How widely is Staffordshire china counterfeited? That is a question
that I put to a dozen authorities and to which I received as many
different answers, from "Scarcely at all" to "The shops are full of fakes."
I have come to believe that the real answer lies midway between these
two. It would not pay, of course, to counterfeit the more common sorts.
There is less money in it than in faking antique fur niture. I am told
that a lot of spurious Staffordshire comes from Baltimore, but I have
found no evidence to prove it. Yet it is certain that the counterfeiting
is done, and it is well for the collector to be on his guard, not only
against peddlers, auctions, and small antique shops, but even against
the honest New England farmer, who manages to sell off the family
heirlooms to a different set of summer boarders every year. Where does he get
Before considering this subject of counterfeiting, let me first
speak of the business of honest reproductions and tell the story of a fake
antique that I recently saw.
As in furniture, the manufacture of reproductions, as such, with no
intent to deceive, is a perfectly legitimate business, provided the
stamp of the potter is not forged, of which more anon. No one could object
to the manufacture and sale of ten-cent willow plates on legal or moral
Right in the heart of old Staffordshire a modern manufacturing firm
is to-day making very high-class reproductions for the American trade.
Their ware is new in appearance, but the patterns are exactly copied,
and they have come as nearly as possible to the right color. In the line
are some thirty Wood and Clews patterns. Plates sell for fifty cents
apiece, and for every-day use are not without merit.
An acquaintance in the importing house which carries this line
showed me an old-looking plate one day. It was Wood's "Battle of Bunker
Hill" design, in his grape-vine border. The glaze was scratched as with a
knife, and the color of the body was yellowish like that of century-old
"I have several times been offered $20 for this plate," said he,"by
men who call themselves connoisseurs. But it's a fake. See here."
He took from a drawer one of the modern reproductions of the same
"It is one of these, fixed up." "How was it done?" I asked, noting
the scratches and the difference in color.
"The scratches were made with a small emerywheel," he replied. "This
broke the glaze so that the ware could be yellowed and `antiqued' by
means of a salt bath and boiling in fat. Pretty clever, isn't it?"
It certainly was."I'm not surprised that it has deceived people,"
"Still, it's far from a perfect fake," he went on. "If it had been a
rare pattern on a large platter, it would have paid to take more pains.
You will notice that, in the hollow near the inside of the border, the
glaze and color are still fresh and newlooking. And the scratches, too,
are evidently artificial, as you can see if you have ever examined the
knife-marks on old plates. They are too few, too coarse, and run too
much in the same direction. But all this might have been due to chance,
and the plate might be called genuine, were it not for the lack of the
trade-mark on the back."
He turned the plate over. The familiar circular mark of Enoch Wood
cX Sons or the little Wood imprint was not there, only the name of the
subject, "The Battle of Bunker Hill," and the date of the battle.
And that is the principal safeguard. For while some of the
Staffordshire ware by unknown makers bears no trade-mark, the most valuable
pieces, which are most frequently counterfeited, were all made by potters
who used a mark. And these marks are sel dom, if ever, copied. That
would be a penal offense, punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both, and
few fakers are bold enough to risk it.
It therefore becomes well worth while to study the marks and
imprints of the Staffordshire potters. Armed with this knowledge, you will
seldom be deceived. The best way is to examine the marks on the specimens
in some good public or private collec tion. No book that I have seen
contains all of them. The English books, like that of William
Chafferswhich are, on the whole, thorough and trustworthyare especially likely to
slight those marks which were used chiefly on the ware made for the
I am able to present herewith all the more important of these
Staffordshire marks. I traced them directly from plates and platters in the
collection from which these photographs were taken. All are actual size,
and I made no attempt to relieve them of their crude appearance. There
are a few others not given, which are either very similar to these, or
else very rare. There is one, for instance, of A.Stevenson and one of
Ralph Stevenson & Williams, which are very seldom seen. Some of the
potters used secondary marks on special series, in addition to their
regular marks or imprints.
The marks are printed on blue on the back of the plate, either on
the margin or in the center. Often they are very imperfect and crudely
printed, but they can always be deciphered by one familiar with them.
What I have termed imprints are impressions of a die, sunk in the ware,
and not colored.
Wood used two imprints, one or the other of which is found on almost
every piece of his ware. One of them is simply the word WOOD, printed
Occasionally imprints are found showing the eagle and lettering
without the circle. In addition to his imprint, Wood occasion with
different series, chiefly an eagle with the subject below. The mark bearing "
Enoch Wood & Sons, Burslem," in the ribbon, with leaves, is one of the
less common marks, and is found" without an imprint, on " The Landing of
the Pilgrims" plate.
J.& R. Clews also used an imprint on almost all their ware. It shows
a crown within a circle, with lettering. Once in a great while an
authentic Clews plate is found with no mark. On the Syntax pieces a blue
mark appears in addition to the imprint, giving the subject of
the picture in script. Usually, however, no blue mark was used on Clews
A.Stevenson used a circular imprint with a from which the Clews
imprint was adapted. There is no difference except in the name. He also
used the single im pressed word STEVENSON. J,& W. Ridgway always used the
mark here shown,on their Beauties of America" series,with the subjecyt
of the picture in the middle. This is the plate size. The mark on
platters is much larger.
Stubbs used no imprint, and his mark seldom bears his name. His work
is known by his borders and by his peculiar trade mark. It shows the
name of the picture in script, in closed in an oval border.Ralph
Stevenson's earlier work is impressed STEVENSON. He also had a blue mark on
which appears the subject and R.S." R. Stevenson & Williams also used a
blue mark,giving the subject and the firm initials. This appears on their
American views with the oak leaf and acorn border.
