Thursday, September 16, 2010

WARNING: This object is not as old as it appears!

Don't you wish it was that easy? All old looking items that are not all that old being marked as such?

Forget it...will never happen...SO, we need to LEARN what things are NEW and what is OLD...and HOW old....

How do you learn this?

Well, in a variety of ways. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH...on a variety of topics is one of the ways to branch your knowledge out a bit. Lots of info online on how to detect old things from new thing, modern fakes, forgeries, etc.  There are a fair number of books on the subject out there, too.

AND don't forget to triple check that information you are reading. As an example, the use of a black light to find repairs & fake items can assist you in eliminating some fakes & repaired items...but don't think it is an all out "Sure thing" to determine age or the condition of those items. Use it as a tool, but not the perfect one answer.  You see, I know a fellow who repairs porcelains...he is very good, his repairs are tough to spot....and, he has figured out how to fool a black light, too. However, he adds a hidden "signature" to all his repairs, so if the item turns up at an auction, sale, estate, etc it can be determined if it is one of his repairs.

I note this as an example only, on how you really need to know FOR YOURSELF how to avoid fakes, forgeries and those "old looking" things that just are not that old.  You really can't trust all the reference books out there, either.


Well, I present to you as an example, (and certainly not the sole and only book with this issue) the "ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PORCELAIN ENAMEL ADVERTISING" by Michael Bruner, copyright 1994.

There is a Coca-Cola sign in the book, shown on the back cover, and the top and middle pictures on page 68.  It is said to date from the mid 1890s...and even has a "94" as the date code on one corner.  has an eBay auction listed of that same sign, with a selling price of $9300, sold not that long ago (11/14/2006).

Funny, it was determined this item was a fantasy item (IE: never originally made)
 long before that....but, I digress...

Surprise, surprise, on we also find the identical sign...with the true story given...a "Replica sign".... "Only 2 were made by a graphic artist."...."one of two made" which sold 11/15/2007...for $199.

My first thought when bought the book back in 1995, and I saw the sign, was that it looked "wrong" for some reason...I couldn't put a finger on it at the time, but my gut said that something was just off.  (You also sometimes need to go with your gut feeling in this business, but that is yet another blog post!)

If you look at advertising from that period, and study the types of graphics used in the ads by Coca-Cola featuring that slogan, you will see they just don't jive with what is on this sign. But, in 1994, I had over 10 years less experience than I have now, so who was I to judge?

But, obviously the "experts" were fooled.  The back looks "right", the thickness & depth of the porcelain seems right for the period, the name of the company who made it is correct for the period. The date code is even "plausible"....but I wonder if it stands for 1994!  And, frankly, if it popped up at an auction of items that were of that period, all supposedly from the same source, say, being some old store or hotel's basement, that might have even tipped the scales for me to decide it was "right"...but, I'd have begun to wonder once I got looking at all the other period advertising using that slogan...and the graphics really not being similar at all....might have been an expensive lesson, too.

Dates shown on things don't always mean a whole heck of a lot. Take maker's marks on various things...the date as part of the mark may just give the date the company was founded (and the fact it is on the shelf in Wal Mart should be another tip-off...!)

Sometimes the number is not a date at is a model number, or mold number, decorator number or some one's old high school locker combination....

BUT, on some things a prominent date should really say something to you...

"Is it really that old?"

Many repros, fantasy items an outright fakes have prominent dates on them.   I saw an "1800s" wooden sign being "shown off" on a chat thread on a particular antiques website...the thread was started to essentially promote the eBay auction of the sign.  No big deal, we all do that/have done that...more exposure the better. That's legit, I'd even encourage it, especially with the lack of  and declining collector traffic on eBay these days.

Problem is, they represented the sign as being from the period of the date on the sign....from the 1870s.

I collect old advertising, and am particularly fond of old wooden signs, so I have had the opportunity to handle (and own) several of them...and be the person to have the, umm, "pleasure" to have dirt & dust dumped in my face during their removal from some of their long term "storage" locations....which, if you have been following my blog, you will have already read about one.

So, when the dealer posted the sign on this public forum, it invited comments.

 Mine was "sorry, this is a modern decorator piece." I also went on to disclose and describe why it was of recent manufacture, and not old. It used lots of old, recycled wood, so it appeared to have some age...problem was, the wood was of various ages, and various sources.

My statements were followed up by other dealers' comments, all who agreed, and even pointed out OTHER reasons why there was no way it was even describing how a particular type of board used in it was not even manufactured until 30 years after the date painted on the sign.

Even after the various somments were posted, the sign remained on eBay, represented as 100% original 1800s.

