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The Collector’s Minute: Fabulous Fakes No. 2

by Mike Wilcox (03/09/10).

An example of a fake Ironware wash basin that started appearing in the late 1980s.

An example of a fake Ironware wash basin that started appearing in the late 1980s.

Anytime an antique item becomes very collectible, it tends to rise in value to the point it becomes difficult to find at a price most want to pay. At this point, the economics of fraud are possible. For example, if a circa 1870 Flow Blue basin set was selling at $450, and a modern “reproduction” could be manufactured for $20, then it’s reasonable to assume someone will attempt to profit by it.

Such is the case of this piece of Ironware wash basin. Pieces like this began to appear during the late 1980s, causing some head-scratching regarding the mark and their glassy appearance. But since until that time, no one had ever run across Ironstone basin sets that weren’t “right,” the questions came down to “I’ll look it up later.” In my neck of the woods, they were salted into rural auctions along with the real examples of English flow blue/tranferware Great Grandma had sitting on the washstand since 1880 by unnamed agents to test the market, I suppose.

What threw people at the time was the marking on it, pretending to be a British “Royal Arms” mark, as used by a great number of mid-19th-century English Staffordshire companies and on genuine late-19th-century American Ironstone trying to pass itself off as “as good as Staffordshire.” What makes the fake mark different from the original used by British and American companies is that the genuine marks are nearly always accompanied by a company name, or the company initials. After all, what would be the point of a marking that did not advertise the maker?

A fake Ironstone mark, which usually does not include the name of the manufacturer.
A fake Ironstone mark, which usually does not include the name of the manufacturer.
A genuine English Royal Arms mark.
A genuine English Royal Arms mark.

At first, these pieces were passed off as ironstone by an unknown Staffordshire pottery, then possibly by obscure 19th-century European potteries. Eventually, long-term collectors and dealers began to ask themselves, “if I’ve been in this business for 30 years, why haven’t I seen this mark or this pattern before?” As always, the cat ultimately got out of the bag; these pieces were being made in China by at least one firm as late as 1996, referred to as “The Staffordshire Figure Company Ltd.,” which, apparently, made quite a range of items, from Jardiaires to chamberpots in the famous Blue Willow and other copies of Victorian transferware.

In the antiques game, two old adages hold true: “There’s a sucker born every minute” and “ if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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