5 ways to tell whether antique ceramics are genuine

Thank you so much to all of you who sent your best wishes regarding my beautiful Boxer dog Gretchen, hospitalised for four days last week when she fell into a continuous fit.

She is back home now but badly weakened and definitely not out of the woods.  Only time will tell but your very kind thoughts have helped me so much in the last few days and I’m very grateful.

Now onto my eletter for this week…

The current high prices being paid for antique ceramic items have led to a preponderance of forgeries and fakes (as well as reproductions) on the market that even fool the experts.

Ceramics can include porcelain, earthenware, vases and bowls. But there are thousands of additional factors – such as product types, production processes, dates, designers, trademarks and signatures – that affect your chances of making big profits from buying and selling antique ceramics.

One definition of ‘antique’ indicates the item is 100 years old or more, and being able to determine age or date of production is just one way to avoid unwittingly buying most fakes, forgeries and reproductions.

Here are some aspects to consider when trying to work out the age of ceramic products…

1) Be aware of the precise meanings of “forgery”, “fake” and “reproduction”.

Forgeries are almost always designed to deceive. For instance, where a close imitation of the designer’s signature from an antique item is applied to a modern piece and offered as the real thing.

Similarly, fake items are often intended to con buyers and onlookers… but possibly not always for financial gain. An example might be an artist who recreates a painting from the public domain – with or without copying the original artist’s signature – as long as the finished piece is not offered for sale as the original work of the named artist.  Offered as the work of the original artist makes the item a forgery as well as a fake!

A reproduction is usually the description given to a close copy of an original piece, sometimes from the public domain or with approval from copyright and trademark owners. Reproductions may not have been designed to cheat buyers as much as giving more people access to exclusive, expensive items.

2) Ask the seller when the item was created. Avoid buying if they say they don’t know or it could be an antique. Guesswork (if it is that, at best) won’t do you any good. At worst, this is an attempt to fool unsuspecting buyers.

The only certain way to get your money back or receive damages under the Trade Descriptions Act is to have a definite, precise date supplied in writing (and preferably signed by the seller).

Descriptive price tags sometimes accompany ceramics in offline locations and are usually sufficient to prove due diligence, especially with the seller’s name and business address included.

Belt and braces it by asking the seller to sign the label indicating the item is a genuine antique from the stated period. Also ask for a signed invoice bearing the date of the item.

When it comes to online, keep copies of titles and descriptions for items you buy positioned as genuine antiques in case the description is challenged later.

If that happens, contact the seller, ask for an explanation and, if necessary, ask for a refund.

Do this even if months have passed since a fake/forgery/reproduction was sold to you as a genuine antique.

Tip: look out for sellers using “vintage” interchangeably with “antique” or applying it to items less than 100 years old.

If a seller calls an item vintage, enquire about the precise date of manufacture.

If they don’t know why, you don’t buy.

3) Look for signs of age, wear and restoration, such as dirt entrenched in crevices and cracks.

Touch the affected parts, looking for movement or breakages in the dirt or clay or glue.

Materials that move and break away to the touch leaving clean undersurface might indicate artificial ageing on a modern piece.

Long-term dirt, glue and other such matter will resist the finger touch and usually leave permanent stains beneath and around the substance.

Many ceramics aged 100+ will have some light fading or tiny spots of surface texture missing, or hairline spider like patterns called ‘crazing’.

All can reduce the value of an early piece but are very difficult to mimic on modern creations.

4) Learn about features that help date a genuine antique piece.

But always expect some fakes, forgeries and reproductions to possess the same characteristics.

Perform all of the tests previously mentioned and if you’re sure your item is genuine, use this guide to pottery trademarks to help you put a date on it.

You will learn some single marks indicate who the maker was, as well as when the item was created – and even sometimes the precise year of production.

The Potteries also details how increased use of ceramic marks in the 19th Century now make it easy to date most pottery and porcelain pieces.

A few tidbits from the site to pique your interest:

–  A Royal Coat of Arms – printed on the piece typically indicates 19th and 20th Century ceramics

–  A pattern or design name on the piece suggests the item dates from 1810

–  If marked ‘Limited’ Company, this suggests the item is from 1861 or later

– Trademarks came into being in 1862, so items bearing one are from that date or later

– ‘Royal’ incorporated into a firm’s business name dates an item as mid to late 19th Century, but would not be found on 20th Century pieces

Have good looks around The Potteries – it is a very valuable resource.

5) Ceramic artists were known to change their marks at specific times or in line with notable events.

Glass designer Rene Lalique is a good example of this. Most pieces created during his lifetime were marked ‘R. Lalique’, with the ‘R’ dropped after his death in 1945.

Reproduction identification website Real or ReproReal or Repro states: “Lalique marks are forged more often than any other marks on glass, with the possible exception of American cut glass.”

Potentially more worrying is the fact Lalique used so many different marks that only the most experienced collectors and dealers know about them all.

Focus on a handful of ceramic makers, including Lalique, and you can become one of those experts and always make money from your acquisitions.

There’s another excellent guide to recognising, authenticating and dating Lalique pieces here.

Other popular ceramics makers, such as Moorcroft and Wedgwood, changed their marks according to different production periods and changes to their organisation and operating methods.

You’ll find the majority of production dates and their relevant marks for top makers of antique ceramics, at this website – another great resource worth keeping tabs on.

Key your chosen maker or designer or product name into the search box to find articles that will help you identify and date most well-known makers, their marks and when they were used.

Apply each of my tips when trying to date items and within too long, you’ll have gone from being a novice to an experienced ceramics seller!

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