While the Amish have been the subject of public fascination for hundreds of years, their lifestyle is only half of the incredible thing about them. Their handmade craftsmanship when it comes to domestic goods is simply unparalleled, and antique Amish furniture exhibits this superior construction perfectly. Hidden within their demure designs are extremely durable and long-lasting pieces that'll turn into family heirlooms if they haven't already.
Antique Amish Furniture Styles
Historically, Amish communities have avoided incorporating technology into their everyday lives, including in such technical endeavors as building pieces of furniture. While furniture that's created by the Amish is easily identified by its unmistakable simplicity, the individual pieces aren't actually homogenous. In fact, there're several different design styles that antique Amish furniture has been crafted out of, depending on its age and region. Of course, there are some base similarities, such as the type of wood that these communities tend to use, but a few distinct differences separate some pieces from others.
Primitive furniture stems from the American cultural tradition of rural communities crafting their own furniture to outfit their country homes. Despite primitive furniture--with its mostly painted and not polished pieces--losing its popularity in the 1830s, a renewed resurgence with the Arts and Crafts movement at the end of the 19th century signaled a new evolution for this domestic practice. Thus, while it's nearly impossible to find primitive Amish furniture from before the 19th century, those created stylistically in honor of the original movement in the 20th century do it justice.
Shaker furniture actually came out of the Quaker movement in the late 18th century, and is typified by characteristics like rigidly straight ladder-back chairs, asymmetrical drawers, and wooden knobs. Similarly, these pieces were often stained a different color or painted. Despite its Quaker origins, the Amish adopted their styling and have created, and continue to create, dinning-room furniture and bedroom sets in this style.
Born out of the Arts and Crafts movement (a reaction to the gaudy and opulent designs of the Victorian period), Mission style furniture is known for its focus on clean lines that flow along the vertical and horizontal plane. Perhaps the best-known craftsman of the Mission style is Gustav Stickley; yet, traditional furniture makers weren't the only ones fond of this rigid style. Rather, some Amish furniture makers of the 20th century created their lounge chairs and chest-of-drawers in the Mission style.
How to Tell Antique From New
One of the most difficult tasks for an antique shopper is being able to tell the difference between modern and antique furniture, whether it's crafted from the hands of talented Amish workers or sent down the assembly line. Since the items are still made by hand using high quality materials, it can be difficult to know whether a piece is old or not. In fact, many new tables look much the same as the antique tables. However, there are a few ways for even the most novice antique furniture buyer to pick an older piece from a younger one in a line-up.
Don't rush into buying a piece; shop around at several antique stores as well as specialty shops that carry Amish made furniture. Examine whatever piece of furniture you're interested in and compare the seemingly old with pieces that you know are new, and make notes of the differences that you notice. By looking at multiple different items, both old and new, it'll become easier for you to be able to differentiate between antique and contemporary furniture quickly and accurately.
Look for signs of wear and age on every piece. This can be tricky since new furniture can be distressed to look falsely aged; but signs of authentic wear are usually more than skin deep. Areas that usually show wear are:
- Raised areas
Another tip is to look for signs that the wear is too perfect to be old. Natural fading and scratching of furniture finishes will be uneven and will look random.
Amish-made furniture is generally superior in craftsmanship. Newer handmade furniture will be created with modern items like wood screws. Look for signs that the furniture is made with all of the same type of wood and that it's put together with joints rather than wood screws. The hardware on it will look aged unless it's been replaced. Look for discoloration, rust, and other signs of oxidation as well.
Step back and take a good luck at the furniture. Make sure it's balanced, and that it looks right for the time in which it was supposed to be built. Be careful of items that have an older piece attached to a newer piece to give credence to a falsely antique whole. Because wood shrinks unevenly, the top of a table or the seat of a chair will be uneven to some extent and will show even more of this discrepancy when affected by changing weather. If you find that the individual elements are totally even, chances are high that the pieces are new.
Antique Amish Furniture Values
Without the proverbial bells and whistles of other furniture styles, it might feel outrageous to some people to pay a few hundred dollars for a simple foot stool or four-seated table. However, antique Amish furniture is known for the way that it'll last for decades without showing hardly any of the wear and tear that modern furniture will. Granted, factors that impact these prices include the furniture's condition (cracking, paint loss, and so on), size (child vs adult), type of wood (mahogany vs cedar vs oak, for instance), age, and type of furniture. Generally, smaller pieces like nightstands and tables can sell for a few hundred dollars, while larger pieces such as full dining room sets and bed frames can sell in the low to mid-1,000s.
- Primitive Late-19th Century Child's Rocking Chair - Listed for $75
- Old Candlestand Painted Primitive - Sold for $355
- Enfield Shaker Sewing Table with the Original Cherry Paint - Sold for $332.98
- Amish Mission Style Antique Pie Safe - Listed for $950
- 19th Century Amish Armoire - Listed for $1,049.99
Antique Amish Furniture Trends in the Current Market
In the current antiques market, the most common type of wooden Amish furniture that you can find being sold are chairs. Made famous for their ladder-back and rocking chairs, these pieces of Amish craftsmanship were bought in the thousands over the course of the 19th and 20th century, leaving a ton of high-quality examples that have lasted to today. Thus, if you're in the market for a new dining room set, you're in luck.
Similarly, children's Amish furniture, though incredibly prolific, sells for significantly less than adult-sized furniture does thanks to the kid's furniture's limited usefulness (every child will outgrow a chair at some point in their life). Additionally, smaller household furniture like side tables and foot stools sell for less than larger, multi-purpose pieces like dressers and tables do. That being said, authentic antique Amish furniture from the 19th century is harder to come by than its vintage counterparts, meaning you'll have to do some digging if you don't already have a point-of-contact to help you with a sale. This is compounded by the fact that a lot of genuine Amish furniture isn't marked in a discernable way. Despite these difficulties, with their hearty construction, these pieces are made to last for decades, making them a better financial investment than most modern furniture is.
Where to Buy Antique Amish Furniture
Amish furniture on the whole can be found more easily in some parts of the country than the others. Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Ohio are treasure troves of Amish handcrafted items. Generally, if you can find an area where there is an Amish community, then you will find numerous shops that have these beautiful antiques as well as new items.
Dutch Valley Furniture and Antiques
Dutch Valley carries many different types of Amish items, including antiques. Located in Sugar Creek Ohio, this 5,000 square foot facility may be just the place to spend a day finding just the item you are looking for.
Shrock's Heritage Valley
Shrock's Heritage Valley is a destination adventure located in Berlin, Ohio. Not only is there an antique mall located on the property, there are a variety of sights to see and things to do, from buggy rides to Amish home tours.
Of course, perhaps the most convenient and time efficient way to find antique Amish furniture is to turn to the internet. Online retailers like eBay and Etsy are great resources for the casual collector to find delightful pieces to add to their collections. Keep in mind that buying online isn't as dreamy as it may appear; you can quickly rack up shipping costs, especially with how heavy genuine Amish furniture can sometimes be. Therefore, make sure to factor in these added prices before you click and commit.
Simple Designs Hide Superior Craftsmanship
Amish antiques are considered American classics, and their timeless appeal makes them mesh beautifully into any styles of home. Since they're so well made, they tend to last for as long as you treat them well and are a great choice when you have a deep love of antique furniture, but know your children and pets can't be trusted to extoll the same amount of care.