Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jewelry Fakes - A Few Examples

I wanted to write today about something that happens from time to time to dealers-- even with pretty sharp eyes.  Fakes.  The fact is that almost all dealers have bought fakes.  You won't see that many articles, because it's embarrassing and dealers think telling people about screw ups might hurt the reputation.  The fact is, publishing these images may help others who are about to get burned or who will remember these examples in the future.  Have a good image of a fake?  Send it along and I will add it to this post.

Fake 1736 Spanish 8 Escudo
Sometimes you get burned by a counterfeit-- or other times just valueless items that lend an appearance of being a good score.  Sometimes these fakes are intentionally fake and sometimes they are not.  But either way, if you have integrity you should never pass them along even as "replicas" and it would be better if you spotted them before you plunked down your cash and didn't buy them at all.  No one's perfect and I bet the most experienced dealer would regale you with the ingenious fakes they have bought through the years over a nice glass of something.

I keep fakes so that I can use them to remind myself of the mistakes and to motivate me to learn.  Some of these are actually quite common while others may be new to even a moderately experienced dealer.  I learn as I go, so I am not an expert and the items I will describe aren't exhaustive of fakes.

The first one came from a church flea market sale in a bad neighborhood.  I bought a jumble of a keychain from a lady that seemed to know very little about jewelry.  I purchased a couple of sterling silver Taxco bracelets and this keychain in a $40 lot.

This is a strategy that I use at yard sales.  Sometimes, I buy a handful of items together and usually throw in something horribly and obviously cheap in the mix.  Then I say, "How much for this stuff?"  Sometimes this works wonders because by casually putting  a bunch of items together you devalue the individuals by association.  Anyhow, back to the keychain.  It's got a bunch of gaudy nonsense on it and then there's a little pendant.  I'm just learning coins, so at first glance, it looks pretty good to be a Spanish coin to an amateur like me.  The item feels very heavy and it has elements of Spanish silver.  It has the cross, pillars, crowns, and some numbers which make it appear to be a 1736 Spanish 8 Escudo coin.  There's not much time to Google or hyper analyze when you are in this situations.  Sometimes you pull the trigger and you know you'll sort it out later.  This one is a fake.  And a common one probably originating from a tourist area in South America.  Any coin collector knows the 1736 was a tourist item meant to deceive.  I'm out about $13 on this piece (probably make up for it with the other items in the lot).  It's important to remember that sometimes you get burned.  Know that this is the price of getting into the business-- you pay your dues.  When you get burned, try to make it a $13 yard sale buy and not a $2.5M Renoir.

Fake Chinese Medallion with Dragon and Phoenix
Fake 14K Hallmark
The second piece I will show you is one I bought online.  I have reason to believe the seller had not noticed the hallmark.  And this happens a lot.  People get busy.  They miss stuff.  It even happens to me and I think of myself as careful.  Most of the time, when something is hallmarked, this is accurate.  But when you are buying online, spotting fakes can be tough.  I think I paid about $20 for this piece.  It appears to be a Chinese medallion (big at about 3" across).  Highly detailed of a phoenix and a dragon.  The detail really lends to the believability  It's a typical Chinese feng shui marriage harmony motif.  It also happens to be hallmarked 14K and the mark actually looks pretty old and Chinese.  It would have been a pretty good find.  Unfortunately, a 2 minute test in the shop showed this to be a fake-- and you could tell it was from plating wear under 10X magnification anyhow.  It probably was made in China-- just not of gold and definitely made to deceive.

