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Antique Fakes And Reproductions
( Originally Published 1963 )
So many kinds of antiques are to be found in all parts of the country that there should be enough for everyone. After all, the person who likes trivets may be glad to get rid of an earlynineteenth-century chair, and someone who hunts Staffordshire china in two colors is likely to be happy to part with any pressed glass in her cupboards.
Antiques, however, have become fashionable. People who heretofore regarded anything in an attic as junk are beginning to shake out minutely stitched patchwork quilts and use them as wall hangings, to refinish the black walnut commode and use it for a side table in living or dining room, and to polish all the old brass or quadrupleplated silver they can find and display it on the mantelpiece or room divider. Young married couples with no greataunt to give them a Wedding Ring tea set are browsing around antique shops for old china or silver to lend cachet to
their handsome storage chest. more neither age nor budget need keep any interested person from owning and enjoying antiques.
One natural result of both the vogue for and the genuine interest in antiques is that many of them are being copied or reproduced as fast as Dior frocks and Chanel suits were. Like copies of clothing, many pseudo-antiques are so cheap-looking as to be obviously shams. But there are clever copies, too, on which time and effort have been spent to make them look authentically aged. Because fakes and reproductions look so much like antiques themselves, particularly to those who know little about the real ones. people who want to sell old things should do all they can to learn how genuine or false they are.
Pseudo-antiques fall into one of three groups: cheap imitations, clever fakes, and sound reproductions. All three have been made to such an extent during the twentieth century that probably every major group of antiques has been subjected to their inroads. It is easy to be fooled, particularly if the article was made with intent to deceive, but the most careful fake is no more comparable to the antique on which it was based than the garish imitation.
Imitations of fine old china and lamps aree sold in many kinds of stores. The quantity in which they are displayed gives one clue to their recent origin, the details that have not been copied carefully enough for them to be reproductions is another. On the other hand, a clever fake is sometimes offered as a genuine antique, particularly in the case of furniture, if the tales of cabinetmakers who have taken old wood from an antique chest and combined it with new wood to make another piece are to be believed. However much effort has been expended to copy characteristic details of style and to simulate aged materials, a fake is still a counterfeit. There is, of course, nothing wrong with a good reproduction so long as the owner doesn't try to pass it off as a genuine antique. Many reproductions are such faithful copies that it would be difficult to tell the difference, if it were not for the lack of wear; years of use and care add special character to any antique.
Price is no guarantee of authenticity. Some people buy reproductions, particularly in furniture, because they think they cannot afford genuine antiques. Actually, reproductions that are careful replicas are about as costly as the originals. This is as true of a mirror in American Chippendale style and a brass hanging lantern as it is of important pieces of furniture. The cost of the labor necessary to produce even a clever fake built of wood, of which only one-fourth is old and the remainder treated to look old, is so great that the price must be nearly as much as that for an antique. Anyone who thinks that a pine spice chest a century or so old is overpriced at $25 to $35 has only to consult cabinetmakers or repairers about mending a broken drawer or replacing a missing one to realize that a reproduction would cost more than an original. Still, however much a reproduction costs, it cannot be expected to sell for as high a price as the antique on which it was modeled.
Reproductions have been popular for a great many years, but the number of antiques being reproduced and sold as such has never been greater than at the present time. Furniture is most widely represented, for there is not only a great deal of it but also the examples range from certain styles of the seventeenth century through the eighteenth and into the early Victorian era. All sorts of household furnishings and accessories from wallpaper and textiles to pressed glass, silver, and numerous things made of other metals have proved popular as reproductions too.
Pre-eminent examples are the reproductions of eighteenth-century furniture and accessories made under the auspices of Colonial Williamsburg. Every care has been taken to duplicate the furnishings of the buildings and homes in that famous Colonial town. An original has been used as the model for each reproduction. Other restorations specialize in equally authentic nineteenth-century antiques of one kind or another.
Furniture is available in the widest range. There is furniture of contemporary manufacture that is referred to as traditional because its design is based on details characteristic of various eighteenth-century styles. Such furniture is not an actual reproduction. Authentic replicas are most common in eighteenth-century styles, and a few earlier pieces also are available. One type of reproduction that is usually excellent is the piece made by a skilled cabinetmaker-there are still a few of them working-from old wood. It is often possible to obtain from him a pre-Victorian piece of the early 1800's. Generally speaking, the furniture reproductions sponsored by restorations are about as close as a person can get to antiques. The choice extends from finished pieces such as those distributed by Colonial Williamsburg, to equally authentic furniture kits that can be assembled and finished, according to instructions, by the purchaser.
