Antique Fakes and Reproductions

An intelligent and patriotic interest in Americana has grown to such proportions that an extraordinary increase in the number of collectors and dealers throughout the country was inevitable. The rise in the demand necessarily led to a corresponding rise in prices and a high level of values in turn made fraud profitable. At all times, fakers have taken advantage of popular fads to foist imitations on eager but uninformed buyers. The greater the demand for a particular line of antiques, the more difficult it becomes to find genuine pieces, for the supply grows scantier. Always in a rising market the fake appears, never ostentatiously, never frankly labeled, until victimized buyers grow cautious. Once suspicions as to genuineness are aroused, the buying slows up and sometimes the demand is killed entirely. It was the prevalence of fakes that nearly put an end to the fad for early American pine furniture and inrenors.

There is profit enough in selling authentic antiques at reasonable prices. Reputable dealers can afford to pay well for genuine pieces because they cater to a class of buyers who realize that rarity and historical association differentiate the antiques business from ordinary commercial lines.

Irrespective of differences of opinion as to artistic merit, workmanship, rarity, or historical association, it cannot be denied that more Americans today are collecting our early pattern glass than any other one line. It has been a commonplace of the antiques trade that throughout depression years the most active demand, North, South, East and West, has been for early American pressed glass. There are sound reasons why this should be the case. So rapid and extensive was the growth of interest in this glass that reproductions promptly made their appearance. Today there are so many reproductions and imitations on the market that both collectors and dealers are confronted by a situation so serious that something must be done soon to overcome it. No individual can do much. There must be concerted action by associations of dealers or collectors. It is my firm conviction that the glass clubs of this country have the opportunity to render a great service not only to their own members but to all collectors.

The existing clubs should get together and organize a movement to check fraudulent practices. It will take collective effort to obtain legislative action. As this book goes to press, legislative action toward marking reproductions appears to be well under way.

There is nothing to be said against the manufacture of reproductions or copies of old originals by anyone. A cabinetmaker who copies a Chippendale chair and sells it as such operates a legitimate business. But if the dealer to whom he sells that chair in turn sells it as an original piece “of the period,” he is clearly guilty of obtaining money under false pretenses. The harm is not in making or selling reproductions. It is the selling of reproductions at exorbitant prices and representing them to be authentic antiques. This constitutes fraud and is a menace to the layman as well as to the trade. By the same token, so is the sale of all reproductions of all antiques, whether glass, furniture, pottery or silver.

The permanent cure lies in education, furthered by a law against this particular form of misrepresentation. The ignorant collector who merely follows fads is apt to forget that there is no royal road to knowledge and that the phrase caveat emptor was coined a great many centuries ago. If he does not choose to protect himself by knowing what he buys, he will find an abundance of sellers whom he invites to fatten on his ignorance. A merely superficial acquaintance with what he collects may prove worse than utter ignorance. He may know enough about the market to realize that a Duncan Phyfe sofa or a Paul Revere tea service is very valuable. When fakes are offered to him at bargain prices, he swallows the hook as well as the bait, for it is difficult to resist an apparent bargain. He thinks that the dealer is an ignoramus and that he himself is so wise that by paying one dollar he in turn will get a ten-dollar bill.

I regret the necessity for expressing my conviction that the majority of the small and particularly the “amateur” dealers throughout the country also sadly need educating. Broadly speaking, dealers may be divided into three classes: The reputable and well informed, the ignorant, and the downright dishonest. If collectors exercised the discrimination when purchasing antiques that they do when they buy diamonds or when they select a family physician, there would be fewer complaints. The ignorant dealer is dangerous because he may, in good faith, sell as old what is really new. He is a victim of his ignorance when he cannot tell a reproduction from an original. He is easily deceived by clever, dishonest “pickers” and he often trades as well with dishonest dealers, victimizing his customers in the end without intending to do so. The unscrupulous dealer, of course, knows full well what he is doing when he preys on the ignorance or the greed of uninformed purchasers. Rare discrimination is ofttimes required in separating the wheat from the chaff.

I wish to stress again that only co-operation by clubs and societies of
collectors may succeed in forcing the enactment of laws making it a crime to sell as antique that which is new. The reputable dealers also should immediately organize an association requiring its members not only to guarantee the genuineness of the antiques they sell but also to make good their guarantee. A membership card properly displayed should be a sign of responsibility. Violation of the code, when proven, would forfeit the membership.

It is fair to state here that the majority of the makers of reproductions do not misrepresent their products bur sell them as reproductions at reproduction prices. Such pieces really belong in gift shops and department stores rather than in antique shops.

When the first edition of the author’s Early American Pressed Glass came out long ago, an enthusiastic collector from Philadelphia wrote: “Does the thought ever come to you that if the demand for this pressed glass keeps on increasing there will inevitably be reproductions on such a scale that it will kill off popular interest in it? What is the answer?” The answer is that no racker should be allowed to kill a good legitimate business. It is necessary, instead, to kill the racket.

A “reproduction” becomes a “fake” only when it is sold as a genuine antique. The making of fakes is a very old story. It goes back thousands of years. Of course, there is no faking when there is no profit. It is too much to hope that any human agency can end all cheating. But the best way to cheat the cheaters lies in learning to tell the genuine from the imitation. This book is written in the hope that with its help buyers may find it easier to detect at least some of the frauds that are daily offered for sale to buyers of antiques. It is also well to bear in mind that knowledge will prevent excessive suspicion. Let the buyer beware of fakes but, also, let him beware of suspecting genuineness when there is really no basis for that suspicion. Dealers too often hear clients say that they will not buy this or that article because there are so many fakes. To stop collecting through the fear of being cheated is as foolish as to buy indiscriminately, and many a collector has missed getting fine pieces through unjustified skepticism.

Pick your dealer and let him guarantee that what he sells as old is really old and that your money will be cheerfully and promptly refunded if the goods are not as represented. It is as absurd to think that all dealers knowingly sell fakes as to assert that all lawyers are shysters or all physicians quacks.

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