The Chinese and Peruvians aren't the only ones to fake things for tourists on vacation (in fact there are scammers around the globe).  Fakes show up in particular genres very frequently.  Sports memorabilia, purses, shoes, and sunglasses have the highest number of counterfeits of any.  Jewelry is actually not that commonly faked.  Mostly because in person, it's easy to detect counterfeit gold and why bother with silver.  There are easier ways to make a living.  This piece is probably from Mexico.  Yes, it looks a bit thuggish, but you'd be amazed at some of the items I've found in gold that you would think-- woah, who would make this stupid item out of gold?  But they frequently do.  It pays to buy tacky garbage sometimes.  I bought this piece for $12 online.  The seller clearly stated they believed it was a fake.  Look, sometimes people make mistakes and I thought it was worth the gamble.  This piece is heavy (like 15 grams+).  And, an acid test was not conclusive.  I took it to my jeweler and he puzzled over it, believing it was real.  But after a few tests, he came to the same conclusion as me saying, "I think this is not real".  I took it to a second jeweler just to be on the safe side and yes, confirmed it was fake.

Worthless Dali Etching of Don Quixote
One more thing.  Salvador Dali etchings that are sometimes real may have no real value.  Some, such as the Don Quixote print here were printed in the tens of thousands in so-called "open editions".  The frame may be more valuable than the paper and I would recommend against buying Salvador Dali prints unless you really know what you're doing.  The market is simply flooded with these items.  There are also many many Dali prints with forged signatures.  If a print says "AP" on it or "EA", the signature is almost always faked and added later by an unscrupulous dealer.  So be very wary of these supposed artist proofs.

Happy hunting and may all that glitters for you be gold.  Want to see some stuff that didn't turn out to be fake?  Check out the shop here for beautiful gold and silver jewelry.







Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Too Good to Sell

This is a topic that is not often enough discussed by dealers.  When is something too good to sell?  For me personally, there are three factors which should be met that tip the balance in favor of not selling an item:

1. The item has great form;
2. great age; and
3. has some personal meaning or importance

Here's a bracelet that fits the criteria for me.  What you have here is a Navajo made 1940s bracelet in the cornstalk pattern.  The corn plant or maize is associated by the Navajo as a sacred plant and is designated with the cardinal point of North.  It is considered a male symbol.  While this isn't probably the very best sandcast bracelet out there, it's very good in its form and finish.  The lines of the corn plant are nice and each branch peaks in a vee.  This vee is desirable in this types of pieces as it shows the sophistication of the carver imparting the shape into the sandstone mold (tufa).  There are older pieces, but this one has nice age.  Note the unpolished patina here as discussed in the earlier post on polishing up antiques.  Pieces of this era, typically unmarked, were not made for the tourist trade.  They were made by Navajo for Navajo.  This is apparent by the heavy weight and overall weighty appearance.

But what else?  There are other sandcast bracelets like this with the age, the symbolism, and the form.  It's the stone.   The original stone in this piece was a turquoise that had been completely ruined by exposure to oil.  So, a replacement was needed.  New turquoise is a very different animal than old turquoise and you have to be very careful in your selection by choosing a piece of stone that is old enough not to be cheap plastic.  This piece was pulled from a Colorado creek by my father in the 1950s.  At some point in my childhood, I was an avid rock collector and my father gave it to me.  I had the piece cut by a very close and old friend to fit the bezel.  It's actually not a turquoise.  It's chrysocolla meandering through a matrix of quartz and metamorphic scree.  All the elements combine and you have a masterwork-- too     good to sell.

I do have other things that I will sell.  Check out the shop!
Crescent City Connection

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Yachting Adventure

Yachting is perhaps the grandest of American pasttimes.  So, inevitably, antiques related to yachting are both rare and coveted.  To be honest, I rarely stumble across any yachting or even nautical antiques worthy of a purchase.  That said, my luck changed on this last weekend.  I was in a coastal town on the mid-atlantic in one of my favorite antique stores which I visit probably once a month.  A young couple runs the place and they make a living "doing house clean outs".  While I have never had a major find in his shop, I have a good rapport with the owners.  Last Saturday, I went in with my parents. 

My father was immediately struck by a watercolor behind the counter of sailboats.  It was a lovely..Boats at anchor in the pale peach of sunset.  The painting was signed E. Bienvenuti.  So, the shop owner knocked a few bucks off the price and my Dad pulled the trigger.  Good for him.  Meanwhile, during the transaction, the shopkeeper mentioned some old nautical prints out in his van that he hadn't had the chance to bring inside yet.  My parents disappeared down the street.  I hung back waiting to check out the prints.  Once the shop cleared out, we headed out and he opened up the back of his white van, something of a rolling antique shop, stuffed full of interesting tidbits.  Anf there it was.

