|Gerald Tomlin at home.|
Great advice on buying antiques from Gerald Tomlin, one of the country’s leading experts.
Every summer for the last nine years, Dallas antiques dealer Gerald Tomlin and his wife, Joanne, pack their bags and hit tarmac with “Antiques Roadshow.” An average summer brings them to about six or seven cities including the likes of Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Chicago. Gerald Tomlin is one of 80 antiques experts across the country who’s been tapped to go on camera for the PBS show, which has become an unlikely cult phenomenon in the nine years it’s been on the air.
Like other appraisers on the show, Tomlin isn’t paid and foots his own bill for travel. His 15 minutes of fame was over a long time ago, he says, and the allure of appearing on TV isn’t what keeps him coming back. “What appeals to me is that I get to associate with the ultimate brains of appraisal work,” he says. “The show is taped live, and there’s no time for research. What comes out of their brains is what you hear on camera, and it’s phenomenal.”
The Tomlins also use the opportunity to buy antiques for their store, Gerald Tomlin Antiques, which has been open in Highland Park Village for 17 years. The Tomlins three sons are active in the family business. Unlike some dealers who buy containers full of antiques in one swoop, the Tomlins buy one or two special pieces at a time. “I don’t buy something because it’s old. It has to be special, and it has to relate to current-day living,” he says.
“Antiques Roadshow” is not one of their sources for buying, says Tomlin. “Appraisers are forbidden to buy anything from the show.” They still take advantage of the situation, though, arriving in town a few days ahead of schedule to shop flea markets and out-of-the-way antiques stores. “Our shopping base has increased because of the show; we go to towns we’d never go to otherwise,” he says. “Most antiques dealers wouldn’t go to Omaha to buy, but we just got back from there and found some great stuff.”
Other “Roadshow” assignments have found him in Seattle, which he says is the best place in the United States to find country French antiques. New York is over-shopped, and Europe is prohibitively expensive once you pay duty and shipping, so Tomlin’s learned to veer off the beaten path to find good antiques. “The best places to shop right now are Canada and Argentina, which have depressed economies compared to the United States,” he says.
BELOW: Tomlin’s Tips on spotting fakes and finding treasures
TOMLIN ON HOW TO SPOT THE REAL DEAL
|REAL DEAL: The authenticity of this 18th-century French kingwood-and-acajou Bouillotte table can be ascertained in part by looking at the construction of its drawers.|
First, determine whether the piece of furniture is the style of the period. Knowledge of period styles plays a very important role in determining age. There were many periods in which older styles were re-created, but there are still ways to tell if something is not original.
Let’s say you find a great chest of drawers that is said to be Queen Anne. The first thing to do is determine what wood it’s made out of. Queen Anne furniture, which was produced in England from 1702 to 1714 during the reign of Queen Anne, was usually made of walnut but never mahogany. Mahogany came into use because of an enormous frost across the continent in 1709 that decimated the walnut forests.
Pull out several drawers and look at their sides. The dovetails (construction) should line up. They should be approximately the same size. And the line drawn through the wood at the end of the dovetails should line up.
Examine the secondary type of wood used for the interior. Cedar and poplar were used in American furniture, while the English preferred beech. Look at the back. Does it look like packing crate material, very rough to the touch? A good sign. In the 18th century, the board backing of a chest was made of vertical slats. During the 19th century, the backs changed to a framed panel.
Examine the metal used to hold it together. Are there screws? An 18th-century piece of furniture would have screws with an indentation on the top that was never on center, and the spire of the shank was irregular with a rather blunt point. Look for the natural oxidation – a black stain – around screws and nailheads, since this is one of the few things that can never be duplicated and is impossible to fake.
|RARE FIND: 19-century sterling silver candelabra, representative of Louis XIV style.|
Breathe on silver. It not only highlights the hallmark (a stamp that denotes the maker’s name, the metal’s purity, and the date and place of origin) but also shows any repairs that might have been made. Repairs to silver make its surface uneven and are almost impossible to hide.
