Antiques Q&A: Fakes, Fantasies, Repoductions

chief.jpgQ I recently bought this figural pottery humidor in an online auction. Now that it has arrived, it seems to be much heavier than most of my other humidors. Any chance this might be new? Any tips on how to tell new from old? — S.G., Mass.

A Your jar is a reproduction, which began appearing in mid-2004. It and several other new humidors introduced around the same time are copies of vintage originals made in Austria from about 1880 up until the first World War, circa 1914. Most originals are often referred to as “Berlin majolica” because of their bright colors and shiny glaze. The reproductions are very inexpensive, usually less than $15 each from reproduction wholesalers. In addition to your jar, shown above, I have a photo of two others, a sailor and a jar labeled “Tobacco” (below).



The primary differences between originals and reproductions are the type of clay and the glaze. All the new pieces are made of thick, heavy, reddish-tan clay. This distinctive color is obvious in the unglazed bases and the unglazed rims of the lid and top rim. By contrast, the original majolica glazed pieces are made of nearly pure white clay. The white clay of originals is apparent in the unglazed bases and rims as well as through the nicks and chip almost always found on vintage humidors.

New pieces are also much heavier. Your new humidor weighs in at nearly two pounds. The original it copies is only about 10 ounces, less than half the weight of the new. The new humidors weigh about the same as stoneware, not majolica. The new pieces are not particularly thicker than old piece. It’s the dense new stoneware-like clay that simply weighs more than the clay used in the majolica originals.

Another obvious difference is the very fine overall crazing that covers all the new humidors, totally unlike anything found on the majolica originals. Crazing is never a sign of age. Crazing on vintage ceramic pieces is caused by flaws in the manufacturing process, not age. Crazing is, however, now deliberately created in the glazes applied to many ceramic reproductions. While some vintage majolica will be found with crazing, it is rarely the tiny very fine crazing found on these new humidors.

Although not a guarantee of age, one fairly reliable indication of a vintage piece is the presence of impressed numbers in the base. Impressed numbers are typical of the majolica humidors from Austria and Germany before 1914. There are no permanent marks on any of the new humidors seen so far. The new pieces are made in China and arrive at the wholesalers with only a removable paper label. All the new humidors of this group I have examined have hand painted details so don’t use hand painting as a test of age.

bottle.jpgQ Can you tell me the history of this milk glass bottle? It was sold to me as a collectible from the Coolidge campaign of 1924. It’s about 6 inches in height. Any idea of its value? — W.H., Vt.

A This bottle is a fantasy item. That is to say it exists only as a modern product. There is no vintage counterpart. It is entirely the product of the imagination of a creative person in the reproduction trade. This product has been floating around in the market since at least the mid-1970s.

Q This 16 inch leaded shade is in a local antique mall. The dealer is selling it as “unmarked Tiffany.” I found what seems to be the identical shade in a book on antique lighting. Everything looks right, but it’s not marked. Two questions: how can I verify it’s old and does it have to be marked to be old? — C.S., Mich.

shade.jpgA This shade is one of a series of quite good Tiffany copies being made in China. This pattern was the first to be copied, appearing about two years ago. The design, commonly referred to as Acorn today, was listed as Vine Border or Vine Leaf in original Tiffany literature. In addition to the 16-inch size you report, new shades are available in diameters of 8 inches and 12 inches. Wholesale prices for the shades are $29, $49 and $79, based on size. Most previous Tiffany reproductions were made with lead cane. These new shades are made in the copper foil technique just like vintage shades and have been causing considerable confusion.

The new Acorn/Vine shades can be identified as new because of the additional hardware permanently attached to the tops of the shades. New shades have either a 3 1/4 inch fitter collar or a heat cap permanently attached to the top. Depending on the style of the base, a heat cap may or may not appear with a vintage shade. If a heat cap was used, it was generally fastened to an aperture ring threaded on the neck of the base.

 When Tiffany leaded shades were introduced in the late 1880s, most home lighting was still kerosene or gas. The tops of shades, or apertures, needed to be left open to let the chimneys pass through the shades. New shades have the caps and collars so they are ready for instant use on electric bases.
Original Tiffany leaded shades are marked with metal tags soldered into the bottom rim on the inside of original shade. But since many original shades are unmarked and there are so many forged marks in the market, marks alone are never a reliable test of age or authenticity.

Mark.jpgMark Chervenka is the editor and publisher of the online searchable database of fakes and reproductions ( ). He is also the author of several books on fakes and reproductions.Your questions about fakes and reproductions are welcome. Please send your questions to: Mark Chervenka, Claiborne Cir, Urbandale, Iowa 50322. Questions may also be emailed to with “REAL or REPRO” as the subject line. Emailed questions must include a high resolution (300 dpi minimum) digital image. Personal replies and published answers may not be possible to all questions.