Buyer Beware: Recognizing the Different Types of New ‘Antiques’
This is an example of a new Franciscan Apple plate—one of the most popular dinnerware patterns ever made. It was introduced in 1940, and because it is still in production today, you need to be able to tell the difference in vintage Franciscan Apple and more modern items.
The popularity of antiques and collectibles has naturally resulted in the creation of copies. It’s a sad fact that almost anything of value from the past is now reproduced.
Education and experience in your particular area of interest is absolutely essential in order to identify a real antique. But there are a few generalities that can help the casual collector, starting with the understanding of the different ways that new “antiques” appear on the market.
Still in Production
Some items that were made in the past are still being made today, but perhaps not in the same way. In particular, this includes many glass and china patterns. One of the most popular dinnerware patterns ever made, Franciscan Apple, was introduced in 1940. At that time, each piece was individually hand-painted in a high-relief decoration. It is still being made today, but the new mass-produced version clearly lacks the unique detail of the old. It is easy to tell them apart if you have an experienced eye. But better yet is a good understanding of the frequent changes in production companies and production marks over the years. This Apple mark appeared only from 1940 to 1947.
This Franciscan Apple mark appeared only from 1940 to 1947.
A piece that is deliberately made to look like an exact, discontinued item from the past is a reproduction. Reproductions can also be called copies, forgeries or fakes.
Paper is the easiest to fake, because today it can be scanned and reprinted with color precision. The easy ability to reproduce paper, and the resulting suspicion toward paper items, has hurt the market for vintage event tickets, movie posters, dust jackets, yard-long prints and old newspapers (especially those with historic content). Experienced dealers and collectors can usually tell if an item is genuine by watermarks, embossing, rag content and the overall quality or “feel” of the paper, but even experts can be fooled. Look closely—a reproduction might have soiling, tears or abrasions that cannot be felt because they are scanned into the image—right off of the original.
Tin lithographed toys, advertising signs and cast iron banks are prime examples of modern fakes. They can be artificially rusted, sanded and even buried in dirt to bring on a façade of age. Many bank reproductions are made from molds of the originals, but experts can tell the difference by the types of screws, sharpness of edges, paint colors, construction and seam thickness. Holiday merchandise is also extensively reproduced. Cardboard jack-o-lanterns, candy containers, Christmas ornaments, die-cut Victorian scrap and paper mâché eggs that appear en masse during certain times of the year are often exact copies of the originals.
It should be noted that many modern reproductions are openly advertised as such and are not meant to deceive. Internet sites abound that showcase “fine reproduction antiques,” specifically meaning new furniture, art, toys and decorator items with an “Old World” look. However, collectibles are often bought and sold, passing through many hands over time. Eventually they can easily become misidentified, with all sense of provenance lost.
An original 1886 Uncle Sam Carpet Bag Bank. The flaking paint is a good clue that it is genuine, but not definitive.
A modern Uncle Sam Carpet Bag Bank reproduction. It’s easy to tell when they are side by side, but not so easy if you’ve never seen one before.
Counterfeits are items that never had an original counterpart, but have cashed in on the fame of a real collectible genre. Sometimes called “fantasy items,” they are made to look like they came from a particular era. There are many examples of counterfeit Beatles merchandise that continually fool the public, such as soap bubbles, pin-back buttons, jewelry, erasers, pocket mirrors, display cards, rulers and others. Although many of these items are falsely marked “1964,” they were actually manufactured in the middle 1970s or later.
This counterfeit Beatles bank was not made in 1964 and never appeared during the original wave of Beatlemania.
Theoretically, vintage “style” pieces are made in an imitation format to invoke a look of the past. Gift shops and home decorating stores are filled with clock faces, samplers, stonework, folk art, wall sconces, chandeliers, speckled enamelware, butter molds, dolls and other accessories with an old-time look. These faux pieces might be made from wood, oilcloth, tin, crockery, bronze, wrought iron or even printed “flour sacks.” When market and boutique items are displayed with dozens of the same, it is easy to see that they are new. But one by itself in a flea market or online auction can be very deceptive.
This decorative sampler is brand new, even though it looks old and has a date of “1797.”
Education and experience are the keys to wise authentication. Print and online guides exist for most collectibles that will help you recognize reproductions and counterfeits. And remember, you can always research your item with WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” feature.
Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who specializes in collectible books.
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