Mayer's coat-of-arms plates bear a circular imprint and a printed
blue eagle. The imprint is very much like Wood's. The eagle in the circle
faces to the right, and the lettering reads, "T. Mayer, Stoke," with
"Staffordshire" below, and "Warranted" in place of "Semi-china." His
printed mark is one of the largest used.
Rogers used the imprint xocExs, and Adams had a circular one similar
to Wood's and Mayer's, bearing his name. I believe that nine tenths of
the counterfeited antiques are not made deliberately at a factory, as
faked furniture is, but are honest reproductions, purchased for fifty
cents each, "antiqued" by boiling in fat, scratching, etc., and sold for
about $20 each. This provides a nice little profit. But in each case
the old Staffordshire trade-mark is lacking. Of course the modern
manufacturer's mark is erased, if he has used one, and signs of such erasing
should cause suspicion. To be posted on the modern lines of
Staffordshire reproductions, with their marks and peculiarities, would also
There are three other points to be understood which will aid the
collector in avoiding spurious pieces: weight, color, and stilt-marks. It
is seldom that all three are successfully imitated in counterfeit
pieces, though occasionally they are.
Staffordshire ware, for its thickness, is lighter in weight than
most modern ware. This difference in weight can be detected only by direct
comparison, long experience, or natural knack.
Hunting for stilt marks on old china is often good fun in itself.
Almost every old piece of flatware, plates, platters, saucers, etc,shows
three little rough spots, more or less clearly marked, on both sides,
usually in the margin.These spots were made in the firing, by the
cockspurs or stilts little tripods used between the plates in piling them up
in the kiln. The three points where the cockspur touched the plate
caused a defect in the glaze.
Unfortunately, stilt-marks are not as sure a guaranty of
authenticity as some collectors have supposed, for they are not only easy to
imitate, but they are sometimes imperceptible on the old Staffordshire.
Furthermore, they appear very frequently on modern tableware of the cheaper
sort, and so are no sign of antiquity. On the Staffordshire
reproductions just mentioned, however, they do not appear, so this point has some
Experts will tell you that the only way to be sure of your ground in
buying old china is to hire an expert to go with you. Probably that is
good advice, but it is somewhat expensive, and I have yet to learn of
an absolutely infallible expert. I have a notion that some of the very
cleverest and wisest "connoisseurs" are in the counterfeiting business,
as it is the most profitable way in which to utilize their knowledge
and skill. Experts claim to be able to distinguish and classify china and
porcelain by a deft and educated touch, as the experienced bank teller
spots the counterfeit bill. I believe this to be so in the case of old
Chinese and other ware with striking peculiarities. But I have always
had a suspicion that old Staffordshire must feel just the same to the
cultured fingers of the expert as any other species of well-used
pie-plates and meat-platters.
The best way to do is to make a study of the subject for yourself.
Don't buy of peddlers, and be wary of most auctions and shops that you
don't know anything about. Don't buy from photographs. Insist on
examining the goods in your own hands. Look out for skilfully mended cracks
that lessen the value of any piece; knock it with your knuckle. Remember
always that an appearance of age signifies nothing; it is easily
simulated, and some very old plates have been kept fresh and new-looking.
Never forget to look for the imprint or trade-mark.
The best way to collect old Staffordshire is to go hunting for it
among the backwater towns of New York, New England, and Pennsylvania.
There treasures still exist, though you need not expect to get them for a
song, and if you are too eager you may find yourself cheated in the
It is also perfectly safe to buy of reputable dealers, provided you
take certain precautions. For while there is undoubtedly a lot of fake
china around in the shops, few dealers find it profitable to imperil
their business standing by selling it as genuine. If in doubt, insist
that the dealer sign his name to a statement that the piece in question is
genuine old Staffordshire to the best of his knowledge and belief, and
the work of Clews, Wood, Ridgway, etc. That is a certain check.
The chief drawback in purchasing at antique shops is the high price
generally asked. Dealers are pretty sure to ask a price equal to the
highest estimated value, while you might never be able to sell for half
that. And I should here mention the fact that the values I have attached
to the pieces illustrated in this chapter are these same top-notch
values. You may well consider your china worth that, but it is doubtful if
you could get much more than half these prices at auction, and with
experience you will learn how to buy for less.
At the same time it is only fair to say that the beginner may fare
still worse on a china hunt in the country, and perhaps it is safer and
even cheaper, in the long run, to pay a reliable dealer a reasonable
price for what he guarantees as genuine. There are times when one can
pick up bargains in the country, but frequently, nowadays, people having
these old pieces of Staffordshire hold them at ridiculous prices, asking
$40 or $50 for a State plate simply because they have heard. of a
platter with a coat of arms bringing $100 or more.
In collecting, the novice will do well to restrict himself or
herself at the outset to some particular line. Let it be American scenes in
old blue. Or, to narrow it even further, the views of a single State or
city. Or you may go in for a single maker's wares. It is the
completeness rather than the size of a collection that makes it valuable. A
complete set of the Mayer coat-of-arms plates, for example, all in the same
size, would be of almost inestimable worth.
And when you have your collection started, don't hide it away in a
closet. Hang the finest pieces on the wall. Little brass hangers cost
from fifteen to fifty cents each, or you can make them out of picture
hooks and wire. If you have a dining-room furnished in the Colonial style,
you could find no more appropriate ornaments for wall, mantel, or
plate-rail than pieces of rich blue Anglo-American Staffordshire. Or have a
corner cupboard built, with Colonial glass doors, and keep your china
there, as your grandmother did in the old poke-bonnet days.