Furniture illustrates the broad range of reproductions with which many people are content. It breaks down into two main groups: entirely machinemade or made by hand. In weighing a reproduction versus an antique, remember that the originals were handmade until 1830 and in some cases for many years thereafter. Accurate as the current "furniture store" reproductions of early Victorian sofas, chairs, and tables may be, they are factory-made. The original models were turned out individually in cabinetmakers' shops. The details of construction and carving, therefore, appear quite different to knowing eyes. And any reproduction, however accurate, lacks the inimitable patina wood acquires through years of use and polishing. If you find it hard to discern patina, the kinds of wood and details of construction common to the period when the style was.first made are discussed in the chapters on furniture.
Equally good examples of the two chief methods of reproduction are found in hardware and pressed glass. Strap hinges tipped with a bean, ball and spear, or a heart, which probably were the first type made in America, and H and HL hinges can now be purchased in almost any neighborhood hardware store. However, the examples of these pieces of hardware that are available in the average retail store have been machine-stamped. Nevertheless, it is possible to buy old-style hinges as well as latches, bolts, and other household hardware at a restoration such as Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, where they are forged or hand-hammered by a working blacksmith. The difference between machine-made and handmade. hardware may be so subtle as to be unnoticeable to anyone except an expert, but the handmade replicas are certainly preferable for an old house that is being restored arid perhaps also for a cupboard or other piece that has been a do-it-yourself project for a house of any age.
Pressed glass frequently is advertised as having been made recently from oldmeaning nineteenth-century - molds. However genuine the molds, the resulting glass cannot be compared with the original pieces. Both the glass and its color are somewhat different. The present-day manufacturer who uses nineteenth-century molds does not go to the trouble of mixing a batch of glass according to nineteenth-century formulas. As a result, his clear glass is not an exact counterpart of last century's, and the red, green, blue, or other colored glass pieces rarely have the same tints and tones as the originals.
In addition to reproductions, many fakes are being made in pressed glass. One telltale sign of a fake is a slight difference in pattern. During the 1800's, variants of popular patterns became common, but a variant made by a glasshouse other than the one that introduced the pattern shows some alteration in the motifs or their arrangement. A fake, on the other hand, is an attempt to reproduce a pattern of the 1800's without bothering to copy every detail exactly. Twentieth-century imitations of the popular Wildflower pattern, for example, have fewer leaves and flowers in each motif. The band of pressed daisies also is narrower. Moon and Star, a pattern that probably was not made before the 1880's, can be confused with an inaccurate contemporary version in which the sawtooth-like cutting around the moon is smoother and flatter than in the originals. As a matter of fact, any colored Moon and Star pieces are definitely fakes, for the nineteenth-century pattern was offered only in clear or clear and frosted glass. Dimensions of pieces also differ, but this is impossible to judge unless you have access to an authenticated nineteenth-century piece.
Pattern glass was made after 1850 in large sets for the table. Reproductions of even the most popular patterns, however, seldom include the entire set. Goblets are the most widely reproduced pieces, with tumblers, mugs, salts, match-holders, and other small pieces likely in some patterns. Considerable lacy glass with its stippled background, first made by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company in the 1830's, also is being made now. Lacy glass never was made in a complete table set. Other specific clues for distinguishing between antique pressed glass and this century's copies are discussed in the chapter on pressed glass.
Cup plates, which were generally used until about 1850, and dolphin candlesticks, which were made from the 1830's to the early 1900's, have been so popular that fakes and imitations found a ready market. Dolphin candlesticks made between 1900 and 1910 can hardly be classed as antiques yet, but most of the late ones are much finer work than the more recent fakes and reproductions. Again, some dolphin candlesticks are said to be made from old molds, but the glass is not the same quality or the color a duplicate of the original.
Dolphin candlesticks were made by many glasshouses, from the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, which introduced them, to firms in Pennsylvania and the Midwest. The earliest Sandwich glass ones had a single square base. Then came the double square or square stepped base, also made at Sandwich and widely reproduced before World War II in the United States and Europe. Other glasshouses during the 1800's produced candlesticks having the dolphin shaft but with bases and sockets differing from those made at Sandwich. A hexagonal base, for example, introduced by a Pittsburgh glass firm in the 1850's has been reproduced widely too. There is also the petticoat dolphin with a high round base first made in the 1850's or 1860's. All styles were made in clear, opalescent, and some colors, also opaque white and opaque blue.
Anyone who looks carefully should be able to recognize copies of dolphin candlesticks. Those made within the last thirty years have sharper, clearer details (fins in particular are sharper to the touch). The sockets, whether ribbed or petaled, usually do not flare outward. The glass is of poorer quality and the colors more garish. The proportions are not so good either, for the dolphin is likely to be larger, and many of the copies are shorter candlesticks.
