How to Date Antique Furniture by Foot Style: An Expert Guide

When trying to determine the age of an antique furniture piece, there are many clues to look for—the overall style, the type of wood, the construction techniques, the hardware, and any maker‘s marks or labels. But one of the most telling signs of a piece‘s origins is often overlooked: The feet.

The style of foot on a chair, table, chest, or cabinet can yield valuable insight into when and where the piece was made. Furniture foot styles have evolved over time, with certain distinct types being associated with particular furniture-making eras and regions.

By learning to recognize these characteristic foot shapes, you can begin to roughly date an older or antique furniture piece. Of course, the feet alone don‘t definitively date an item—all the other stylistic and construction elements need to align too. But the legs and feet are a great starting point and can help you narrow down your antique detective work.

In this detailed guide, we‘ll explore the key types of antique furniture feet and how to identify them. For each major foot style, I‘ll discuss its defining visual characteristics, the time period in which it was most common, and the furniture styles it is typically associated with. I‘ll also provide example photos to help you recognize each type.

By the end of this article, you‘ll have a strong foundation in using foot shape to date older and antique furniture. Let‘s dive in!

The Major Antique Furniture Foot Styles

Ball or Bun Feet

The ball foot, shaped like a round sphere or flattened bun, is one of the earliest types of furniture feet. It emerged in the early 17th century and remained popular through the early 18th century Baroque period.

Ball feet are most often seen on heavy case pieces like chests and cabinets, rather than chairs or tables. They‘re usually paired with stout, squat legs that convey a sense of solidity and stability.

Key characteristics:

– Spherical or slightly flattened ball shape
– Relatively large in proportion to the leg
– Leg is thick and sturdy, not delicate
– Often made of dark hardwood like walnut
– May have simple incised lines or ring turnings as decoration

Associated styles and periods:

– Jacobean (1600-1690)
– William and Mary (1690-1730)
– Early Baroque (1650-1700)

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Flemish Scroll Feet

The elegant Flemish scroll foot features an exaggerated S-curved shape, resembling a scroll of paper. It first appeared in the early 18th century and is strongly associated with the Queen Anne furniture style.

Key characteristics:

– Elongated S-curve, often with a sharp "elbow" bend
– Leg flows smoothly into the scroll
– Graceful and feminine in appearance
– May terminate in a small pad or disc
– Most often made of walnut or mahogany

Associated styles and periods:

– Queen Anne (1720-1760)
– Early Georgian (1714-1760)
– Late Baroque (1700-1750)

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Claw-and-Ball Feet

Perhaps the most recognizable antique furniture foot, the claw-and-ball consists of a realistically carved animal claw clutching a ball or sphere. It‘s most often styled as a bird‘s talon, but lion‘s paw, dog paw, and deer hoof variations exist too.

The claw-and-ball originated in ancient China as a motif symbolizing the dragon‘s claw grasping a pearl or crystal ball. European cabinetmakers adopted the style in the early 18th century and it hit its peak of popularity with the Chippendale furniture of the 1750s-70s.

Key characteristics:

– Highly detailed, lifelike carving of animal claw
– Claw has 3-5 clearly articulated toes
– Grasps a smooth round ball or sphere
– May have acanthus leaf carving where leg meets foot
– Most often made of mahogany

Associated styles and periods:

– Chippendale (1750s-1780s)
– Some early Queen Anne (1720-1750)
– Some late Georgian (1760-1800)

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Spade or Thimble Feet

The spade foot, also called a thimble foot, is a simple tapered cylinder shape resembling the handle of a spade or thimble. It‘s generally quite petite and delicate compared to other foot styles of the same period.

Spade feet first appeared in the mid-18th century, during the transition between the Queen Anne and Chippendale furniture eras. They saw a resurgence of popularity in the American Federal period of the early 1800s.

Key characteristics:

– Tapered cylindrical or conical shape
– Slender and delicate in proportion
– Attached to a thin, straight leg
– Usually has a turned ring or collar where the leg meets the foot
– Often made of mahogany or other dark wood

Associated styles and periods:

– Late Queen Anne (1740-1760)
– Early Chippendale (1750-1770)
– Federal and Hepplewhite (1780-1810)

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French/Louis XV Feet

The French-style foot, also known as a Louis XV foot after the furniture style it‘s strongly associated with, features a gently curving, splayed shape. The legs flow seamlessly into the feet, without a visually distinct transition point. The overall effect is graceful and naturalistic.

