Antique and vintage silver forgeries, fakes, and altered-wares have been around for a long time.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, know before you buy!
So we are all on exactly the same page here are some definitions:
- Forgeries – the easiest to define, but often the hardest to spot. Forgeries are an exact copy of another person’s work and when for sale they are represented as an original piece done by the original artist. The art and antiques world is full of examples – if a someone is selling a paint-by-numbers copy of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and labeling it as the original by the master himself, that is a forgery. Forgeries can be of variable quality – from fabulous to awful. If it seems to good to be true – say you find a set of Paul Storr forks for $150 – do some further checking! Hallmarks can be forged.
- Fakes – I consider fakes to be “previously undiscovered” created by one person and represented as works of the original artists. In silver this is accomplished by transferring (literally cutting out a section of silver and moving it to a new/different piece) or forging hallmarks. Again, if it seems to good to be true, do your homework.
- Altered-wares – here we get onto tricky ground. This is not quite so black or white and is very common. It usually involves changing the original piece to something new. It can be accomplished in a few ways.
Changed purpose – Sometimes a handle does not hold what it should. A photo is worth a 1000 words, so look at these three pieces.
- Photo #1 shows a knife handle that has had the knife blade removed and a modern stainless steel pie serving blade inserted.
- Photo #2 is a knife for comparison, so you can clearly see the handles are exactly the same.
- Photo #3 is what the real serving piece looks like. It is sterling from head to toe.
Knife handles used in this way are commonly found with pie servers and punch ladles. It is particularly heart-breaking because knives, especially in these older patterns, are very difficult to find. If you are looking for knives and unable to find them, find these altered pieces, buy them and have a good silversmith replace the knife blades.
Changed shape – Unfortunately I don’t have photos for this (Note to self – buy more altered pieces for educational purposes!) but forks and spoons can be manipulated and re-shaped into different pieces. Stilton scoops can be made from spoons by reshaping and curling up the edges of the bowl. Baked potato forks can be made by clipping out the two middle tines of a dinner fork and twisting the outer tines.
How can you tell?
If you are out and come across something like this and don’t happen to be carrying a handy reference library with you, just be cautious and ask commonsense questions.
- Tip #1 – stainless steel wasn’t invented until WWI – so anything that is antique should not have any stainless steel. The exception to this are knives. Knife blades are frequently replaced. The older sets had carbon blades which are prone to rust. The glue join where the sterling handle meets the knife blade is susceptible to coming apart.
- Tip #2 – Again, with these older sets (and I am generally speaking about 1900 and earlier) the serving pieces were works of art, not utilitarian-looking in the least. See the fancy shoulders on #3 – the way the decoration runs all the way down the handle and onto the serving area itself.
- Tip #3 – examine the piece very closely. Does it look OK? I can’t imagine a reputable dealer ever minding questions or letting you closely examine a piece. I keep a loupe* handy for this very purpose. I want my clients to see.
The very best thing to do is find the catalog.
If you collect a particular pattern (or patterns) hunt down a catalog, price list or brochure. These almost always have lists of the pieces available in that pattern. I’m an avid collector of them and I strongly recommend that you make the effort. Did an ice cream spoon really come in your pattern or has a teaspoon been transformed into one?
- The Eden Sterling Company has a wonderful series of historical silver catalogs in popular patterns that they have re-printed.
- Many vintage paper ephemera sellers also sell catalogs and lists.
Shades of grey
Pie server #1 was sold to me as a “genuine” Louis XV pie server. I knew it wasn’t, but that’s my job! If you know it is altered and that doesn’t worry you (or like me you buy them for a specific purpose) that’s fine. It’s when you don’t know that problems arise. The keywords to alert you are “re-manufactured” and “custom.”
There are many very creative altered pieces out there. Again, like forgery, some are exquisitely done and others are easy to spot. It’s easy to make a mistake…I did once and it has bugged me ever since!
I always love your comments. Did you know about altered vintage silver?
Coming next week in Part 2 – Added decoration!
* I’m not an affiliate for anyone. Items that I recommend are ones I use, but I have no financial relationship with these sellers.
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