In spite of the large number of patterns in which cup plates were made in the 1800's, comparatively few are being reproduced. Since the originals were early pressed glass, the quality of the glass was good enough to give a belllike ring when the little plate was tapped lightly. Reproductions or twentieth-century imitations sound dead or dull. A classic example of a fake, imitation, or reproduction-call it what you will-that can confuse all but the most knowing is the Butterfly pattern cup plate, first made by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company in clear and colored glass. The butterfly that gives the pattern its name stands out in the center against a stippled background. Flower sprigs encircle the rim and the edge is scalloped. During the 1930's, Butterfly cup plates were reproduced from a new mold that was not an exact duplicate of the original one. On antique Butterfly cup plates, the stems of the two leaves below each blossom are at least 1/a inch apart, but on this century's, the stems are almost opposite each other. One blossom on the old Butterfly plate has seven petals; all the blossoms on the recent plates have six. It's particularly easy to be fooled by a blue Butterfly cup plate, for this color as made in the 1930's compares favorably with that of the 1830's.
Imitations of curtain tiebacks and furniture knobs also were made in quantity and sold cheaply during the 1930's. Old patterns, including some of the Sandwich ones, were copied in both clear and colored glass. Neither the quality of the glass nor the workmanship are any more comparable than the colors to those made during the 1800's.
Fakes are not confined to pressed glass. Bottles and flasks, for example, frequently are made in imitation of typically American styles of the nineteenth century. A "golden amber" bottle in the shape of a fish, made recently in Italy, "queen of the glass-making industry for generations," is not worth any more than its retail price. Only the amber fish bottles made in this country to hold Dr. Fisch's bitters are antiques. For holiday sale in 1961, a liquor company packaged its spirits in colored glass flasks made in the style of a century or more ago. A tiny booklet attached to each one summed up the background of historical flasks and explained the company's choice of motifs for their reproductions. Although these 1961 flasks are not exact reproductions, perhaps fifty years from now someone will think one of them is much older than it really is.
Milk-white glass is still being manufactured in quantity, and many pieces copy or are reminiscent of the forms and decorations used during the late 1800's. However, the character and ap
pearanee of nineteenth-century milkwhite glass are quite different. The slightest acquaintance with any piece of antique milk-white glass should enable a person to distinguish between the old and the contemporary.
To tell the difference between a nineteenth-century pressed glass goblet and a twentieth-century reproduction or fake, a person must be alert to the patterns and pieces that are currently being manufactured. Equally important are a knowledge of the authentic motifs, as well as of their make-up, proportions, and placement to form the patterns, and the ability to judge the quality of stippling and frosting.
Cost prohibits the reproduction of cut glass as it was made throughout the 1800's. Its surface distinctions are the sharpness of the decorative motifs to the touch and the heaviness of the piece. Other characteristics of cut glass as it was made at various times, as well as the traits of hand-blown, blownmolded, and blown-three-mold have been outlined previously.
Fully as rich a field as glass for reproductions and fakes is provided by the diversity of household and personal items made from silver, pewter, brass, copper, and iron. It is easy to say that old silver (coin and sterling) has an unmistakable patina, old brass is a quite different color from twentieth-century reproductions, and old pewter always feels slightly rough to the touch. Outstanding and essential as each of these characteristics is to the metal in question, more knowledge is required to identify antiques.
Old silver is not nearly as plentiful as pressed glass or even cut glass. Consequently, it is an active field for faking. The purpose is to make a piece more salable and at a higher price. But excellent and acknowledged reproductions also are being made of both antique silver and the pewter pieces that were used in American homes.
The style of the lettering and the decoration are clues to the age of silver. So are the marks, although a considerable amount of old American silver carries no mark. There is a good deal of nineteenth-century silver and plated silver around, much of it of interest to owners, finders, and collectors. Probably faking is practiced more often on English and European silver, which finds a ready market in this country. Adding a fake hallmark, shifting a hallmark from a spoon or other small piece to a larger piece, and removing or altering decoration are sometimes attempted in order to make a silver piece more valuable. Because styles in handles, finials, and spouts changed as often as did decoration, discrepancies can be spotted by anyone who knows something about shifting fashions in silverware. Furthermore, although decoration may be hammered, buffed, or otherwise removed from the outside of silver, its outlines cannot be destroyed on the underside.
It is not too difficult to distinguish between an antique and a fairly recent reproduction of pewter (see the chapter on metals). Fakes are more confusing. Always check any mark on pewter, for the faker may have added an earlier mark to increase the value of the piece or forged a mark which, upon investigation, proves to be somewhat different in size, design, or some detail than any recorded pewterers' marks. Some knowledge of style, decoration, and workmanship at various times is another safeguard against fakes.
