball feet remain a classic element in furniture design, providing both form and function to the pieces they adorn.

Animal Feet

Animal feet were a popular choice for furniture in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were often used to add a touch of elegance and sophistication to a piece of furniture. One of the most popular types of animal feet is the ball and claw foot, which resembles a bird’s claw clasping a ball. This style was commonly found on tables and stools and was introduced in the 1700s. The ball and claw foot were often carved from wood and could be quite intricate in their design.

  • Hoof feet, which resemble animal hooves, were popular in the 1700s and 1800s. They were commonly found on chairs, tables, and cabinets. Hoof feet were often made from brass or other metals and could be highly decorative.
  • Dolphin feet, which resemble the curved shape of a dolphin, were used in the Rococo period in the mid-1700s. This style was often used in the design of chairs and sofas. Dolphin feet were typically carved from wood and could be pretty detailed.
  • Trifid feet, which have three curved toes, were used in the late 1700s and early 1800s. This style was often used on chairs and tables. Trifid feet were typically made from brass and could be highly ornate.
  • Monopodium feet, which have a single leg resembling an animal’s leg, were used in the mid-1700s. This style was often used in the design of tables and desks. Monopodium feet were typically carved from wood and could be highly decorative.

Animal feet were a popular choice for furniture designers in the 17th and 18th centuries. These feet added a touch of elegance and sophistication to a piece of furniture and were often highly decorative. Different types of animal feet were used depending on the style and period of the furniture.

Tapered Cylinder-Shaped Feet

Tapered cylinder-shaped feet were commonly used in furniture from the mid-1700s to the early 1800s. These feet come in a variety of styles, including arrow, cylindrical, and spade feet.

Arrow Feet

Arrow feet are named after their triangular cylinder shape, which tapers down to a point at the bottom. They typically have a ring separating them from the rest of the legs. Arrow feet were popular in the mid-1700s and were commonly used in tables and desks.

Cylindrical Feet

Cylindrical feet are similar to arrow feet but lack the ring separating them from the rest of the legs. They are also slightly wider at the top and taper down toward the bottom. This style of foot was popular in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Spade Feet

Spade feet are wider at the top and narrower towards the bottom, with a rectangular shape that resembles a spade. They were a popular variation of the arrow or cylindrical feet, commonly found on tables and chairs. Spade feet were popular in the mid-1700s and early 1800s.

In summary, tapered cylinder-shaped feet were popular furniture choices from the mid-1700s to the early 1800s. Arrow feet, cylindrical feet, and spade feet were the most common variations of this style.

Bracket Feet

Bracket feet were a popular choice for furniture in the 18th century and were often used on chests and case pieces. These feet are known for their strength and practicality, as they provide a sturdy base for the furniture.

  • Standard bracket foot has a simple rectangular shape that tapers down to the floor. It was commonly used on case pieces such as chests and desks.
  • Ogee foot: a more ornate version of the standard bracket foot with an extra curve that forms an S-shape. It became popular in the mid-18th century and was commonly used on case pieces such as chests and desks.
  • French foot: a thinner and tapered version of the standard bracket or ogee feet. This ornate foot originated in France in the mid-18th century and was often used on case pieces such as commodes and cabinets.

Bracket feet were a popular choice for furniture makers in the 18th century due to their strength and practicality. The addition of ornate versions such as the ogee foot and French foot provided a touch of elegance and sophistication to furniture pieces.

Block Feet

Block feet, also known as Marlborough feet, were a common type of foot in furniture from about 1600 to 1800. These feet were often found at the bottom of straight Marlborough legs.

Other Types of Feet: Apart from Block Feet, there are several other types of feet that can help in dating antique furniture. Some of them include the following:

  • Trestle Feet: The oldest type on our list date back to the Middle Ages and form a T-shape.
  • Whorl Feet: These feet have a spiral shape near the bottom and became popular in Rococo-style furniture in the late 1600s.
  • Toupee Feet: These feet resembled spinning tops and were used from the mid-1600s onwards.
  • Pad Feet: These feet have flattened oval feet resting on cylindrical disks and date from the early 1700s.

Identifying Characteristics of Different Time Periods

When trying to date antique furniture by its feet, it’s essential to compare it to other pieces you already know the time period of. This is where having a good knowledge of antique furniture styles and trends comes in handy. The more you know about the characteristics of different periods, the easier it will be to identify the style and age of a particular piece. When examining antique furniture, it’s important to consider the condition of the piece, as well as the materials used, the style, and the production techniques. 

All of these factors can provide valuable clues about the age of the furniture. For example, if a piece of furniture has ball feet, this is a good indication that it is likely from the Baroque era, which spanned from the 1600s to the late 1800s. 

However, if the piece has other characteristics that are typical of a different period, such as ornate carvings or a particular type of wood, this could indicate that it was made later or earlier than originally thought. 

It’s also important to consider the use of the furniture when trying to date it. Certain types of furniture were popular during specific time periods. For example, the ball and claw foot was a popular choice for tables and stools in the 1700s, while bracket feet were commonly used on chests during the same period. 

In addition to the feet, other features such as the hardware, upholstery, and joinery can provide valuable clues about the age of a piece of furniture. For example, a piece with dovetail joints is likely to be older than one with nails or screws. 

Another factor to consider when dating antique furniture is the rarity of certain features. Some styles or materials were only popular for a brief period, making furniture with these features more valuable and sought after by collectors. 

In conclusion, dating antique furniture by its feet is an essential skill for collectors, dealers, and anyone interested in antique furniture. By understanding the different types of feet and their corresponding time periods, as well as considering other factors such as condition, materials, style, and production techniques, it’s possible to gain a better understanding of the history and value of a particular piece of furniture.

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