Sold for just over $600.

Hmm...As a decorator piece, it MIGHT have been worth $250....$350 if you really, really loved it.

As a piece of modern "folk art" done in an old style,  signed by a prominent artist, ok, maybe $600....But this was represented as an old, authentic piece of early Americana

I contacted the "editor" of the website regarding this piece and the poster of it, and questioned if they really should be allowing such things, and the reputation this sort of continued actions could give such a site in its infancy.

The editor wrote back and asked for a "link" to the thread....which I thought was rather odd...

I went back to find the thread to supply her with a link...and it was GONE.

Hmmm...that bothered me, and made little sense, until I dug a little deeper...

The poster of the sign and the eBay auction was ALSO the OWNER OF THAT WEBSITE.


This little episode has made me question the reputation of this particular dealer(s)...and it bothers me that they are running a website that is gaining significant ground in the antiques community.  It is a license to rip folks off. I know many eBay sellers are paranoid that eBay is ripping us off (yeah, I know, whole different discussion there), reading/filtering our internal emails, whatever...But, if this person/these people will blatantly censor their screw-ups how can you be sure they are not messing around with internal stuff as well? 

Actually, what I am most concerned about is that is was not a "screw-up" that went unnoticed and then got covered up by the embarrassed party, but a blatant misrepresentation of a fake item as real, meant to deceive the unaware purchaser/bidder.

If you are reputable, you should be willing to "eat" your screw-ups.  Don't pass a fake you bought as "real" on to someone else as "real" after you have found out that it is a fake. And, if it IS found to be a fake AFTER you have sold it, stand behind your merchandise, and willing take it back, with apologies. Otherwise, you are risking your reputation and future sales. That really rare item you find next time and want to sell for big money is automatically suspect....tainted by your unwillingness to accept the fact you screwed up on something else previously

Just learn from it and go on. Maybe keep the piece as a reminder...even to compare it to other similar items to gauge their authenticity. Yes, I admit it, I have tossed some of my screw-ups into auctions...I think most dealers do that at one time or another. But, I also don't represent them as what they were represented as to me. They are what they are, "Caveat Emptor", as you likely know with most auctions. But, there are many items I just stuck away in a box, destroyed, etc...the odd one that involved larger sums of money I returned to the seller, who feigned ignorance, or was genuinely unaware that the item was not what they said it was. I will strive to not get rid of those screw-ups anymore to the potentially unaware!   Actually, what I strive for is to not be deceived by those items in the first place.....but, you learn everyday in this business...the education never stops.

However, for you, my loyal readers (ok, that is enough hoity-toity-ness...) maybe by reading this blog you won't have to learn as much via the hard (and potentially expensive) ways.

Sometimes you may come across "fakes" that are not "fakes" per-se...they are things like "museum models"....items to represent the real thing, which is either unavailable for display, too valuable to be shown/handled by the public, on loan elsewhere, etc, etc.

Others are created for deception for monetary reward, or personal satisfaction...

A friend of mine (who passed away some years ago) dealt in transportation collectibles. There was one particular "collector" in the field who proclaimed himself an "expert" who knew everything there was to know. He was even writing a book.

WARNING: Arrogance can get you in trouble.

There was a particular drinking glass type with a thick bottom that a Canadian railway used. Their logo was etched on the glass.

Oddly enough, a gas bar at the time was giving away a strikingly similar glass set.

Other than being too clear (older glass used in such glassware tends to be slightly grey, or otherwise ever so slightly tinted due to ingredients used at the time), it had one other difference....a 1/4" size bubble in the middle of the bottom. The originals had a thick base without any encapsulated center bubble.

My friend was tired of this fellow's constant acts of supposed "superiority" to him and others in the collecting community.

He got a set of the gas station promotional glasses together, and had them etched with the identical logo.

This fellow bought them, swearing up and down they were the real far as I know my friend did not represent them as real, he sold them as "unsure", but, then again, I wasn't present at the time of the sale.

They appeared pictured in the book he wrote AS THE REAL DEAL.

My advice to you is to avoid being full of yourself...that dangerous arrogance...there is always someone out there who will take advantage of is a weakness, not a strength. Stay humble.

I do not condone what my friend has did, but he was still a good friend, and would have given the shirt off his back for you....but, he hated arrogant people. He sold tons of authentic items, don't get me wrong, but there were items he sold that were "restored" and "finished"...and one early Baird-type advertising clock that was a real, old clock...but had a repro paper Orange Crush or was it (Coca-Cola?) dial, sold to a very, very knowledgeable picker,who really should have known better....though, given the constantly eroding reputation of this particular picker, it is possible he knew full well it was not authentic, but appreciated the fact that it was a well done "fake" and had someone he knew he could stick with it for a substantial profit....My friend sold it for what it was worth as a non-advertising version of the clock, by the way.  He had created it just to see if he could create an authentic looking piece, and it was originally "not for sale".....but, someone who he likely felt deserved to be taken down a notch stepped into his store.

