Sunday, July 3, 2022 Jul 3, 2022
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THE CONSUMER Something Old, Something New

How can you be sure that prize antique wasn’t born yesterday?
By Tom Peeler |

Dealing in antiques is a hard way to make a living. Wholesalers who used to go to the Deep South and New England to load ten-wheelers with choice antiquities are now driving all the way to Canada to find even average merchandise. But while the supply is drying up, the demand isn’t. How to fill the gap? Well, who said they aren’t making antiques any more?

An antique expert recently witnessed a local dealer being taken by an itinerant hawker. “This fellow had a cherry table which he said he inherited from his grandfather. His grandfather was supposedly a doctor who had a woodworker patient who couldn’t pay his bill. He told the patient that if he would fell the cherry tree in the doctor’s yard and use the wood to make a table for him, he would cancel out the bill. Well, the story goes, they struck a deal and the table has been in the family all these many years. When the dealer and the salesman walked off to look at some other goods, I turned the table over. The bottom was marked Grand Rapids.”

After paying much more for the cherry table than it is worth, the dealer can either stick with the grandfather story or take a financial beating. If he sticks with the story and gets away with it, he’ll be tempted to knowingly stock fake antiques when his under-capitalized business slackens. “It is quite a temptation,” says one dealer. “They’re doing a fantastic job on glass reproductions in Korea and Taiwan. Take a dealer who’s right on the line between success and failure. He can buy a reproduction of a $400 piece of antique glass for $15. If he can sell just one a week, that’ll pay a lot of bills even if he doesn’t sell another thing.

“One of the reproduction wholesalers told me how they do it,” says the dealer. “They find a good piece of authentic old glass, one that has a couple of minor flaws in it, as most of the old ones did. Then they take it over to Korea and work with one of the glass factories till they get it down to perfection. By the time they’re through with it, not many people can tell the difference. I’ve even seen dealers bury glass to age it.”

A. A. Importing Company Inc. of St. Louis proudly boasts that it offers the largest variety of antique reproductions in the United States. Two or three times each year A. A. Importing brings its wares to Dallas-area showings to which only dealers are admitted. Some dealers go to buy, but others treat the showings as courses in fraud detection. The A. A. offerings include glassware, furniture, clocks, china, metal goods, and accessories.

Some of these reproductions are extremely well made, and if you don’t care how old they are, you may want to buy them – but don’t pay for antiques if you do. Visit neighborhood antique shops, particularly those advertising “antiques and gifts” or “antiques and collectibles.” Get to know a dealer and let him know where your interests lie, and he can sell you all you want at a reasonable markup. A dealer can get most glass pieces for $20, and should be willing to sell them for a maximum of $30. Victorian and golden oak furniture reproductions should sell for about one third the cost of comparable antiques.

It’s amazing that many collectors continue to scour flea markets in search of bargains. The biggest flea market in North Texas is First Monday. On the first Monday of each month, and the preceding weekend, hundreds of Dallas-area collectors make the 60-mile trek east to Canton to rummage through the wares that 3000 dealers have spread over 40 acres of hill and dale. What most don’t know is that on the Friday preceding each sale weekend, a huge truck from North Carolina backs up behind the Western Auto store in Canton and supplies the vendors with brass spittoons, toy iron cars, belt buckles, ginger bottles, cathouse tokens, and a host of other reproductions. Other vendors, especially those from Dallas, enjoy the convenience of a stop at Chris Van Damme’s on Highway 20 or at Red’s in Forney to pick up their reproductions. They have almost an hour to make up their grandfather stories before they get to Canton.

Even in the better flea markets, such as Big D Bazaar and Vikon Village, it pays to be cautious. Though there is good legitimate merchandise to be had, many dealers rent these spaces on a short-term basis, and they might not be there when you go back. Some of the local auctions are also risky places to buy antiques, though one is more likely to be stuck with a piece of junk than a reproduction. Nevertheless, if the auctioneer announces at the outset that all merchandise is being sold “as is, where is,” don’t expect a refund on a purchase that doesn’t look nearly as old up close. And watch out for estate sales. 1 went to a sale at an old house in Lancaster recently which had been salted with reproduced cut glass.

