How to Date Barley Twist Furniture?

Are you an antique collector, an interior designer, a furniture enthusiast, or someone who’s simply in awe of the timeless charm of meticulously crafted pieces? If so, you’ve probably come across the term ‘barley twist furniture’. This style, characterized by its twisted or spiraled detailing, has captivated people for centuries with its intricate craftsmanship and unique aesthetic appeal. This blog post will explore how to date barley twist furniture, unravel its history, and provide tips on how to date and care for these extraordinary pieces.

Identifying the Barley Twist Style

Barley twist furniture is distinguished by its most notable feature: the twisted or spiraled patterns often found on table and chair legs, bedposts, and other furniture pieces. The ‘twists’ can vary from tight and thin spirals to chunkier, more open twists, resembling the turns of a barley sugar candy (hence the name). The style is typically crafted from robust hardwoods like oak, walnut, and mahogany, contributing to its durability and timeless allure.

The History and Origin of Barley Twist Furniture

The barley twist style traces its roots back to Europe, particularly England and France, during the 17th century. However, it experienced a resurgence in popularity during the Victorian era and then again in the early 20th century. Each of these periods left distinctive marks on the style, influencing the size, type of wood used, and the design of the twists.

Tips on Dating and Valifying Barley Twist Pieces

Dating and valuing barley twist furniture involves careful observation and knowledge of historical style changes. Here are some factors to consider:

1. Wood Type: Earlier pieces were often made from oak, while later Victorian pieces typically used mahogany.

2. Size of the Twist: As a general rule, earlier pieces feature chunkier twists, while later pieces tend to have thinner, more intricate twists.

3. Craftsmanship: Older pieces usually exhibit superior craftsmanship, with hand-turned twists that are slightly irregular. In contrast, machine-made twists from the 20th century are more uniform.

4. Marks and Labels: Look for any maker’s marks or labels that could provide clues about the piece’s age and origin.

5. Patina and Wear: The patina (the sheen developed through age and use) and wear patterns can give clues about a piece’s age. However, be wary of artificial aging techniques.

For accurate valuation, it’s worthwhile consulting an antique dealer or professional appraiser. Online databases and antique guides can also be valuable resources for researching.

Care and Maintenance of Barley Twist Furniture

Owing to its robust material and quality craftsmanship, barley twist furniture can last for generations if properly cared for. Here are some tips:

1. Cleaning: Use a soft cloth and mild soap solution to clean the furniture. Avoid harsh chemicals, which can damage the wood’s surface.

2. Dusting: Regular dusting with a soft, dry cloth can prevent buildup.

3. Waxing: A quality furniture wax can protect the piece and enhance the wood’s natural beauty.

4. Repairs: For serious issues like cracks or broken twists, consult a professional restorer. DIY fixes could inadvertently decrease the piece’s value.

How to date barley twist furniture for sale?

When dating barley twist furniture pieces that are for sale, it’s crucial to take a cautious approach. Begin by studying the guidelines and tips mentioned in the previous sections, paying particular attention to the wood type, twist size, craftsmanship, and any visible maker’s marks or labels. Remember, older pieces usually feature chunkier twists crafted from oak, and often show signs of hand-turning, such as slight irregularities in the twist pattern. Conversely, later pieces typically have thinner twists, are made from mahogany, and exhibit a more uniform twist pattern due to machine turning.

Next, investigate the patina and wear patterns, keeping in mind that genuine aging results in a certain sheen and wear in areas that are frequently used or touched. Be alert for signs of artificial aging techniques, which might indicate a ‘faux’ antique.

Lastly, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Consulting with an antique dealer, professional appraiser, or a seasoned collector will provide valuable insights into the piece’s potential age and worth. Online databases and antique guides can also serve as helpful resources.

Remember, dating antique furniture isn’t an exact science, and it takes time and experience to hone the skill. However, the endeavor can be incredibly rewarding, especially when you discover a true gem.

How to Date Antique Furniture by Feet?

