Every industry or market has its own special language or industry speak, and the antiques market is no different. There are a number of strange, bewildering terms used when referring to antiques, and the following are some of the more common terms that are likely to be encountered.
Our Antiques A to Z has a more complete and detailed list of terms used. It explains in plain English the most common terms used when describing antique and collectable pieces, so this should be consulted to receive a full explanation. Many of the descriptions are illustrated with photographs and diagrams.
This phrase is usually used by the auctioneer to make it plain to a bidder who is unsure where the bidding has got to and whether the bid is with him/her or not. He/she may repeat it several times for emphasis and if there is no forthcoming bid will sell to the last bidder.
As Found or All Faults
A/F on a sale ticket is a warning the piece is in some way defective, usually chipped, cracked or restored. As Is, or As Bought are less common but may indicate that no claim is made as to date or origin.
Furniture term describing a decorative hinge used on 1700’s mahogany tripod tables. It enables the top to revolve and also to fold down for storage. A square of wood is fixed to the column and another, separated by turned balusters, is hinged to the table top and held by a catch. They increase the value of the table but may be later additions.
A term applied to an object that fails to reach its reserve at auction. Bought by the auctioneer on behalf of the vendor. It may be taken away or re-offered later
The commission charged to the successful bidder at auction. It is a percentage of the hammer price and varies from one auction house to another. The main London houses charge 15% on the first £30,000 and 10% after that. It can, however, be as little as 2.5% or non-existent. VAT is paid on the premium, not on the hammer price.
The technique for modelling the surface of metal using a hammer and punch. The background is hammered down over a leather covered cushion, leaving the design in relief. When worked from the back it is known as embossing.
Auction held on the vendor’s premises – usually at country houses, often in a marquee on the lawn. They can be a happy hunting ground for a ”sleeper”, or un-catalogued lot, but generally they are social gatherings and prices are often driven up to ridiculous levels.
A term, mostly, of furniture, covering legitimate age or deliberate ageing. In the former, any serious wear and tear give rise to the condition which is one stage worse than ’country house condition’. Fakes and forgeries are often distressed by attacking with chains, hammer blows and spikes to simulate worm holes. A book which is in desperate need of rebinding may be described as ’distressed’.
In France the furniture industry was divided into highly specialised crafts. An ébéniste was a superior craftsman specialising in veneered furniture, where as a menuisier specialised in carved wood.
Auctioneers’ guide prices to the selling price of a lot. They are often printed in the catalogue, or if not, can be obtained from the auction office. Estimates are based on the selling price of comparable lots but rare items can soar above them. Some auction houses underestimate to create interest. The RESERVE will probably be close to the lower estimate.
A continuous pattern of lobes or classical reeding. It was a popular border for silverware from the 1600’s to 1800’s. It is also found on the edges of table tops and other furniture.
Actors and artists always assume that auctioneers hold their gavels by the handle. Most often they grasp them by the head and use the handle to point to bidders.
Term to cover everything that cannot be slipped into the ’antiques category’ – often the lots at the end of a house contents sale, which the auctioneer may not have catalogued in detail. Optimistic bidders hope to find bargains among the towel racks, chamber pots, broken toys and riding boots, with the result that they rarely do.
Loaded or Filled
Items made from sheet silver – such as candlesticks, knife handles and dressing table brushes – may be loaded with pitch or plaster of Paris to give weight and strength. This frequently breaks down with time.
Furniture such as this table, which has been put together at a later date from genuinely period pieces of wood. One of the most commonly found ’made up’ objects is the oak coffer, where original panelling from churches or houses has been used for the sides and lids.
Mark & Period
In the 1400’s, the Chinese began placing the reign names of the Emperor on pieces of porcelain. The formula was fixed of six characters reading from top right to bottom left as the dynastic name, Great Ming or Qing followed by the Empoer’s name and then ’made in the reign of’. Pieces made for imperial or court use with the four or six characters are known as ’mark’ or ’period’.
A piece of furniture made of two period pieces which did not start life together is known as a marriage. For example a bureau bookcase might be created by adapting an ordinary low bureau to fake a period bookcase. Although such objects can be attractive, they do not have anything like the value of an integrated example.
See Made Up’
Necking & Nosing
Necking is a term for a band of moulding around a vertical, such as a table leg. Nosing applies to a rounded, projecting edge, such as found on a step, or stair tread,
The inimitable film of age (not to say ancient, well-weathered grime) that so enhances antiques, particularly furniture and bronzes. Experts rave about it as they caress the arm of a chair or the surface of a table, and loudly mourn its loss when pieces have been stripped and re-polished in the name of restoration. It adds to the value of a good piece, speaking of authenticity and untroubled old age. Patina can also refer to the surface of decorative bronzes , where various treatments may be applied to create different effects
This is not necessarily a compliment – in fact, quite the reverse.
Serpentine-fronted pieces of furniture are typical of the mid 1700’s. The undulating line, with convex centre and concave sides is reminiscent of the ’line of beauty’ which Hogarth and advocates in painting. It is best suited to pieces like chests of drawers.
A piece of wood running horizontally between the legs of furniture, bracing the structure. In the late 1600’s, stretchers became a decorative feature of chairs. They could be curved, serpentine, or X-shaped. By the end of the 1700’s they were no longer fashionable.