Some furniture styles are so popular that they are copied by cabinetmakers for hundreds of years. Some copies are easy to recognize as copies because their construction is modern -- new nails, machine-made mortise-and-tenon joints holding drawer parts together, telltale marks made by modern saws rather than the marks left by antique hand tools.
Well-made used copies, sometimes more than 100 years old, are selling for almost as much as similar brand-new pieces. Decorators want the "look."
Serious collectors would like to have an authentic of-the-period antique cabinet to display antique porcelains, but it can be very expensive. They save money by buying a newer cabinet so they can spend money on antique porcelains.
A 2011 Neal Auction Co. sale in New Orleans offered a mid-19th-century cabinet in the Renaissance (1460-1600) style made of expensive Circassian walnut with ebony and ivory trim. Today's endangered-species laws have banned the use of most types of ebony and elephant ivory. The cabinet was a good copy, heavy and rectangular. It had a base, columns, moldings, finials, carvings, paneled doors, elaborate decorations and about 15 drawers and four doors. Some experts say cabinets like this were made to resemble imaginary buildings.
The cabinet sold for $7,200. A new cabinet similar to this would cost well more than $10,000, and a 15th-century piece probably couldn't be found for sale.
The collector's rule is: Study the best there is in museums and buy the best you can afford.
Terry Kovel's column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal), King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.