4 HOW TO DATE FURNITURE, FASHION AND FOSSILS
Tricks of the trade to point you to the right decade, century or even millennium
Details: lack of symmetry and imperfect finishes of rungs, nails and screws imply handmade and likely older. Handmade dovetails on drawers (not precisely cut and spaced) suggest pre-1860.
Finish: usually shellac pre-1860s (lacquer and varnish came later). Shellac dissolves when rubbed with denatured alcohol.
Backing: solid wood, not plywood, says pre-1880s. Chipboard, 1960s on.
Finish: ‘Over-locked’ machine edging indicates the late 1960s/early 1970s on. Zips: not common until the late 1930s, and made of metal until the early 1960s. Labels: size labels are rare pre-late 1950s; care labels only used since early 1960s. Fabric: artificial fabrics for things other than underwear says post-World War II.
Carbon-14 is found in everything that once lived. After death, the amount of carbon-14 decreases regularly – half is lost every 5,700 years. So, with the right equipment and maths, radiocarbon dating can indicate the age of a fossil fairly precisely. However, it’s only reliable to about 60,000 years and it’s not future-proof – post-1940s, increased nuclear activity affects results.