As long as there have been items of value there have been problems with authenticity. In the antique and collectible arena items can be categorized in four main categories: authentic, reproduction, fake (forgery) and fantasy.
Authentic: Items that actually are what they purport to be. Normal wear and modification or repairs are okay if disclosed or are obvious and not meant to deceive.
Reproduction: A reproduction is an item copied from an existing authentic item. A good example would be recasts of Remington bronzes, Tiffany lamps, and tin signs. As long as the item is sold as, and continues to carry the description of “reproduction”, this is not a problem. An item can change from a harmless “reproduction” to a dangerous “fake” through several ways. I have listed a couple.
- Sold as a reproduction or as an “I’m not sure” to a shady dealer who then passes it off as “real”
- Sold at auction as “a Tiffany style lamp” or “signed Tiffany lamp”. The novice buyer may only hear “Tiffany lamp” and assume it is an authentic Tiffany lamp. If the auctioneer words it in the above ways they technically are telling the truth. If they use the words “authentic” or “guarantee” then they are changing a reproduction into a fake.
Fake (forgery): A fake is made intentionally to deceive.
Items of little intrinsic value (precious metals and/or stones) are not usually targets for the forgers and usually not profitable enough to make as reproductions. This can change as the value of a particular type of antique or collectible begins to rise in value. Pottery such as Roseville, Hull, McCoy and depression glass are recent examples.
Perhaps the oldest known forgeries have been coins and continues to be a problem even today. This includes not only exact copies of rare coins being produced but also includes enhancing existing real coins through modification. An example would be adding or removing a mint mark to increase the coins value.
Adding signatures to prints, stamping marks into metal, adding inlay to furniture are only a few more examples of turning a real item into a fake.
Fantasy: A fantasy item is something that never existed. These are often passed off as “rare” items to unwary buyers. As with reproductions, if the fantasy item keeps its description as a reproduction, it can still be bought and enjoyed. It is only when it changes into a fake that it becomes a problem.
The best advice I can give is to deal with a reputable dealer and get a written guarantee that if the item is not as represented, ,you can return it. Reputable dealers and auction houses value their reputation and if they state it is authentic, they should stand behind it. If they won’t, be smart and walk away.
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