What Is a Provenance and What Makes It So Important for the Antique Industry?

If you are new to dealing with and buying antiques, you might have a limited understanding of what the word ‘provenance’ means. If you are purchasing an antique claiming to have provenance, but you haven’t dealt with it before or don’t have a very good understanding of it, then it is essential to obtain this knowledge before you buy anything.

A provenance refers to the record of a collectable item or antique’s history. It enables antique buyers and sellers to identify an item’s source and obtain some understanding of all or part of its history. This collected evidence contributes to an antique item’s source and provides additional information to give the piece confirmed authenticity, credibility and a description of any damage, repairs or alterations that have been made. These factors, as well as their proof, can significantly affect a piece’s desirability and price.

Provenance Can Affect Value

Most frequently provenance comes with very valuable antiques. Good provenance leaves no doubts and provides unarguable evidence. It proves and confirms the source and history of an antique.

Just claiming or knowing that a Chippendale antique table was owned by royalty or was made by Chippendale isn’t enough information for a dealer. It is very unlikely that anybody in the antique industry is going to just take your word for it. Original records and hard copies are needed for proof.

There are many forms that provenance can come in, ranging from test results to verbal and written records. Below we discuss some of these:

Certificate of Authenticity (COA)

A reputable research company, industry expert, authority body (e.g. LAPADA), or individual must verify and sign a COA. Without this kind of authentication, a certificate might not be considered to be valid proof.

Photographic Evidence

Whenever there is photographic evidence, either of an image or film of the maker or reputable owner using, wearing or standing next to the piece, it is classified as a type of provenance. Cameras were not in use until the early 18th-century. Therefore, any images claiming to be prior to that time, are most likely false. Sketches and paintings are classified as provenance as well.


Especially with antique art, the stickers from the gallery that an antique was sold in when it was part of an exhibition may be classified as provenance. These stickers usually have the name, location, and date of the exhibit on them.


Original receipt copies that are signed and dated may be classified as sufficient evidence. They may date back as far as the piece’s first sale or as late as its most recent one.

Hand Written Notes

These notes can be a prestigious form of provenance, particularly if it comes from the artist or maker. In some cases, there needs to be provenance for the notes in order to prove that they are genuine.

There must be various details about the antique include in the provenance. It includes the maker, dimensions, and location and date of the creation, in addition to any other information that has been collected. In order for the provenance to get accepted, there has to be more than one type of evidence or several coming from one source.

There is considerable value provided by high-quality provenance, and individuals will go to very great lengths in order to imitate this type of evidence. So before you buy an item that has provenance, it is critically important for you to assess the worth of it. Don’t accept duplicates, emailed images, photocopies or anything else other than the original. Every item needs to be approved or hand-signed by an external expert. Every signature must be traceable and identifiable and include the contact information for the signatory. Any statements from previous owners need to be supported by contact information and dates.

You could have a genuine piece of antique furniture, that has a misleading and false provenance that can have a detrimental effect on the piece’s reliability and value. They are frequently created by foolish sellers and buyers, and that is why we always recommend that you buy antique pieces only from an expert and credible dealer.

There are other types of provenance besides the ones we have discussed here, and it can come in many unexpected and unusual forms, including personal letters, books, newspapers, postcards and much more.

There are many specialist companies, such as The Abbey Group who work with antiques and modern wood furniture.  No matter what the size, type or value of each item their master craftsmen use their extensive skills to lovingly restore each piece.