This foot style first emerged in early 18th century France and quickly spread throughout Europe. It was most popular during the Rococo period of the 1730s-1760s. The French foot saw renewed interest in the mid-19th century Revival styles.

Key characteristics:

– Cabriole leg curves outwards into a gently splayed foot
– Joins leg without clear visual break
– Naturalistic, organic appearance
– Slender and lightweight
– Often made of beech or fruitwoods and gilded

Associated styles and periods:

– Louis XV/Rococo (1730-1760)
– Chippendale (1750-1780)
– 19th century French Revival

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Bracket or Ogee Feet

The bracket foot has a sinuous S-curved shape, with the upper curve bowing outwards and the lower curve swooping back in. It‘s sometimes called an ogee foot, referencing the ogee arch shape used in architecture.

Bracket feet originated in the early 18th century, during the Queen Anne period. They transitioned into blockier, chunkier versions later in the century with Chippendale furniture. Bracket feet experienced a comeback with late 19th century Colonial Revival pieces.

Key characteristics:

– Opposing S-curve or ogee arch shape
– Joins leg at distinct right angle
– Substantial visual "weight"
– Front surface sometimes has incised or inlaid decoration
– Typically made of mahogany or walnut

Associated styles and periods:

– Early to Mid-Georgian (1715-1760)
– Chippendale (1750-1780)
– Colonial Revival (1870-1920)

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Other Clues In the Feet

In addition to the overall shape and style of a furniture foot, there are some other key things to look at that can help date a piece:

Wear and Patina

Genuine antique furniture feet will show signs of wear, deterioration, dirt accumulation, and patina consonant with the piece‘s supposed age. Look for:
– Nicks, dings, scratches, and gouges on the bottom of the feet from decades of moving and use
– Uneven wear on feet, with back feet usually showing less than front
– Dark patina and accumulation of grime in crevices
– Dry, "checked" (crackled) finish or veneer on feet
– Insect damage like small "shot holes" from wood-boring beetles

Construction Clues

Antique furniture is put together using different techniques than modern pieces. Inspect the feet for these signs of genuine age:

  • Solid wood construction – antiques rarely use plywood, particleboard or fiberboard
  • Pegged mortise-and-tenon and dovetail joinery
  • Handcut nail and screw holes
  • Hand-cut dovetails
  • Tool marks from hand planes, chisels, and spoke shaves

Maker‘s Marks

The underside of furniture feet sometimes have stamps, labels, or brands indicating the cabinetmaker or workshop. Some of these marks can be researched to precisely date the piece. Antique marks are usually inked, burned, or embossed directly into the wood.

Lesser-Known Antique Foot Styles

While the big six foot shapes discussed above are the most common, there are some other more obscure styles you may encounter that still point to a piece‘s age:

Toupie Feet

– small, round bun shape
– seen on early 18th century French commodes and tables

Spanish Scroll Feet

– chunky, squared-off scroll shape
– found on 17th-18th century Iberian peninsula pieces

Trifid Feet

– paw foot with an ankle and three forward-facing toes
– inspired by ancient Roman decoration
– popular in England/America 1740s-1770s

Drake Feet

– flat, splayed webbed foot, like a duck‘s
– seen on some William & Mary and Queen Anne lowboys and tables

Caveats and Conclusions

While the style of the feet is an important clue in dating antique furniture, it‘s essential to consider it in context with all the other aspects of the piece. Elements like overall form, proportion, construction techniques, secondary woods, and hardware all need to align with the time period suggested by the foot type.

It‘s also important to be aware that feet can be replaced over the life of a piece. Many antiques have had their feet rebuilt or restored. The "marriage" of an older or newer foot on the wrong period base is not uncommon, as a repair tactic.

Stylistic revivals and reproductions from later eras can also muddy the water. Many 19th century makers produced pieces copying the styles of the 17th and 18th centuries, including the associated foot shapes. These revival pieces have now gained antique status in their own right.

The key is to look at the piece as a whole, and consider the feet as one element in a larger body of stylistic evidence. If you‘re ever unsure about the age of a valuable piece, it‘s always best to consult an experienced antique furniture appraiser or specialist. They‘ll be able to assess all the factors beyond just the feet.

I hope this guide has given you helpful foundation for beginning to date older and antique furniture based on the foot shape and construction. By training your eye to spot the characteristic styles, you‘ll be well on your way to roughly dating antique furniture finds on your own. But remember, identifying antiques is a skill developed through long experience – always keep learning, researching, and refining your knowledge!

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