Frederic Cozzens' American Yachts
Laid in the back was a portfolio of Frederic Cozzens chromolithographs.  And this was easy to discern because the title page was there stating, "AMERICAN YACHTS A SERIES OF WATERCOLOUR SKETCHES", and in somewhat smaller yet still giant text, "BY FREDERIC S. COZZENS".  It wasn't clear to me the shopkeeper knew what he had..  I had just brokered the purchase of an original Cozzens watercolor at an estate sale about three months earlier, so I was intimately familiar with his auction record for originals and prints.  This stack included five chromolithographs from the 1884 series by Scribners.  I asked my friend how much, and there was some discussion of price until a deal was struck.  I paid and headed jubilently to catch up with my parents.

One problem I immediately faced was that I really wasn't positive that this particular edition was a good one.  Prints are funny animals.  Most of them are garbage and occasionally you find something worth your time.  So, arriving home, I started the process of identifying them which was simple since I had the title page and the labels to lead the way.  I immediately found the print "Ice Boating on the Hudson" in a clip from Antiques Roadshow.  Their estimate was that these prints are worth about $1,800 each.  Suffice it to say, a minor profit will be made once the prints are fully restored and framed. 

"Signal Chart" by Frederic S. Cozzens
A second problem: the prints were in awful condition.  They were very very dirty as if they had been in an old attic for half a century or more..  The original backing boards and labels were mostly all there and the paper itself was in good condition..  They were just extremely dirty.  So, off to the conservator.  A herculean effort later, the first print emerged and the difference was clear.  What at first seemed irreparable now was not only viewable, but was a result that I personally would be proud to display in my home.  The first one finished was the "Signal Chart", one of the rarer images from the set.  The "Signal Chart" is a beautiful image that shows the flags from 60 American yacht clubs.  Any of these clubs or sailors belinging to them would treasure such a beautiful print.  On the left above, you can see the dirty image, and at right is the conserved image.  The difference is stark.

The project is ongoing, but once complete, these massive and important chromolithographs will be for sale in my shop.  I haven't decided whether to sell these as individuals or as a single lot, but either way, in about a month or perhaps a bit less, they will be in the section "Paper Ephemera".

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Should I Polish Up My Antique?

This is a question that is extremely pertinent to new collectors and dealers.  When we find a dusty old treasure, our first inclination is to polish it up.  Sometimes, this may be a fine thing to do, sometimes it ruins a perfectly good antique.  Here's a helpful list of what should be polished by an amateur and what should not.  Remember, use a good quality polish and a soft cloth.  Never use power tools (dremel) etc.. on old antiques.

Furniture:  No.  If it's a good quality piece of furniture, having the original finish can be as valuable as the piece itself.  Do not refinish good antique wood furniture.  If you've got an old 1970's bookcase and you want to faux paint it, fine.  If you have a colonial era chair, do not polish it up.

Silverware: Yes.  Silverware is meant to be shiny, and should be kept that way.  Gently removing the tarnish from silverware should not impact its value.

Don't do this!
Civil War Relics: No.  Absolutely never polish up your old civil war buttons, bullets, rosettes etc..  You will destroy the value of these types of relics if they are polished up.  Collectors want to see the age of these kinds of items.  Included here is an over-polished 1800's rosette from Sgt. Rikers Civil War Trading Post.


Conserved Oil Painting
Oil Paintings: Yes, but not by you.  Oil paintings sometimes require conservation.  Smoke, old varnish, dirt, and dust can greatly impact the beauty and value of a painting.  Fortunately, oil paintings are pretty hearty.  Professional conservators can remove these layers of time to renew the colors and content of an oil painting.  It can be remarkable to see the final product of a good conservation effort as in the painting on this early California Plein Air Landscape on the right.  They may also apply a thin layer of varnish.  Look around for a high end conservator with a lot of experience or get recommendations from a high end auction house.  If you are talking about an A list artist, you want to give the selection of your conservator extra consideration.

Water Colors: Yes, but not by you.  Paper conservators specialize in the restoration of water colors.  you should not even think about doing this yourself.  Additionally, remember to keep your valuable water colors out of direct sunlight. Water colors should be framed beneath acid free mattes to prevent discoloration of the paper.  Humidity should also be limited with all paper objects.

Coins: No.  Coins should not be polished.  The exception might be coins that have been removed from the ocean.  If you are diving wrecks, special consideration for these types of coins may be warranted.  However, many of these coins are left in clumps as well..Do your research if this applies.  In general, DO NOT POLISH COINS EVER.

Glass: Glass can be washed in warm soapy water and dried assuming it isn't painted glass.  Be very careful washing old silvered mirrors.  Water can leach beneath the silver and can permanently damage this old glass.

Rugs: Please never attempt to wash an antique rug yourself.  The dyes in antique rugs can bleed, making a wreck of a priceless antique.  Take it to a professional.

Oxidized Native American Bracelet

Sterling Silver Jewelry: It depends.  For most jewelry, this is ok.  However, more and more, collectors want to do this themselves or would prefer that the patina remain intact.  This is especially true with Native American silver.  My personal opinion is this.  Some Native American silver has elements that are purposefully oxidized to be black.  These areas should never be polished.  However, if it was the intent of the jeweler to let it shine, let it shine.  
A Nicely Polished Navajo Ring
I personally don't see the purpose of having dull jewelry.  This is one of those things that is trending toward not polishing among some collectors though.  In the case of the bracelet at left, I agree with the seller to leave the bracelet as found.  At right is an example of native jewelry I would polish. 

As a rule of thumb, if you think you may have something very old or valuable, consult a professional or expert.  It is not worth the risk.  Feel free to get in touch with specific questions about specific pieces.  Also, feel free to weigh in about other items that should definitely not be polished up.  I would love to publish your feedback.



Saturday, March 19, 2011

What is a Sawfish Rostrum?


This item is SOLD.

A Sawfish rostrum is the protrusion at the business end of a Carpenter Shark or Sawfish.  While hunting of these fish is mostly prohibited now, at one time, Sawfish were highly sought, in part for the trophy of their rostrums.  The fish use these protrusion to dig through sand and silt searching out crustaceans.  These days, antique specimens of the Sawfish rostrum are scarce and add an eyepopping touch to the interior design of any room.

Recently Found Rostrum
I recently found one at a Delaware auction.  I've added the photo to the right so you get the idea.  As with lot of things in life, size matters.  The longer the specimen, the more valuable it is.  Some rostrums can be purchased that range upwards of $6,500 as this 49 inch specimen from the Gentleman Collector is priced.  A 41 inch specimen was sold at Christie's for $2,725 in 2009. 

Like any other taxidermy, condition is important.  Sawfish rostrums are prone to damage.  They are basically made of bone, cartilage and skin with the paired rows of teeth that line the sides and tip.  The teeth are frequently broken in two ways:

1.) Carelessness of the human owner.
2.) Fighting by the original owner.

These two types of damage have repurcussions to value differently.  Human damage to rostrums seem to devalue the rostrum somewhat whereas battle scars in the sea don't seem to impact value at all.  How do you tell the difference?  It's difficult.  If a Sawfish loses a tooth, it does not grow back, so you have to look for signs of wear that occured after the tooth loss.

Items like this are definitely an oddity, but they can be enormously beautiful mounted on a wall.  Certainly anyone with a trophy room or an interest in natural and scientific items would find these very useful for decor and interior design.  It's powerful to imagine that you own the snout to these graceful and powerful creatures that can grow up to 23 feet.  Only antique specimens should be purchased, and if caught Sawfish should always be released.

I have decided to offer mine at a very reasonable $350.  It is a 27.5" specimen putting it at a little larger than a medium specimen.  You can check it out here.

Happy hunting and check out the shop!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Ancient Tools of Chinese Teamaking

This item is SOLD.

Today I went to an estate sale.  It was an absolute bust.  On the way home, I spotted a sign that said “Attic in the Street”.  The whole block was shut down and it was full of yard sales.  I had to stop, because you never know.  I found parking and began to make my way through the tables.  A woman next to me started speaking with me and said she was an antiques dealer and there was a man with a jeweler’s loop studying cufflinks (which I later bought).  The competition was pretty rough.  A beautiful morning on a crowded street around 8:30.
I was making my second pass through on the way out and I spotted something.  I’ve been reading about jade lately.  So, I have the tone of jade in the forefront of my attention.  Spectrum really, because jade has so much variation.  Jade, or nephrite, can be nearly white to deep green and lots of other possibilities as well.  Anyhow, I spotted a near translucent piece of pale jade on a very short teapot.  It was interesting immediately.  Normally, I don’t go for Asian antiques.  Too much I don’t know.  Too much fake stuff.  It’s a challenge for me, not having grown up with any exposure to it.  But, this was interesting.  Not only did the teapot have a jade handle, but a jade spout and a jade knob on its little square top.

The Maker's Mark
of Fan Shuzeng

I picked it up.  My immediate reaction was that it was sterling silver.  It was covered in Chinese characters on one side engraved into the metal.  On the other, was a graceful flower.  It screamed old.  I carefully lifted the lid and inside was a large and intricate hallmark.  I had to buy it.  But, I had no cash!  I asked the man if he wouldn’t mind holding it for ten minutes while I hit the ATM.  Sure, he said, no problem.
Got cash, bought the teapot, and headed home, eager to do some research.  Chinese teapots are not my field of expertise.  I began reading about Chinese silver and realized that actually the Chinese aren’t well known for their silver work.  So, I thought, it’s pewter.  After a bit of searching, I chanced upon a website that had exactly what I was looking for.  A blog post:
http://theteagallery.blogspot.com/2008/10/ching-dynasty-pewter-teapot.html turned me on to the term “Yixing” which is the type of teapot I purchased.  From there, I got to Christie’s and saw that Yixing teapot with jade handle at auction in 2005 went for $3,466.00 and though the style is a bit different, I was getting excited.  Though it certainly seems costly, I spotted one nearly identical to mine selling out of Beijing on for about $10,000.  I don’t speak Chinese, so I needed to get more information and I found a guy named Chris in London who is an expert at pewter encased Yixing teapots.  Amazing!
I sent him the photos and he wrote back with the following incredibly scholarly email:

“Hi Nathan,
One Similar to Mine
Listed in Beijing
at 10K

Now that is very curious would you believe that earlier this week I saw another almost the same and inscribed by the same scholar.  At first I thought it was the same one but the poem is different.  I have attached the picture of the other one.
The scholar is Er Quan who was well known both for inscribing pewter pots and traditional style yixing wares.  Your pot doesn't appear to be dated, some are marked with a cyclical date in the chinese style, but yours would probably dates between 1830-40.  The inside would normally have a yixing inner lining with a seal  stamped on the bottom of the inside of the pot.  ON your pot if present it will on the raised section between the two feet.  Most examples I have seen signed by Er Quan the pots were made by Fan Shuzheng who was possibly one of the most prolific makers of pewter encased pots.