Furniture feet can provide valuable clues when dating antique furniture. Although it’s not an infallible method, understanding the changing styles of furniture feet over the centuries can help identify the era of a piece. Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Ball Foot: Commonly used in the early 17th century, especially in England, the ball foot is characterized by a spherical shape at the bottom of the leg.

2. Bun Foot: This simple, slightly flattened round disc-like foot was popular during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It’s often associated with England and Dutch styles.

3. Claw and Ball Foot: A distinctive feature of the Chippendale style, this foot shape resembles a bird’s claw gripping a ball and was popular during the mid-late 18th century.

4. Bracket Foot: Often found on case pieces, this foot features a right angle with an outward curve at the top, popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

5. Empire Foot: This foot type, characterized by its scroll-like shape, is associated with the American Empire style of the early 19th century.

6. Turned Foot: Common in Victorian-era furniture, this foot showcases the intricate designs made possible by the advancement of turning lathes.

7. Cabriole Leg: Not a foot style, but a leg style that ends in a foot, often a claw and ball foot or a club foot. The cabriole leg was a prominent feature of 18th-century furniture.

How to Date Furniture by Hardware?

Dating furniture pieces by hardware involves analyzing the type, material, and style of the hardware used. Here are some points to consider:

1. Hand-Forged Nails and Screws: Before the 18th century, nails and screws were hand-forged, making them irregular in shape. If you find these types of nails or screws, it could indicate that the furniture is quite old.

2. Machine-Cut Nails and Screws: In the 18th century, machines started to create nails and screws. These have a more uniform appearance compared to their hand-forged counterparts.

3. Brass Hardware: Brass hardware was commonly used in the 18th and 19th centuries. The presence of brass fixtures, such as handles and knobs, could point towards these periods.

4. Screws: The shape of the screw’s head can also give clues about the age of furniture. Flathead screws were used until the late 19th century, after which Phillips head screws became common.

5. Hardware Style: The style of hardware can also indicate the period of furniture. For instance, Chippendale style hardware is typically ornate and was popular in the mid-18th century.

6. Plating and Finishes: Metals such as brass were often lacquered during the Victorian era to prevent tarnishing, while nickel and chrome plating became prevalent in the 20th century.

Bear in mind that hardware can be replaced over time, so it may not always represent the original period of the furniture. However, original hardware can significantly enhance the value of antique furniture.

Final Words

Barley twist furniture is more than just a style; it’s a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship of past eras. Whether you’re adding to your antique collection, incorporating a statement piece into your interior design, or admiring the intricacies of its design, understanding the history and characteristics of barley twist furniture can greatly enrich your appreciation for these enduring pieces. So, the next time you come across a barley twist piece, take a moment to appreciate the journey it’s been on – and maybe even add a touch of timeless elegance to your own space.


When was barley twist furniture made?

Barley twist furniture gained prominence during the 17th century in England. The style was particularly favoured during the Jacobean era (1603-1625) and continued to be popular into the late Victorian era in the late 19th century.

How do you tell how old a piece of furniture is?

Determining the age of a piece of furniture involves examining various aspects such as the wood type, craftsmanship, maker’s marks or labels, patina, and wear patterns. The type and style of the furniture’s feet and hardware can also provide valuable clues. However, dating antique furniture is not an exact science and may require the expertise of an antique dealer, professional appraiser, or seasoned collector.

How old are barley twist legs?

Barley twist legs, as part of barley twist furniture, trace their origins back to the 17th century. Their age can vary greatly depending on when the piece was made, ranging from a few hundred years old to more recent reproductions.

What is the history of barley twists?

The barley twist design finds its roots in the architectural details of ancient Greece and Rome, where twisted columns were a recurring motif. The design made its way into furniture making in the 17th century. Named for its resemblance to barley sugar twists, this style became a popular feature in the design of table legs, chair legs, and other furniture pieces. Interestingly, the size of the barley twist became more refined and delicate over time, moving from chunky twists in earlier pieces to thinner, more intricate twists in later pieces. Despite the evolution of furniture styles over the centuries, barley twist designs have held their appeal and remain a sought-after stylistic feature in both antiques and reproductions.

Leave a Comment