No material, however, has been too lowly to exploit by copying, to judge from the many reproductions of trivets, match-holders, string-holders, and other common household gadgets made from iron between 1850 and 1900. Clues for distinguishing between the antique and the copy, whatever the material, are suggested in the preceding chapters. Even without specific clues, it should be evident that the wooden cranberry scoop with teeth that are not rounded and worn down and the tin sconce that shines brightly and has no dents are not antiques. Signs of wear come only with use and are as typical of things, large and small, in any material as they are of furniture. It takes too long to fake this kind of aging and, anyway, it is next to impossible to do successfully.
In china as in glass, a person must know the characteristics of the old wares in order to avoid mistakes. A collector of porcelain will have to learn, for his own protection, when factories made hard-paste and when they made soft-paste porcelains if he is to be fairly sure that a piece is the age claimed for it. This information is equally important to anyone who has a porcelain to sell. The type and quantity of decoration, as well as the colors that were used and the changes that took place from time to time, are essential knowledge for judging the age of porcelain and pottery.
Meissen Onion, a popular pattern among collectors, it has been made by the same factory. However, the basic pattern differed slightly from time to time, as did the mark of the factory. Awareness of changes and of what they were is essential to identifying earlyand late-nineteenth-century examples. The Willow pattern was made by many different potteries. Here again, the mark-or lack of one-can be important in judging the-antiquity of the piece.
Potters' marks may be helpful, but are not necessarily conclusive. They can, and have been known to, be erased or altered. Crossed swords have been incorporated into the Meissen mark since that factory first made porcelain in the 1740's. From time to time the overall appearance of the Meissen mark was changed somewhat, although the two swords were retained. But crossed swords-or what seems to be crossed swords, at first glance-have been used by other factories for their marks. If the intention was to fool buyers into thinking they were getting porcelain of Meissen quality, it probably succeeded some of the time. A person who likes Haviland china should become familiar with the various marks used by this firm during the 1800's so that he can date a piece fairly accurately.
Some patterns of tableware have been made continuously or intermittently for 100 to 200 years. In the case of Graniteware, often called ironstone china, was popular in the United States between 1850 and 1890. Reproductions of many of the pieces that made up a set of tableware have been made during the last decade. The person who comes across some pieces and would like to sell them cannot determine a fair price without consulting someone expert enough to decide whether they are antiques or reproductions. The collector also will want to learn enough about graniteware to be reasonably certain of buying nineteenth-century pieces.
Quite generally copied in china are the old figures, flowers, vegetables, and fruits, and tureens in the form of birds or animals. Sometimes the reproductions are made from old molds and the decoration done by modern methods. Antique gilding, for example, is a rich gold color, not brassy or bright. The hand-painting on antique pieces is so skillful that details appear sharp when they are looked at under a magnifying glass.
Reproductions of figures and other ornaments are one thing, imitations something else again. The Delft of Holland has been imitated in other countries, and the copies may be almost impossible to recognize unless a person checks the potter's mark or unless the country of origin is stated under the potter's mark. Perhaps no kind of pottery has been more widely imitated than jasperware. The finest examples always have been made by the Wedgwood pottery in England, where this ware was perfected. The quality excels even that of jasperware made by European potteries during the eighteenth century, and of course the blue and white unglazed stoneware from Japan in this century is in no way comparable.
Comparatively few people know enough about more than one field of antiques to tell a fake or reproduction from an authentic piece. This is as true of antique dealers as the general public. An antique dealer who is an authority on seventeenth- or eighteenth-century furniture may have only superficial knowledge about the glass made during those years. By the same token, the pressed glass expert may know little about silver and china.
What, then, can the average person do? He can study exhibits and collections, learn from books and other people, look and listen before and during auctions, compare a questionable piece with an authenticated one. Above all, he can ask questions of a reputable dealer, of experts such as curators and others who work with antiques, and of collectors or anyone who has studied some special field. Collectors usually admit to having bought one or more fakes or reproductions while they were learning the distinguishing characteristics of their chosen item. The person who thinks he knows more than he does about antiques, who closes his mind to the fact that fakes, imitations, and reproductions exist, is the one who is disappointed about his discoveries or who is fooled in his purchases.
The characteristics, styles, and decoration of articles made in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries will be explained in any general book on furniture, glass, silver, or other category of antiques. Books with a positive approach are easier to find than those that contain a negative discussion of fakes and reproductions. On glass, however, the following book is worth while: