Mel’s Musings: Antique fakery

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Left: Genuine Blackboard Hobo by American Bisque, stamped "REMEMBER!" on the front, hand lettered under glaze and "Try Mom's Cookies" on the back, raised mark "U.S.A." and "Patent Pending." $400, 14 inches tall, 1950s. Right: Reproduction Hobo, just over 13 inches tall, stamped "DON'T FORGET!" on the front, hand lettered under glaze, "Try Mom's Cookies" on the back, but lettering appears to have been done with a blunt Magic Marker. Photo from Warman's Cookie Jars Identification and Price Guide by Mark Moran. KP Books, an imprint of F+W Publications. The toll-free number for more information or to place an order is 800-259-0929

Every collector should be constantly alert for fakery and reproductions within his category of collecting. However, many collectors mistakenly assume that an object is reproduced, faked or copied only after it has become classified as an antique or collectible.

One example is the Cabbage Patch doll. Counterfeit Cabbage Patch dolls were available within six months of the mass marketing of the original doll. In many cases – thanks to today’s technologies – copies can be on the market in a matter of days or weeks. Often the only difference from the original is a subtle change in design, lettering, slogan or spelling of a name.

When they become aware of counterfeit material, the manufacturer of the original material sometimes goes to great lengths to inform and alert the public about the forgery and how to distinguish it from the original. In addition, manufacturers have legal recourse they can pursue to stop the counterfeiters.

A collector is less likely to be alert for fakery once the popularity of a collectible has passed its peak. Unfortunately, data about counterfeits and reproductions is frequently lost or forgotten once the product is no longer in vogue. In the early 1970s, Southern Comfort and Wells Fargo belt buckles were in great demand by collectors. In 1987, long after the popularity of these items had faded, a rash of fake Southern Comfort and Wells Fargo buckles popped up. 

In an ironic twist, however, some counterfeits are worth the same or more than the original item. The collection of counterfeits and fakes has become a category of its own.

Fakes, reproductions and copycats are an aspect of collecting with which all collectors must deal. Their existence should never discourage collecting. The rule of thumb should be “Collect what you know.” As collectors learn to identify fakes, they might even choose to knowingly add them to their collections. In a way, the copycats can be a part of the whole story of a collection.

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