How to Buy an Antique Table

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How to Buy an Antique Table

An antique table can lend beauty to a dining room, living room, games room or other areas of a home. The designs and accents of an earlier era can mesh wonderfully with modern decor, or anchor a room stocked with other period pieces. There are many styles available, and a few simple guidelines can help with the identification and purchase process. Discerning typical antique features is important, and knowing what makes a table an antique is crucial. Finally, learning the kind of care an antique table requires will make a prospective buyer better prepared to make the right choice from eBay’s selection.

The History of Antique Tables

The four-legged table dates back to ancient Egyptian times. Later, the slab-sided tables from Greek and Roman cultures mirrored the sacred altars of worship. Tables from this period were commonly low to ground, as eating was done from a seated position, either cross-legged on the floor or from a low couch. The advent of four-legged chairs saw the heights of tables rise. The earliest Western tables were created simply by placing a board across two trestles, and were dismantled after use. The contemporary ‘trestle table’ has its origins here, with the trestles now of single fixed standards as opposed to the collapsible medieval types.

Longer and narrower ‘refectory’ tables from the medieval era were used for monastic dining. Another common medieval table had the legs connected at their feet by cross-members. Known as ‘joined tables’, these were large edifices, often furnished with draw-leaves for greater seating capacity. The legs of these tables became massive and bulbous during Tudor times, eventually morphing into the single and double-pedestal table. Later, changes from the renaissance era up to the Great Depression would see an explosion of styles and innovations.  

Discover Antique Tables

Many antique tables are 200 years old or more. This speaks volumes about the craftsmanship and durability of such items. If it’s still around today, one can be pretty sure it was well-made originally. In fact, many antique tables were passed on in families from generation to generation. Oak was the main kind of wood used in Elizabethan times. It was heavy and serviceable, and some of the massive tables from the period reflect the nature of this material. Later, tastes moved towards the ornate and extravagant, with gilded mounts, detailed carvings and fine trims and mouldings. This was a result of French and Dutch influences. Eventually finer woods were also employed. Cherry and red-brown mahogany became popular, as did the dark streaking of rosewood and the whorled patterns of walnut.

Parts of Antique Tables

There are almost innumerable variations of antique table types and styles, but the majority adhere to basic form with similar constituent parts. 




The surface is usually square, round or rectangular


Main supports which raise the top off of the floor


Also called a skirt or frieze, is the under-frame connecting the top to the legs


Upper part of the leg


Area of the leg just above the foot


Lower part of the leg (if distinct from rest of leg)

Drop Leaf

An extension of the top over the apron which is hinged and can be put down


Cross-members which connect the legs at the bottom for more strength and stability

Types of Antique Tables

Tables can be used for any number of purposes, but they all share common features. They are typically flat and horizontal surfaces. Beyond this, there are likely more types of tables than there are types of any other furniture.





Console table

Made with brackets rather than back legs

· Takes up less space and ideal for placement against a wall in hallways and reception areas

· Not suitable for other purposes

Pier table

Designed for placement against wall between two windows

· Utilizes space and also functional

· Can be placed against most walls with pleasing effect

Butler’s table

Tray top and folding stand

· Very versatile and lightweight

· Top tray is sometimes removable

Butterfly table

Gate-leg table with two drop leaves supported by wing-shaped braces

· Splayed legs enhance the sense of movement

· Developed in New England during 1800s


Half-moon shape or with a drop leaf to achieve same effect

· Very elegant style

· French style developed in 1750s

Gate-leg table

Drop leaf style where the side are attached to legs that are hinged beneath the table top

· Legs are often beautifully turned or sculpted

· Usually oak, walnut or maple

Pembroke table

Small table with two hinged leaves and drawers at either end

· Prime example of Georgian, Neoclassical and Federal styles

· An x-stretcher connection at bottom lends strength

Side table

Long and thin or half-round

· Multi-functional and space-saving

· Will work in almost any room in the home

Hall table

Long and thin or half-round

· Multi-functional and space saving

· Many old English homes had a hall table in the main reception area

Artist or drafting table

Sloping and adjustable top

· Ideal for home projects like puzzles, painting, crafts etc.

· Very unique, so placement and room choice is crucial

Tavern table

Small and sturdy, with a top that overhangs the base

· Can feature cabriole legs and drawers

· Lightweight and portable

Card table

Usually round to accommodate multiple players

· Lends ambience to home games

· Often folds down for storage

Dressing table

Mirror attached for use in bedroom

· Dressing tables are useful and can act as storage

· Need extra care in handling

Tea table

Also called a tea poy, small round or square top supported by tripod pedestal

· Ideal for sharing drinks or food as it is small and thus, gives a feeling of intimacy when sitting around it

· Often finely made requiring care in handling

Kang table

Chinese style, low to the ground and positioned in front of couch

· Ideal as a coffee table

· Must be treated with care if it is genuine antique

Factors to Consider When Buying an Antique Table

Shopping for an antique table can be exciting and interesting. A little research and knowledge will greatly assist in making an informed choice.

  • Wood colour – Wood changes colour over time, so a true antique table will have variations in colour unless it has been refinished.
  • Nails – Any nails used before 1880 will be square-ish in shape. After 1880, they will have round shanks and heads. Also take note of old, rusty nails in rust-free holes, which could be a sign of fakery.
  • Machine tool marks – If a table was made after 1830, machine tool marks may be present. Before this, tables were made by hand.
  • Tabletops and sides – A very old table top will be wavy when examined in good light. Side extensions should be difficult to move due to shrinkage.
  • Faked aging - Wear and tear that appears too uniform may have been deliberately weathered to make an item look older.

Typical Features of an Antique Table

1.  Cabriole

A curved table leg where the knee faces out and the ankle faces inward. The foot is often ornate, common to Queen Ann and Chippendale styles.

2.  Ball foot

An early type of simple, spherical foot at the end of a straight table leg.

3.  Bun foot

A flatter, squatter version of the ball foot.

4.  Spider leg

A group of thin, curved legs (three or four) that extend below a round tabletop.

How to Care for an Antique Table

Antique tables are fragile and require careful attention. Direct sunlight can easily damage the wood, as can moisture if the table is kept in a basement or attic. Cleaning and polishing is fine, but take care not to overwork the wood with cloths, polishes or oils. The original wood finish of an antique table can affect value. Consult a guide or expert for advice first.

Popular Antique Table Manufacturers

  • Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779)
  • John Linnell (1729-1796)
  • William Kent (1686-1748)
  • Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806)
  • George Hepplewhite (1727-1789)

Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Tables

Antique tables require special care, including products that can be useful for maintenance.

  • Refinisher
  • Antique furniture wax
  • Mild soaps or cleansers
  • Soft cloths or brushes

Finding Antique Tables on eBay

Once you determine the type of antique table you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, click on ‘Antiques’, then ‘Table&’ and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Searching for Antique Tables on eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for an antique table. For example, to find a mahogany Chippendale dining table, type ‘Mahogany Chippendale Dining Chair’ into the search box, and then click on the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tips page for more advice on searching for antique tables with keywords. If you can’t find the exact table you want, try shopping eBay Stores..


Finding the right antique table begins with knowing what style you want. The information oneBay can help you find the right antique table or even full antique dining room sets. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique table with your preferred style safely and securely on eBay..

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