Helpful Tips to Spotting Fake Antiques
Fake antiques are unfortunately a part of life as a collector and they always will be. As long as there is interest in antiques and the ability to make money from selling them to interested collectors, some scammers will be keen to make some fast money by passing off reproductions or newer items as antiques. Complicating matters are the dealers and sellers who genuinely believe that they have the real deal in their possession. If, for example, they bought an antique themselves in good faith, they may try to sell it in good faith too.
It’s a comfort to know that even professional dealers can be fooled by fakes. In an article on fake antiques, HowStuffWorks recounted the story of the Bolton Museum who bought a statue that had been authenticated as genuine Ancient Egyptian by both Christie’s and the British Museum. Everyone was left with red faces when the statue was revealed to be the work of professional forgers operating from a shed in Bolton.
When is an Item Classed as an Antique?
For some people, this is where the confusion begins, as they’re uncertain about the definition of an antique and some unscrupulous dealers take advantage of that. It’s generally accepted that to be classified as antique, an item must be over 100 years old. That isn’t to say that anything made within 100 years is worthless (there is a huge market in vintage items) but just that it isn’t classed as an antique as the definition is generally understood.
How to Spot Fake Antiques – 9 Top Tips
So, if you want to avoid getting caught out, there are some steps you can take to assess any antique you look at. Try these out wherever possible:
Always Research – While it can be tempting to try and snap up an offer on the spot, that’s how many mistakes occur. Spotting a fake can be a complicated business, as the team on the BBC’s Fake or Fortune often demonstrate. One of the worst things you can do is jump into a purchase without conducting any prior research because all you’ll be going on is the word of a dealer who might not have done their research in the first place. Before you buy any item purporting to be an antique, find out as much as you can about the item and its place in history.
Use Social Media Groups – The growth of social media and online communities has brought with it an excellent set of resources for antique detectives. There are groups for everything, whether your interest is in Georgian antiques or lamps from the Victorian era. Generally, these users are true enthusiasts who will have more ideas than general antique dealers on how to spot a fake in their field of expertise. Just posting a picture can yield some positive (or negative, depending on the outcome) results and supply you with more information about what you should be looking for with that item.
Ask the Right Questions – It can sometimes feel as though there are a million questions to ask about an item, but many of those questions probably won’t help you authenticate it. Two elements you should certainly ask about are the previous owners and the history of an item. It’s fair to say that some items will have gaps in their history which might cast doubt on their provenance. However, if the details you’re given (or not given, as the case may be) don’t tally with some of the points raised below, you’re best off walking away.
Check for Identification Marks – Many items will have a maker’s mark. For instance, carpenters may have signed their wooden creations or wall tiles may have a mark signalling who made them. It’s worth noting that marks are not the be all and end all – some makers never used marks and others may have disappeared over time. Even so, if there is a mark, it can speed up authentication – just as long as you check the mark itself is genuine.
Feel the Weight – Reproductions and fake antiques feel remarkably different to the genuine articles. Because fakes are generally made to make money, they likely won’t be made from the proper materials and so they won’t feel the same when you pick them up. Obviously, this one can be tricky if you’re not used to the weight of a particular item but think about what something is purporting to be made of and ask whether that weight of material is what you have in your hands.
Look for Wear and Tear – Even if an item has been sat on a shelf for generations, it’ll have some marks of wear and tear. Remember that these items are at least 100 years old and so if there aren’t any scratches or blemishes, there’s something amiss. Those people buying antiques are probably the only buyers around who actively seek out items that have some wear and tear to them!
Think About the Price – The golden rule is that if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. While most dealers are in the job because they love antiques, they still have to make a living and they won’t sell an item for less than its value if they can help it. So, if the price is low, that’s a red flag that the dealer is at least uncertain about the provenance of an item – or that there’s something else wrong with it. However, this isn’t to say that you should necessarily accept the price the dealer wants for an item. Take a look at our guide on haggling to see if you can get a better deal.
Ask About Documents – Given the nature of antique collection, many items will pass from owner to owner without documents to validate its authenticity. However, it’s always worth asking whether there are any such documents associated with an item which might validate its authenticity.
Buy Only from Reputable Sellers – Apparently brilliant deals will often be found in dubious places. To keep yourself and your money safe, stay away from any location that you’re uncertain about. This could include websites or stalls that either don’t have a solid reputation or don’t have much of a reputation at all. Relying on word of mouth and trusted online platforms can go some way towards mitigating the risks of fake antiques.
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