As often happens at Treasure Mart, the Detroit St. consignment shop, a customer recently went in looking for a couch and, two hours later, came out with a solid oak TV stand. “Yes, that’s definitely made by Amish people,” confirmed co-owner Elaine Johns after examining the hand-hewn joints and hefty brass hardware. “They don’t watch TV, but that gives them more time for good craftsmanship.” (Amish people eschew TV and other high-tech devices because of their commitment to a simple life.)

Not a scratch could be found. And at $200, the used stand was less than half the price of new TV stands of similar size made of imported wood. Usually such a bargain would be snatched up in its first few days, but this one had been sitting in the basement for two months. “I’m sure people must have noticed it,” Johns said, “but most people own bigger TV sets now.”

Johns says one of the hardest parts of her job is “watching people buy furniture that doesn’t last.” In many cases, she believes, ignorance is to blame–people are primarily preoccupied with price and don’t know how to distinguish good furniture from bad.

Treasure Mart displays most of its best furniture on the ground floor, and Johns gave a visitor a tutorial on how to evaluate quality. “These dovetails are the key,” she explains while peering inside an antique chest of drawers and pointing out the �xADtriangle-shaped joints that hold the sides of each drawer to the front. “These triangular joints were carved by a handsaw, so this is probably early 1800s.” Then she points out the circular machine-cut dovetails in another piece. “Just because they’re machined doesn’t mean this isn’t high-quality work,” she says. “It’s still handcrafted and made of solid wood.”

Because of intense competition from less expensive Asian imports, and deforestation worldwide, Johns says it has become difficult to find high-quality furniture made in the United States. “Trees are so scarce now,” she said. “There are only a few high-end furniture companies that use solid wood–and the Amish. Thank goodness you can count on the Amish.”