Never wrap silver in plastic or with rubber bands. It is possibly the worst thing one could do short of tossing it away. The chemical reaction with the silver metal leaves marks that cannot be removed under any circumstances. The only recourse is re-plating the object.
Always check for hallmarks, and if the item was made in more than one piece, check each section for the identical marks. If a hallmark is indistinct, try holding a candle to it, allowing the smoke to settle on the mark. Stick cellophane tape to the silver, capturing the smoke. Then, remove the tape, affix it to white paper, and read your marks.
Examine the surface of any piece of silver. If there is a dimple or dip in the level, it probably means there was a monogram that has been subsequently ground out.
TOMLIN TIDBIT: In an appraisal for a client, I used basic techniques on a shelf full of mundane-looking silver plates. Among all the average silver was a rather forlorn-looking sauceboat, which turned out to be an American piece by 19th-century silversmith Paul Storr. Rare indeed, worth $18,000-$20,000.
|HANDLE WITH CARE: A pair of René Lalique molded blown-glass car mascots used by the Third Reich army on their German-made Dusenberg cars. The one in the foreground is an original from the 1930s and bears the Lalique name impressed onto the bottom. Originals are rare because most were destroyed after the war – Lalique later reissued the design. The one in the background bears a mark that is scratched into the glass, characteristic of new Lalique.|
Lalique – old Lalique that is – is molded and has the name Lalique impressed into the bottom of the glass. Newer Lalique has the name scratched with an etching pen. Gallé glass is always acid-etched with the name on the side, not raised or molded as some imitation pieces show.
Tiffany, the mostly highly forged of all glass, is scratched with the name, usually on the bottom with an etching pen – the name appears with jagged edges. Tiffany lamps will always have the name on both the shade and on the bottom base of the lamp. One of the most astounding hints in determining a Tiffany shade is to run the palm of your hand along the rim of the shade; it will reward you with a whisper of sound. Last: Damaged Tiffany glass is valueless.
|BE CAREFUL: 19-century Old Paris porcelain vase by the Nast Factory – a copy of an old Chinese vase.|
TOMLIN TIDBIT: The Chinese and Japanese are masters at copying everything from ceramics to furniture. Any good appraiser will tell you that literally 60 percent of the porcelain on the market – and I am being conservative – are forgeries. Most Oriental porcelain has a gritty surface to its bottom, while European reproductions of old pieces are smooth on the bottom. Often, the plainer a piece is the better. Porcelain that is without gold embellishment can be valuable. Once I walked into an estate sale out of town and came across an unremarkable looking pot. Even with no markings, I understood through the feel of the surface and the glaze that it was clearly 18th-century and worth $3,500. Repairs on ceramics are commonplace. Examine porcelain closely. If you are unsure, either stay away from it or use a black light to show any flaws.
|RIGHT STUFF: A 1925 Nuno painting of a young Chinese boy.|
This medium is expressed in many ways including oil on canvas, tempera paint on panel board, pastel (using chalk to create the design), watercolor, and gouache (tempera paint on paper).
Don’t ever examine a painting without a magnifying glass in hand because it shows so much we do not see with the naked eye.
Touch is very important. Always run your fingers on the surface of the painting; it must be textured, not flat. (Even watercolors have a texture to the surface.) Otherwise, it is probably a watercolor print or even a photographic print. Any painting – and this means any – that is painted on panel board made of mahogany is early 19th century or later, not an Old Master!
TOMLIN TIDBIT: I once came across a painting during a house-contents appraisal in Dallas. Crated in the garage were two rather unpleasant ancestral portraits from the late 19th century, not untypical. Most of the time, people of that period dressed in black and were rather stern-faced. Noticing a small area on the canvas that was cracked, I saw a layer of paint beneath. Excited, I immediately flaked more of the surface. Under black light I could clearly see another painting underneath one of the portraits. I induced the heirs to have it cleaned, only to find an 18th-century landscape by Henry Andrews, a Royal Academy artist. Needless to say, the value of the painting was 20 times that of the portraits.