The growth of antique collecting has brought with it a widespread international trade in fakes. The only protection against this is the painstaking study of all aspects of your basic interests. Give yourself a basic knowledge of antique furniture with the study of shapes, decoration, artistic standards, materials and the technical quality of the workmanship.
Faking is now done with very great skill. However, fakes are usually made of cheaper materials treated to counterfeit more expensive woods. Therefore, we find pear, apple and fir stained with sulphates and chloride as imitation ebony, beach or lime-dyed with aniline to represent walnut, and walnut or oak colored with birchromate to simulate rosewood.
Fakers have a wealth of technical aids at their disposal. One of their less harmful activities is the repair of damage caused by woodworm or poor workmanship. Of a more serious nature are restorations and the making of a replacement for a missing drawer, door, leg, etc. These can always be recognized, because modern tools have unmistakable traces (regular grooves, for example).
The practice of making two or three antiques out of one original by manufacturing additional parts can be recognized by the differences in wood graining. On drawer dovetails, the older ones had more pronounced shaping. Other signs of a fake are a smooth back, planed interior, veneer that is too thin (under 2 mm), new locks, machine-made screws, added beading or carving (noticeable from its sharp edges), galvanized yellow bronze mounts or new, carelessly finished castings of old parts or superimposed inlay.
Fakers are, of course, experts at manufacturing woodworm holes. They are also able, by means of mechanical rubbing, to age a piece of furniture. Excellent copies of japanned furniture can be detected if the surfaces, which have been subjected to fierce mechanical “wearing”, are sprayed with cellulose polish, giving it a hard gloss and a greenish shimmer. Fake signatures, both burnt-in and impressed, increase suspicion by their prominent position.
The great demand for old pottery encourages the making of imitations and forgeries. In the former, there was no fraudulent intention; the makers of such pieces were merely meeting the requirements of the purchasers, whose taste, especially during the latter half of the 19th century, was strongly influenced by the tendency to follow traditional styles.
Far more difficult to detect are forgeries, with an intentional deliberate deception of the purchaser. In some cases they were meant to conceal repairs, especially in pieces restored the old fashioned way. Touching up or repainting may extend far beyond the repair, and may even cover parts of the original painting. Overpainting of this kind can be easily removed.
In other cases a fragment of pottery has been so skillfully completed to form a whole piece, and then repainted, that it looks just like a well-preserved authentic article. To justify a high price for wares of inferior quality, manufacturers’ marks are often added. In the case of modern forgeries made by someone possessing the necessary knowledge of style and technique, it is extremely difficult to prove that they are fakes.
When judging iron, copper, bronze and brass objects of art, it is necessary to pay attention to the material used and to observe the design. The order in which we do this is not important. Is the taste, style and technical capacity in keeping with the period to which the object is said to belong?
With some experience collecting in metal, it should not be difficult to recognize mass-produced, crude imitations of metal items. The evidence of hand finishing, such as hammer marks on wrought iron, copper and other metals, is usually lacking in the reproduction. The alert collector can see all this from an examination of the piece. It is this which leads him to the genuine antique. Keep in mind it’s usually only valuable and expensive pieces that are copied.
As we mentioned earlier, protect yourself by gaining a basic knowledge of antique furniture by studying shapes, decoration, artistic standards, materials and the technical quality of the workmanship.