Identifying Fakes: Old Red Wing Stoneware with New Advertising

This is the crock with fake Nebraska advertising that Red Wing dealer Bill Prock bought back in 2009.

Ever since a butter crock with a fake “Goodhue County Co-Operative” advertising stamp showed up at a chapter meeting a few years ago, Red Wing Collectors Society Trails West Chapter President Larry Birks has made it his mission to learn as much as he can about fake stamps and share his knowledge to help prevent people from buying a faked piece.

Although there are a few ways in which new advertising is being applied to old pieces of stoneware, such as laser engraving and paper labels, Birks says the most convincing fake ads are applied as an ultra-thin vinyl transfer. In many cases, these pieces are covered with a clear coat to give the appearance that the advertising stamp is under glaze.

This reproduction advertising stoneware is so well done that it’s fooling even the most advanced collectors. Back in 2009, after seeing some photos, longtime Red Wing collector and dealer Bill Prock purchased a one-gallon crock with Nebraska advertising for $2,000. He had never seen or heard of this particular advertising before, so when it arrived in the mail and looked good, he called up one of his best customers and sold it for a fair profit.

About a week later, however, the customer forwarded Prock an e-mail he received from someone who told him the crock was a fake. Prock still had the crock in his possession at this point, so he grabbed his jackknife and scratched at a small corner of the advertising. Sure enough, the advertising scraped off.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Prock says. “I’ve been buying and selling stoneware for many years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Even looking at it right now, I wouldn’t know it was fake unless my customer hadn’t received that e-mail. It’s got that shiny glaze over the advertising that all Red Wing pieces have.”

Prock refunded his customer, who graciously offered to split the losses. But Prock wouldn’t hear of it.

“This was my problem—not his,” Prock says. “I just want people to learn from this.” (Bill later got his money back from the person he bought it from, although it took awhile.)

This jug with a fake “John Treber” advertising that showed up at a South Dakota auction in late January 2011. The close-up photo below shows where an alert Red Wing Collectors Society member easily scratched off part of the ad. He informed the auctioneer and an announcement was made before the piece sold, stating there were no guarantees whether it was authentic or fake. Perhaps a more noble decision would have been to pull the piece from the auction altogether, as it still sold for $250.

Notice the scratch through the "R."

After doing some digging, a source told me these pieces are being made in Nebraska, but they didn’t know the name of the person making them. To date, most of the pieces with fake advertising are showing up on eBay, at antique malls and flea markets or on auctions. The faked “John Treber” and “Oliver Chilled Plow Works” jugs shown on this page were recently sold at auctions held near the town stamped on each respective piece. So, it’s possible that the people who are making these pieces are consigning them to general-line antique auctions in areas where the advertising is from, in hopes of targeting a high concentration of people seeking local advertising.

So how can you identify these pieces as being fake? If you have the advantage of looking at an item in-person and you doubt its authenticity, the advertising will usually scrape off if it’s not original. Applying advertising over original glaze is much like painting a piece of glossy glass . . . the paint might stick just fine, but if you scrape it with a razor blade, it will come off with little effort.

Before you start scratching a jug in front of its owner, however, explain to them that scratching at the glaze won’t damage the crock or the advertising if it’s original. The glaze on original zinc-glazed Red Wing stoneware pieces is extremely strong, and provided the glaze hasn’t pitted due to acid damage at some point in the past, scratching it with a knife will not harm the piece.

This jug with fake advertising was listed in a March 12, 2011 auction that took place about 40 miles away from South Bend, Ind.

When presenting a seminar on fake advertising to the Collectors of Illinois Pottery and Stoneware this fall, Birks learned about a new technique. Apparently, at least two fakes made using rubber stamps and ink have shown up in Western Kansas.