No, that is not my way of looking at things. Karma is a hell of a thing. I use the word loosely, but the way, not in the literal Indian religion sense. My view is more simplified down to "if you do good things, good things will do bad things and bad things will happen." I don't dabble in any particular religion,  nor is it my claim that any religion is better than any other.....just to make myself clear. I'm a picker; not a Priest, Pastor,  Rabbi, Sahib, etc, etc.  

I pray to the "junk gods!"

 Maybe it came back to bite my friend in the butt. His departure form this world was a way too early, and excruciatingly painful & tortuous exit. 

My ethics are much more rigid, and I did not approve of this actions, nor his repairs/restorations of items and their later sale as being in original condition.  But, his heart was good, and pure in intentions towards those he cared about.  I have been treated poorly in the past by others who claimed to be more honest & forthright than they actually are/were.  People have flaws, but they can be purposely overlooked, and overshadowed by other good traits that overshadow those flaws.

Hmm..went off on bit of a philosophic tangent there, didn't I?

Back to the important stuff...old junk!

So, there are things out there that will deceive you. Some are made intentionally to deceive, other items are made to look old as an pleasing aesthetic, and other items have just aged or been changed in some way by natural causes (etc) that make them appear to be something that they are not.

Check this old coin out:

Looks kind of like those encrusted Roman coins you see all over the Internet...or a metal detector discovered freshly dug coin, doesn't it?

Check out the date on the other side...definitely not Roman!

Here is a complete view of the other side:

Neat, eh?

So, 1896, and being that it is 2010 now, this coin is 114 years old, right?


Sure looks old, doesn't it?

Well, it IS old...but only about 35 years old. Yes, it dates from the early 1970s.

I happened to recognize what it was right away when I found see, this is part of a set of coins made for the public to collect. They were given away individually with gas purchases in the 1970s by Shell gas stations in Canada.

Charles Tupper was the Canadian Prime, yes, 1896....the shortest serving Prime Minister in Canadian history...serving from May 1st, 1896 to July 8th, 1896.

Lots of these (and others with older and newer dates) around, and one of those things that are constantly brought in to weary Canadian coin dealers and Canadian antiques dealers by the general public.


Well, most coin dealers have them in their 3 for a buck that will give you an idea of their "value"....or, rather, lack of value.

So, how come mine looks SO old?

No, I didn't age it.

I found it, just like it is, under a carpet in an old house I was cleaning out....but a house that was built in the 1950s, not 1800s....perhaps if it was in an older house, I might have had to study it for more than a second to assure myself it was not that old. And, had I been unfamiliar with these coins, I might have even been deceived for awhile longer. But, the age of the house, and the location I found the coin in adds to the reluctance to believe the date on the piece represented the age of the coin.

Amazing what years of moisture, carpet leached chemicals, carpet cleaners, and who-knows-what-else can do to a cheaply made piece of bric-a-brac! These were made of a plated zinc, thus deteriorate easily in a variety of conditions.

So, this sort of thing pops up, and you have to be careful with judging an item strictly by wear, corrosion, etc.  Same goes for LACK of wear on an item.  Dealers often turn items over, and this is not always to look for certain marks, but to see if their is "appropriate" age related wear on the bottom. 

Take for example a glass candy jar of the type used in a store, or a Planter's Peanut jar. There should be scuffs/scratches/wear on the points on the bottom where it rubs on the counter. Being moved and shoved around for 50, 75, 100 years tends to wear things down, glass included. The item might be outrageously in good condition for something so heavily used that you suspect it to be a repro, but when you turn it over and it is heavily worn on the bottom you may well, and likely correctly, assume it is authentic.

But, this is NOT the only reason you should be deciding it is old and not a repro.

You should also include the glass's hue being correct for the period, the thickness or thinness of the glass, etc, etc, etc.  What if the piece was never used, and had sat on a basement shelf for 75 years, and was only recently well washed and put on that thrift store shelf, or on that table for in the auction? 

So, wear isn't always the determining factor.

The more knowledge you have behind you the better. Though, experience is always the best teacher.

Familiarizing yourself with items issued for celebratory reasons is something to do, also.

Take, for example, a coin I saw advertised at a local auction. It was a 1670 coin with a ship on it.


