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Old Blue Staffordshire
(Part 2 Of 2)



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 them?

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 grounds.

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 ware.

"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 pattern.

"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," said I.

"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 American market.

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 small.

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 ware.

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 help.

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 value.

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 end.

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.


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