A novice collector can save himself a world of anguish by asking, “Is this old?” Chances are they won’t lie to you. If the answer is something like “1 don’t know how old it is, I just know that it’s a mighty fine piece,” then walk away. I overheard a lady at Canton the other day ask about the age of a Prince Albert tin. The dealer responded, “1 got it from my grandfather, and I don’t know how long he had it.” One week old, maybe two.

As with most free enterprise, supply is hot on the heels of demand in the antique reproduction business. Manufacturers reproduce the items that collectors want. So even though some risk attends buying a piece of fine period furniture, it’s not as likely to be a reproduction as is a Victorian china cabinet or a Depression glass butter dish. For one thing, there is a limited market for $10,000 Chippendale étagères. For another, the étagère is likely to undergo much closer scrutiny.

“What you run into mostly in fine furniture are the mixed marriages,” says Hoyt Westdyke, a master restorer of fine antiques. “Between all of the revolutions and world wars that have hit Europe, there are whole warehouses full of damaged period furnishings. They’ll take the legs off of one piece and the arms off of another and come up with something that is all old but never went together originally. But don’t think that they can’t reproduce a piece from scratch if they’re of a mind to. The hardest pieces to detect are the ones in which they use the old woods. And they don’t use a Skil saw. They use the same tools that the old masters used. You take a piece made from old wood with old tools by a man who knows his trade, and it’s awfully hard to detect.”

New wood is often the giveaway. There just aren’t any more mahogany logs around. Moreover, the old boards were cut in irregular sizes. Many appraisers and collectors have developed a feel for analyzing old wood and will invariably devote more attention to the back and underside of a piece of furniture than to the polished or coated surfaces. Some even date wood by its smell.

Antique reproduction isn’t only a modern phenomenon. In the mid-1800’s British craftsmen were faking Chippendale furniture so proficiently that these products are now considered to be fine antiques in their own right. Sevres, Meissen, Delft, Wedgwood, and other masters of china and ceramics have fallen prey to imitators. In 1934, U.S. customs officials estimated that during the 28 years following the passage of a law giving preferential treatment to antique imports, half a billion dollars in import taxes had been lost as a result of antique fakery, prompting one official to profess amazement at the gullibility of Americans. In a 1928 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, customs officials estimated the odds of receiving an authentic antique from England as nine out of ten; from France, five out of ten; and from Italy, one out of ten. The reproductions of past decades didn’t go away when their popularity waned; they’re still around, waiting to be sold again.

Here are the items that are most widely reproduced; all have been spotted in this area. The average collector should be able to detect furniture reproductions by looking for the absence of wear and by closely checking backs and undersides where signs of aging should appear. Glassware reproductions are more difficult to detect; knowledge of the types, colors, and styles being reproduced is a necessity.

Advertising items. Coke trays, pocket knives, Pear soap tins, Jack Daniel’s playing cards, Mail Pouch thermometers.

Art glass. merican 19th-century glass with artistic flourishes. Watch out for gold encrusted bells, water sets, vases, cruets, night sets. Don’t rely solely on signatures, whether ground in or etched.

Brass. This is the hottest reproduction going. Bed warmers, taxi horns, spittoons, jailers’ keys, coal hods, teakettles, planters, umbrella stands, magazine hods, bells, inkwells, candlesticks. Unlike the old, modern brass reddens when it is tarnished.

Carnival glass. Gaudy, iridescent glass doodads given away at carnivals and as premiums in soap boxes early in this century. Widely reproduced since 1965 in an endless variety of colors and styles. Carnival collectors must use reference books and devote much effort to education.

China bowls and pitchers. Very popular antiques, and thus widely reproduced. Most of the new ones are glossier than the old.

Clocks. Octagon, box, kitchen, schoolhouse regulators, railroad, early American wall, William Gilbert, Ansonia, New Haven. Some have “Korea” in small letters on the face.

