From ornate gold to simple oak, antique pictures frame styles are varied and beautiful. If you want to set off a special picture or add a mirror to a lovely frame, learn about the options and how to identify the various types of antique picture frames.
Antique Picture Frame Styles Through the Years
Separate picture frames have been around since about 1423, but most of the frames you'll encounter in antique shops and online auctions are from the 1800s and 1900s. You'll see a number of lovely styles, many of which work beautifully in homes of today.
Early American Wood Frames
According to Collectors Weekly, some of the first frames to appear in America were made of simple wood moulding. These early frames became more elaborate throughout the 1800s and 1900s, eventually including decorations reminiscent of American agriculture. You'll see wheat sheafs, leaves, and more. Still, most are fairly simple, allowing the beauty of the native wood to show off the artwork contained in the frame.
Gilded Victorian Frames
The Victorian era embraced ornate decoration and opulence, and you can see this in picture frames as well. Beautiful gilded frames, usually carved from wood and covered in gold leaf, were a way to set off a simple photograph or painting. The frame was part of the art. You'll find these frames in mixed condition, since the gilding and any plaster decorations, can wear away with time.
Arts and Crafts Picture Frames
The ornate opulence of the Victorian era gave way to a simpler aesthetic. During the Arts and Crafts movement, frames were about handmade quality, beautiful wood, and simple style. Decorations included natural elements like carved wood or metal flowers, branches, and vines.
Art Deco Frames
In the early part of the 20th century, decorating tastes became even simpler. Decorations were often geometric motifs or simple floral designs in an otherwise plain frame. These styles felt modern and streamlined, reflecting the changing technology of the era.
Identifying an Antique Picture Frame
Because decorating styles come back and frames may hang for many years in a home, it's sometimes difficult to tell whether a frame is antique. Here are some signs to look for as you examine an old picture frame.
Turn It Over
The back of a picture frame offers important clues about its age. Look for wormholes in the wood, warping that comes with age and humidity changes, and signs about the construction. If it's fit together without nails or tacks, it may be very old. If it features older hardware, that's another clue it's an antique. Most new reproduction frames won't have backs that look old.
Look at the Materials
According to Lowy 1907, frames were typically made of wood prior to the 19th century. After that time, they were often cast from plaster attached to a wood frame. If any of the gilding has chipped off, do you see plaster beneath? If so, the frame is likely from the 19th century or newer. Similarly, the gilding itself can offer clues. If there are paint brush marks, it is painted and not gilded. This means it may be less valuable. If there are faintly darker areas in the gilding with the gilt overlapped, it may be higher quality and an antique.
Assigning Value to Antique Picture Frames
Like any antique item, there's a lot of variation in the value of antique picture frames. Some sell for many thousands of dollars, which others are worth only a few dollars. If you're in doubt, it's always a good idea to have your frame appraised.
Factors Affecting Value
A number of factors can affect the value of a frame:
- Condition - Since a picture frame's purpose is to be decorative, damage can dramatically detract from its value. A frame in beautiful shape is worth more than one with chipped gilding, missing plaster, scratches, and other problems. Original glass can add to the value, and restoration may reduce it.
- Size - All things being equal, larger frames are worth more than smaller frames.
- Age - Older frames are often worth more, especially if they are in excellent condition. However, certain styles are classically attractive and may be valuable even if they are not as old.
- Shape and style - The shape and style of a frame can add a lot to its value, especially if the frame fits with contemporary decorating approaches.
- Noted designer - Although most frames don't feature a mark or association with a noted designer, having this provenance can increase the value.
Example Values for Antique Picture Frames
Picture frames sell for a wide range of prices, but you can get a sense of what yours may be worth by looking at similar sales. Be sure to check frames that have already sold, since this is the most accurate way to gauge value.
- A rare frame by designer Newcomb Macklin sold for about $1,500 on eBay. It was in beautiful condition and featured a butterfly motif.
- A circa 1840 American tiger maple frame sold for about $400 in early 2020. It had the original glass and backboard.
- An ornate 1890s frame with an oval opening sold for about $150. It was in excellent condition.
Many Beautiful Options
Whether you love the ornate style of older frames or you want to show off a period piece of art or old photograph in a frame from the appropriate era, there are lots of beautiful options to choose from. Take some time to browse through the offerings online or at your local antique store to find the perfect frame for your needs. You can also repurpose antique and vintage picture frames into beautiful new pieces.