“The kicker is that running a knife over the ‘inked’ label did not damage the label and therefore the faked pieces were deemed ‘good,’” Birks reports. “It was only after the pieces were being cleaned up (both were very dirty) that the ink began to run and disappear, leaving the stoneware without part of the label. So, now we have a new way to check for fakes besides scratching the surface. Wet a thumb and rub it over the label. The ink supposedly is water soluble and will break down and come off.”

If you only have photos to look at when deciding whether to buy a piece, as is the case when bidding on eBay, you might notice that something about the advertising stamp just doesn’t look quite right. Some collectors of advertising stoneware note that pieces with fake ads can usually be identified by the appearance of the font used in the ad. Some of the fake advertising pieces pictured here are good examples of stamps that simply don’t look like they were done by Red Wing due to the fonts used. In some cases, the size of the type and shape of the ad is different than on original Red Wing pieces. While particularly well-done fake ads have fooled advanced collectors from time-to-time, newer collectors are the ones who are especially vulnerable to buying a fake advertising piece because they have limited experience to draw from.

Also, think about what the advertising says and where it’s from. If you consider yourself to be well-versed in the advertising that Red Wing and other stoneware companies made, but have never seen this particular advertising stamp before, it might be too good to be true—the “Oliver Chilled Plow Works” jug pictured here is a great example. Sure, rare pieces exist that you have never seen before, but you might be able to verify the level of rarity by reaching out to fellow collectors and asking them if they’ve ever seen examples of the advertising in question. If you talk to 10 of the most-advanced collectors you know and they’ve never seen it, it doesn’t mean it’s a fake, but it should at least make you proceed more cautiously when making an expensive purchase. This is another example of when being a member of a club like the Red Wing Collectors Society is beneficial; it helps you network with other collectors.

Many are concerned that this fake advertising will affect the value of original pieces. I believe that while it’s possible the values of original advertising could dip slightly, the more we educate collectors about fakes being out there, the less chance that values will decrease.

More examples of old stoneware with faked advertising and the authentic versions.

Keep in mind that a piece of stoneware that’s bottom-signed by the manufacturer doesn’t make it immune to having new advertising placed on it. If anything, the person who’s making these pieces might be more likely to place new advertising on signed pieces, because buyers would be more likely to believe they’re real.

Nobody likes getting ripped off, so if you see these pieces at auctions, tell the auctioneer that they’re fake; he or she will often announce this when the piece is being sold or pull it from the auction completely. And don’t be surprised if you find one of these pieces covered with dirt at a farm auction . . . a shifty seller trying to trick you into sinking your hard-earned cash into one of his pieces might try to consign it to a sale and do everything they can to make it look old.

Also, don’t be afraid to inform dealers and “eBayers” when they’re selling a piece that might have fake advertising. Most of the time they’re honest people who don’t want to deceive their customers . . . they just don’t know the piece is fake.

Finally, some people decide to destroy a piece when they find out it could be a reproduction. If you’re one of those people, don’t give it a thought until you’re able to confirm whether it’s a fake or an original. If it is deemed a fake and you’re unable to return it for a refund, consider keeping it and using it to help educate others on what to look for.

For more photos and to download RWCS Member Larry Birks’ list of advertising stoneware pieces that are known to have been faked, visit the RWCS website.

Rick Natynski is the editor of the Red Wing Collectors Society Newsletter. The Red Wing Collectors Society was founded in 1977 in Red Wing, Minn. and is devoted to educating people about all American pottery. There are more than 5,000 members worldwide. The Red Wing Potteries had diverse pottery lines that included stoneware, dinnerware and art pottery. For more information or to become a member, call the RWCS business office at 800.977.7927, e-mail membership@redwingcollectors.org or log on to www.redwingcollectors.org.

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  1. Stacy Wegner says:

    Thank you for sharing another great article from the RWCS Newsletter. If you are a pottery collectors membership in the Red Wing Collectors Society is for you!

  2. tinfoilhat says:

    I really hope nobody is destroying an old crock just because it has new fake advertising on it. Instead, clean it off and return it to its true original – unmarked – condition.