Cranberry glass. Popular in the 1880’s, this American glass derives its rich, transparent pink color from small amounts of gold. A cheaper glass, colored with copper, is a bit redder. Modern fakes have an even color, without bubbles or variations. Reproduced items include brides’ bowls, caster bottles, biscuit jars, fairy lamps, epergnes, tumblers, pitchers, candy bowls. Watch out especially for ribbed and thumbprint patterns.

Cut glass. Heavy glass deeply cut with elaborate geometric patterns was a symbol of opulence in the Gay Nineties Reproductions include sugar-and-creamers, baskets, biscuit jars, cheese dishes, decanters, pitchers, cruets, butter dishes, tumblers. Watch especially the pinwheel pattern. Imported from Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Depression glass. Cheap pressed glass of the Thirties, often given away at movies. Reproductions include butter, dishes (Cherry Blossom, Sharon, and Miss America patterns); cheese dishes (Sharon); salt and pepper shakers (Cherry Blossom, Miss America); children’s sets (Cherry Blossom); shot glasses (Mayfair).

Figurines. Dutch blue, Toby mugs, cobalt blue, bisque.

Flow Blue china. An English stoneware in which the cobalt-blue designs flow during firing. Chamber pots, teapots, shaving mugs, mustache cups, coffee pots, platters, hat pin holders, shoe vases. Usually in floral patterns. Those marked “Flo Blue” or “Flow Blue” are reproductions.

Graniteware. The porcelain-coated tin that was popular in rural America for decades. Pots, pans, cups, bowls, in speckled blue, white, brown, grey, or green. The reproductions look new, no chipping or wear.

Hal racks. Bentwood or brass.

Hitchcock chairs. Fancy chairs produced by Lambert Hitchcock in Connecticut in the mid-I800’s, with fruits and flowers stenciled on the back. The firm was revived in 1946, and since then it has been reproducing the chairs with the old markings.

Imari plates. Gold-trimmed porcelain with intricate brocade patterns intermixed with floral designs and landscapes. Thinner and glossier than the originals, which were made in Japan in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Lamps. Miner’s, telegrapher’s, brass hanging, Gone With the Wind, Aladdin, parlor, Tiffany. Watch for absence of wear on key parts. Watch also for new shades on old lamps.

Mary Gregory glass. An ornamental glass, popular in the 1880’s, typically featuring children hand-painted in cameo style. Cruets, pitchers, vases, tumblers, and bells, especially in red or blue. Facial features of characters on the reproductions lack the detail of the authentic items.

Oak furniture. Round tables, china cabinets, hall trees, secretaries, ice boxes, rockers, high chairs, pressed-back chairs. Reproduced to simulate turn-of-the-century American golden oak. Average collector should be able to detect absence of wear, method of construction, age of wood.

Overlay crystal. Popular 19th-century glassware made with two or more layers of colored galss. The top layer is ground away in places to reveal the underlying glass. Widely reproduced is the pinwheel pattern in blue or red-baskets, bowls, vases, cruets, biscuit jars, wine goblets, cordials, shakers, and bells. Most authentic pieces have some wear.

Pattern glass. A type of glassware with shapes and patterns pressed from a mold. Dolphin and Eiffel Tower candlesticks, deep-pattern sugar-and-creamer, child’s ABC plate, boot match holder, monkey toothpick holder, train bread plate, coin bread plate.

R. S. Prussia china. A popular late-19th-century porcelain from ? Germany. Many of the hand-painted pieces depict scenes, figures, or floral patterns. Watch out for the R.S. and the red-orange wreath without the word “Prussia.” Also watch out for a “commemorative series” which has the name of the country spelled with only one “s.”

Satin glass. Water sets, red or blue, with crimped openings in the pitcher.

Shaker furniture. Has been reproduced in Michigan by The Guild of Shaker Crafts. Some of the pieces are quite good, difficult to distinguish from the originals.

Toys and banks. Iron hook-and-ladder trucks, coal wagons, hose wagons, pumpers, beer wagons, covered wagons, locomotives, Model Ts, pony carts, donkey carts, ice wagons, and dozens of varieties of mechanical banks.

Victorian furniture. Marble-topped endand occasional tables, especially walnut;sofas, side chairs, and arm chairs, often inmahogany. All look new, not difficult todistinguish from authentic pieces with alittle practice.