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How do I identify a picture frame?

Identifying an antique picture frame and its parts

Regardless of whether it’s simple oak or ornate gold, an antique picture frame can be beautiful and varied. One can even add a mirror or zero in on a special photo, by learning about these different types of antique frames and the options available for them.

The style of antique photo frames throughout the years

Picture frames have been around since the 1400’s (1423 to be exact), but there haven’t been many picture frames that haven’t been dated to the 1800 and 1900s. While looking at these frames, you can see that there are a number of different styles that can be used to compliment your home in this age.

Gilded Victorian Frame

During the Victorian era ornate decoration and opulence were embraced - this carried over into the picture frames that were produced. Usually carved from wood and plated with gold leaf, beautiful, gilded frames were one of the best ways to make a regular painting or photograph pop. The frame was quite literally considered a part of the art. Frames such as these will be found in mixed conditions, mainly because the plaster decorations and gilding can wear away with time.

Early American Wood frames

Some of the first frames to be found in America were actually made of pretty basic wood moulding. These frames, from the 18 and 1900s, were pretty elaborate and eventually were decorated with things that reminded one of American Agriculture. For instance, you will see things such as leaves, wheat sheafs, etc on them. Most of these things are fairly simple, which allows the frame’s wood to showcase the artwork that it contains.

Art Deco Frames

During the earlier part of the 20th century, individual tastes, when it came to decorating, became much simpler. Decorations such as simple floral designs, geometric motifs, etc. were often featured on a pretty basic frame. This made the frames feel streamlined, which reflected the evolving technology of that era.

Arts and Crafts Picture Frames

The Victorian’s era ornate opulence gave off a much simpler aesthetic. Frames were made with beautiful wood, simple style, and handmade quality during the Arts and Crafts movement of that time. They were decorated with elements such as metal flowers, vines, branches and carved wood.

How to Identify an Antique Frame

Identify the material

You have to figure out if the frames are made from wood or if it’s a plaster frame. Composition or plaster frames came about in the early 19th century. If you know that the frame is made of plaster rather than carved wood, then you know that it’s probably not much older than the 19th century. The same goes even if it has features that would hint that it was made in an earlier century. An example of this would be a Louis XV frame that is made of compo, or plaster - there’s no way that it was made in the 18th century. ;

Look at the back

Looking at the verso, or back of the frame and observing it carefully can show a lot about the frame itself. For instance, if the frame is warped, has wormholes, or built with old hardware, then it is likely that it is old. You’ll find that most framers do not duplicate wormholes or warping on the frame even if they distress it to make it come off as being old.

Look for a classic shape

A frame's design and style is somewhat helpful in helping figure out how old it is but, you want to pay attention to the fact that some designs were reproduced in later times or were made over long periods of time - meaning that you don’t want to pay much attention to these details.

Take the tabernacle frame design for instance. Churches in the olden days used to feature tabernacle frames but that does not mean that every tabernacle frame you see is an antique. Back in the 19th century, the American architect Standford White managed to make his own variation of that design.

Similar to that previously mentioned, the Italian Cassetta Frame, which was first mentioned in the 13th century, was continually reproduced in both the 19th and 20th centuries.

Search for gilding lines

Not all gilded frames are valuable antiques. It depends on the metal that was used in the gilding and whether the gold that was used is genuine. For instance, what may look like gold, could actually be a bronze paint finish, something that is often used to mask damaged gilding. You can typically see the brush strokes on the gilding from the bronze paint being applied. Or one would be able to see the discoloration that the bronze goes through after it’s been applied.

On the flip side of that, genuine gold is applied by hand, doesn’t tarnish with age, and has an unmistakable sheen.

If you have an old wooden frame that has genuine gold and gold leaf, and that is well designed, it may have some value. Aside from that, frames of this variety can suit contemporary artworks and a number of oil paintings.

If this helps make sure to check out our other posts....of it you'd like more help, give us a call at (954) 667-0660.


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