Inscription by Scholar
Er Quan on my Teapot

The shape of your teapot is actually derived from an ancient Chinese  bronze coin called a Spade coin.  I am not sure I have ever seen this shape in other materials but this the seventh one I have seen in pewter so quite popular.  If you are able to get a shot of the inside of the pot assuming there is anything inside to photograph I will try and confirm who the maker is.
Hope this helps.  If you have any other questions feel free to ask."
I had hoped that Chris could translate the poem for me, and give me a value for the item and I called on his obviously deep knowledge base for a bit more.  He responded with the following:

Flower Pattern
on the Teapot

"Thanks for the photographs.  I was right, it is definitely Fan Shuzeng.  Ah translate the poem, sigh I really wish I could but this is something only the very best Chinese scholars can do and sadly I am not even remotely close to being that.  Though the calligraphic style is quite accessible he uses early nineteenth century characters,  many of which have fallen out of use and not in current dictionaries but many have been simplified so most mainland Chinese would struggle with them.  The old style traditional characters are only used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.  To compound the problem the poems often use references that are very obscure to non Chinese scholars so even if you can crack the characters the results can seem very bizarre.  On one of my pots the poem made reference to drinking sparrows tongue which was pretty odd until I discovered that this was a type of loose leaf green tea!"
It is simply astounding that you can contact a brilliant collector in London and have all the information you could possibly need, including a price to end an extremely successful day antiquing.  Thank you, Chris.  And, here is his blog, which if you are interested in these types of teapots, you will find extremely informative: www.huchitang.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/yixing2.htm
As an addendum, a very kind scholar in Hong Kong translated the teapot!  It reads:

"Plum was adopted as a symbol of the literati.
They enjoy the wine under the moonlight."











Friday, October 8, 2010

What is weighted or loaded sterling?

A customer wrote in today with the following question which I have gotten a lot over the years.  She asks, “Hi, just making sure about the content....you have .925 as a tag yet it says cement loaded. is this solid sterling or plated and what would the weight be of the sterling? thank you”
It’s a great question and there are lots of misconceptions about silver, so I am going to address the question of what does it mean when something is “weighted” or “loaded” and is marked sterling. 
Here’s my response to the customer:
“Thank you for asking.  That's a good question.  This item is Sterling silver (92.5% Silver by content), not plated.  It has the stamp STERLING on the bottom and the maker's mark for Fisher, a well known producer of Sterling silver items.  Here's additional info should you want to know more:
This piece is pretty typical for sterling silver candlesticks and some other types of serving items like bonbon dishes, compotes and so on.  What the makers did was to create these types of items from .925/1000 sterling silver, but they are hollow ware.  The hollow space is filled (aka 'loaded', 'weighted' etc...) with concrete, wax, sand or anything else that would give the item added heft.  There is no way to know the exact weight without cutting the item up.”

Fake Gold Medallion

So, yes, all items marked STERLING are made of metal that is 925 parts out of 1,000 silver.  And no, if they are weighted or loaded, they are not solid STERLING.  The STERLING standard was made law because governments (especially England initially) wanted a way to standardize the use of this precious metal and allow people to distinguish between silver and other alloys.  At one time, these items were required to pass through the hands of a local assay office.  It’s fairly rare in my experience to run into items marked STERLING that are fake, because of the relatively small value of silver (currently about $20/ounce) compared to more precious metals.  Gold on the other hand, is frequently faked.  I myself have purchased fake gold much to my disappointment as shown in the example of a fake medallion stamped 14K that is probably produced in Mexico shown at right.  Yeah, yeah, I should have known better.
Electroplating or silver plate, by contrast, is a process by which a thin layer of silver is applied to a base metal like copper or brass using an electric current.  By LAW, these items can NOT be stamped with the word STERLING.  Frequently, they will be stamped with things like: 'EPNS' (electroplated nickel silver), 'quadruple plate' etc...”  Unscrupulous sellers frequently mark these items with labels like “Sterling silver plate”, which strictly speaking is true, but is deceptive at best.  Sellers also will represent silver plate as “silver tone” which makes it very difficult to determine the metal content.  Generally, I recommend that buyers avoid such items if they are looking to make a good purchase of silver.  These items have virtually no value on the antiques market unless they are very old, very interesting, or have very fine craftsmanship.  The serving dish that grandma used that’s marked EPNS on the bottom and was used to serve the green beans at Christmas, sadly, is worth very little on the antiques market.

If you are interested in sterling silver, I might have the item you need.  Check out the shop: