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A Collector's Guide to Antique Picture Frames

Whether searching for vintage picture frames to display old family photos or newer ones that were fashioned from reclaimed ceiling tiles, eBay is a good place to start. Choices range from ornate antiques to one-of-a-kind primitives. The bubbly vintage glass found in old picture frames adds a charming extra touch.

What to look for in antique frames

It may be difficult to tell the difference between old picture frames on eBay and well-made reproductions, but these guidelines can help. First, the back of the frame should show signs of age, such as wood that looks old or uneven. The wood changes color over time, and there may be a light spot where an old label used to be. The wood on the frame itself should have a patina like that of old wood furniture. If it's too light, it's probably a new frame. The second step is identifying the age by stamped, stenciled, engraved, or paper labels. An internet search may be necessary. Finally, antique frames are usually heavier than newer ones, and they are likely to have signs of age like "lines" in the gold leaf or a warm golden finish.

Antique frames for sale on eBay

A selection of old frames on eBay dates back as far as the 18th century. Shapes include rectangles, squares, and ovals. Styles vary from ornate plaster frames with gold leaf to small sterling silver options. Gold gilt was still favored in the 19th century, and some frames featured convex bubble glass. Stenciled Americana, although rare, and indigenous woods like oak and mahogany also marked this era. The same styles continued in the early 20th century, but new ones, such as Art Deco and Arts and Crafts, also entered the market.

What materials were used for antique frames?

The type of materials used to make picture frames varied depending on quality, craftsmanship, and style. Primitive tramp art frames were made by folk artists and sometimes prisoners who used pieces or wood from cigar boxes or shipping crates to whittle three-dimensional shapes. When those materials were unavailable, they used matchsticks, cardboard, toothpicks, popsicle sticks, or whatever small pieces of wood they could find to decorate their frames with geometric shapes. Mixed media, such as copper inserts in wooden frames, was sometimes seen during the Arts and Crafts movement. Wood that had been painted, goldleafed, or stained was standard. Other materials were also common, such as the following:

  • Brass
  • Bronze
  • Gold
  • Glass
  • Silver
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