Buying a piece of antique or vintage furniture can be daunting for the novice, so here are some pointers.
First, ask yourself, do I love this piece? Seems silly, but if you are going to put a piece of furniture in your home, then you should love it.
Second, pick it up (if you can). Look at all angles, underneath, the back, inside, pull out the drawers, and look at the hardware. Does the wood look new when you look inside? Wood oxidizes with age, so even the inside of a drawer will acquire some patina with age. How are the joints done? How does the finish strike you? Ask yourself all of these questions and see if your gut is telling you that something seems wrong or off or if something seems right.
Third, use a flashlight and a black light. Flashlights can illuminate the dark recesses of, let’s say, and armoire or chest. The black light (which is available on Amazon for about $17 and has many uses in the world of antiques and vintage) can tell if a piece has been messed with or restored or refinished. New wood will fluoresce more than old wood. If a finish has been repaired, those spots will appear darkly fluorescent against the piece. If your examination reveals some flaws or restoration, then ask the dealer about it. But remember that furniture is sat on, used for storage, eaten off of, so do not be scared away by some minor repairs, because most furniture is repaired at some point. Just make sure that most of the piece is still original and the repairs were done well.
Fourth, ask yourself again if you love it! Never buy a piece of furniture that you do not love. If you do not love it, you will end up replacing it which will cost more in the long run.