I immediately had my doubts it was actually from 1670, and if it was, could well be a common foreign coin...kind of like those common Roman-era bronze coins you can buy by the hand full quite cheaply.

I went to the auction preview in the morning and looked at it up close, and quickly decided that it was indeed old.....but only as old as I was. Yes, that is correct, I wasn't born yesterday. I was born in 1970.

And so was the coin.

I should get a picture of the coin. I know who bought it, for a sum nearing $300.  He was new to the business, and paid a premium dollar figure for that lesson. Maybe will add it later, we'll see if he still has it when I stop by his shop. 

You see, his was pretty beat up, had a dark "patina"....

Yes, just click on the sentence...then page down on that page to a red rectangle...which is the case the coin came in when given to employees of the Hudson's Bay Company on the 300th anniversary of the 1970.

Note how the 9&6 are intertwined, essentially one in the same....

And how easy it would be to smack the coin right on the tail of the "9" and obliterate it the fact it exists.....add some more marks, then bury it in some acidic soil for a year or more, and VOILA, an "antique" coin....

Whether this was a purposely done to deceive in that particular case, or just something someone found as it was, like my "1896" coin, and incorrectly assumed was actually quite old, is unknown.

I didn't attend the auction, as there wasn't really enough there to justify me staying all day. I left some bids, and went on with my day. But, I did find out who bought the coin awhile later. And, yes, I had pointed out to the auctioneer, before the sale, that it was not from 1670. He sold it as an "old coin". There is that caveat emptor, again. I'm sure auctioneers get told things by people viewing items at their sales all the time; things that may or may not be correct...he just has to do his job.

So, you need to use a combination of the various things you know to determine age and authenticity of items. You can score a fantastic piece that everyone else has passed up as a "repro" or "fake" if you have the knowledge to back you up....and, you can avoid getting stung by using that same knowledge. You will make use of your knowledge for the latter more often than the former, as there are more suspect items out there than gems, but don't dismiss those items entirely that seem "too good." Be suspicious, sure, but don't make a crack judgement, unless there is that glaringly obvious "issue" you identify right off that screams FAKE or REPRO. Besides, handling those fakes & repros assists you in making a more educated decision next time...just don't BUY the fake/repro....unless, of course, you want it as reference or comparison and the price is "right".

Yeah, the beads on that native artifact may be 100% authentic fur trade era trade beads from the 1700s/1800s...but the leather hasn't been tanned in the fashion of the period....then you notice the thread isnt; "period".

 And, if you happen to know that those antique beads still do turn up in unused batches, plus are easily obtained from far less valuable AFRICAN native made artifacts of the same period, you might be clued in to look for more clues as to the item's age. Everything should add up.  Sometimes there is information out there not generally available to the public. Though it may be tough to determine origin, thus the item is assumed to be authentically "Indian made" or something like that.  In Manitoba, as an example, there was a community of squatters, located near a larger community. These squatters had access to willow...and the population, made of both native Canadians, mixed-blood and Caucasian (and possibly even other races), made aboriginal type willow baskets...for use and for sale in the larger center. It is essentially impossible to tell the difference whose hands made them, however. This particular detail doesn't really make them any less valuable, nor thought of as potentially "fakes". Though around that area, many people are aware of that tid-bit of history, and thus us local dealers marking them as "authentic aboriginal willow baskets" may get a slight roll of the eyes from the odd person reading the tags...and, they are found more commonly around that particular area than elsewhere.

Another thing to be careful of is the "it was my grandmothers" story.

Certainly, it well COULD have been owned by their grandmother...but, grandmothers shop at Wal Mart, too.

They quite likely even are not lying, and they could well believe the item is old, and some folks may not even be convinced in a million years of anything other than how old they think/were told by granny how old the object is, 'cause granny/mom/dad wouldn't have lied to them....

And, just because someone is old, doesn't mean they are, even if you are buying it FROM that sweet, little ol' granny, make sure you know what you are buying. Plus, people's memories do change, and things do get mixed up in the telling of stories...that ancestor's "Civil War" used  rifle may actually be great-grand dad's hunting rifle. They aren't trying to purposely deceive you, so tread carefully, don't accuse, but just be aware of what you are buying, and if you are offering an "old hunting rifle" price and not a Civil War relic price, explain why you believe it is not Civil War period...having some irrefutable reference material on hand helps. But, disproving family stories can be touchy with some people, so it might be worth while to you to let sleeping dogs lie, and pass on making an offer at all.'


So, there are a few more things I have learned....and am freely passing on to you....which will hopefully save you/make you some money sometime.

Which brings me to another be covered in a future blog!

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