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Box offers subtle clues pointing to verdict of ‘knockoff’

Dr. Anthony Cavo points to the lack of expected wear and tear, as an indication of a 'supposed' 400-year-old box being less-than-authentic, in his latest Ask the Experts column.

Q I am wondering how old this box is. The mark is a woman with wheat sheaf. I saw this box on Etsy with a different mark – wondering if this is the original and that is a knockoff or vice versa. Thank you very much.
— K.K. & T.B.

Short and long of 'knockoff' box

A The short answer is: You both have the knockoff. The long answer is that the original of this box was made during the 16th century in Germany and is in the City Museum in Werne. It bears etched pastoral scenes of farm life (probably by Jost Amman) and a poem by Hans Sachs (a 16th century poet), in Early New High German. The translation is: “But I am of the farmer kind, my work is tough and makes me sour. I have to plow, seed, mow, cut lumber and bring in hay and crop. Money and taxes make my heart ache, drink water and eat rough bread, as the Lord Adam demanded.”


An interesting observation is that the original 400-year-old box appears to have less wear than the boxes now available online. It appears the “wear” on these available boxes is a result of guile rather than honest wear and tear. One indication common to some reproductions is excessive, even gratuitous, “wear” that often approximates damage. The knop on the original lid is rectangular, pewter, and continuous with the lid itself, whereas the knop on your box is round, and brass, which is rather suspicious in itself. The knop, or knob, on your box also appears removable. It would have been helpful to see a photograph of the inside of the lid, where, I suspect, you will most likely find a modern screw or bolt fastening the knob – the original would not have such an attachment.

Tell-tale clues of 'fakery'

I had a look at the box you mentioned on Etsy as well as another on eBay and made a few more interesting observations. The box on eBay has a knob similar in shape to yours, but in pewter rather than brass. The “hallmarks” and bases of your box and the eBay box are exactly the same and I mean exactly. They both bear the same scratch marks meant to mimic wear, and the “hallmark” on each is worn in precisely the same way, with each showing loss of the mark in exactly the same areas. On a box that is more than 400 years old, you would expect quite a bit of wear on the bottom, but the wear would be smooth and consistent across the base – it would not have hundreds of random scratch marks as does your box and the eBay box. I cannot identify the hallmark, which appears to bear characteristics of several 16th, 17th, and 18th century pewter marks. It may be a conglomeration of hallmarks made just for this piece, which seems at the least deceptive and at the most fraudulent.


Knowledge is indeed power

But remember, when faking an original work of art whether it is a painting, porcelain, metal, or sculpture, the rule is: There are no rules. This is why it is so crucial to read such publications as Antique Trader, whether it be the magazine, a price guide, or one of the many Schiffer Books available on almost every topic. Go to as many antique shows as you can, question the dealers, examine the merchandise, and then buy with confidence.


As far as value is concerned, I can tell you that the box on Etsy to which you refer has an asking price of $82, the box on eBay, with the same hallmark as yours has a price of $20. There is a third copy of this box on another antique site that is being offered as an 18th century box for the price of $500; this one, oddly enough, has more wear than any of the others – even on the sides, which should raise a red flag. Based on these findings, I would place a value of about $40 to $50 for your box. Appraisers, however, are not infallible and if you have any doubts about the information supplied here, you may wish to take it to someone who specializes in antique pewter for a hands-on examination.

About our columnist:
Dr. Anthony J. Cavo is an honors graduate of the Asheford Institute Of Antiques and a graduate of Reisch College of Auctioneering. He has extensive experience in the field of buying and selling antiques and collectibles; at age 18, he became one of the youngest purchasers and consigners of antiques and art for a New York auction house. Mr. Cavo is an active dealer in the antiques and collectibles marketplace in the U.S. and abroad.