It’s all in the Marks: Fake Limoges, ‘In the Style Of’ and a Stradivarius Question

During the 1980s, Victorian decorative items once again became very popular and demand caused the values of Limoges china to increase to the point where it was highly profitable to produce reproductions of Limoges in Taiwan and China. This is a mark of a recent copy.

To collectors, well-seasoned or novice, the subject of determining a maker or origin of a piece can be very confusing if it is outside their normal area of interest. Any markings that can be found can often help unravel the mystery if you know what the marks mean. If you don’t, however, they can lead you well astray of the truth. In this series of Q&A articles, I’m going to answer the questions I hear most often regarding marks on antiques and provide a straight path off an often twisted trail.

QUESTION: I have a Limoges vase that is in pristine condition. I was told it dates before 1891 because it has no country of origin markings. I’ve not been able to find this marking anywhere and for that reason suspect maybe it is a studio piece or maybe rare?

ANSWER: Unfortunately, your piece is not rare or a studio decorated piece. Limoges, France, was the home of many porcelain companies starting during the 19th century. Most of these companies were producing fine decorative china for the export market, mainly to the United States. Demand for this floral decorated china peaked before the First World War, before styles changing to the more modern Art Deco during the 1920s.

During the 1980s, Victorian decorative items once again became very popular and demand caused the values of Limoges china to increase to the point where it was highly profitable to produce reproductions of Limoges in Taiwan and China. The companies that worked in this area of France are very well documented, as are the markings they used. Sadly, the marking on your vase is one used on modern reproductions of Limoges made in Taiwan and China.

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This is a mark from United Wilson, just one of many companies producing pieces often listed “in the style of” a famous maker. If you see one of these at auction, it’s definitely a case of “buyer beware.”

QUESTION: I have purchased what appears to be a 19th-century case in the style of French Sevres—and it was attributed that way in the auction catalog—but there were no markings on the porcelain section of this piece at all. It was in remarkable condition and I just had to have it, but after getting it home I was having some doubts as to the attribution it was given. I remove the ormolu base from the vase and found this marking cast into it. Could you verify what it means?

ANSWER: I hope you did not pay a “19th-century-vase-in-the-style-of-French-Sevres” price for it, because it is a very modern reproduction. It’s a mark is used by the United Wilson company of China, which produces a wide range of ormolu mounted porcelain in the style of 18th- to 19th-century European examples. United Wilson is just one of many companies producing pieces like this still in operation, wholesaling to companies in North America. I’ve seen a great deal of these pieces turning up in auctions in recent years with vague descriptions, so it’s a case of “buyer beware.” If the vendor will not provide you with a written bill that gives a guarantee to the items origins and description, don’t buy it.

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Most violins displaying a label with the name “Stradivarius” is most likely indicating the violin was patterned after examples designed by Antonio Stradivari. Tt’s not trying to deceive; it’s just an example of late 19th-century marketing.

QUESTION: We inherited a violin from a relation several years ago and it sat in its case in the closet since then, forgotten. We are now downsizing and have been clearing out things. I took it out and had a look at it yesterday and found a Stradivarius label inside. Naturally, I got excited, then notice a stamped marking that said “Germany.” This is a bit confusing. Is the Germany marking some sort of export/import stamp? If it isn’t an original, does it have much value?

ANSWER: I wish I could be able to tell you can now forget about planning for you retirement savings plan, but sadly no, you violin is not a Stradivarius. I’ve probably had dozens of these “Stradivarius” violins a year come across my table at antique appraisal events, all of them with similar labels glued inside (the date printed or hand written). Labels like this were not really meant to deceive; they were simply indicating the violin was patterned after examples designed by Antonio Stradivari, just an example of late 19th-century marketing.

The Germany marking is what’s called a “country of origin” mark. Violins made after 1891 will generally have country-of-origin marks—such as “Germany” or “Made in Germany”—a practice necessary to comply with America Trade tariff laws. As the American market was the largest one at the time, most musical instrument manufacturers were very quick to comply. Most of these examples were made in Germany or Czechoslovakia from the turn of the 19th century through the 1920s.

As a result, tens of thousands of these Stradivarius copies were made during the closing years of the 19th century for the export market and even sold through mail order catalogs of the period. In today’s market, values for these late 19th- to early 20th-century copies vary, depending on the quality of construction, condition and sound; something that would have to be determined by a specialist who deals with stringed instruments.

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

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