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FRIDAY AUGUST 6, 2010
Antiques and Auction News Article
Fooled By Fakes – Buyer Beware! This Month: Red Wing Stoneware
by Anita Stratos I’ve always admired Red Wing stoneware – they’re such wonderful pieces of Americana – but I have yet to acquire a piece at auction. In preparation for some upcoming auctions where several interesting pieces will be sold, I decided to find out if there are any known fakes and reproductions in the market. Not surprisingly, they’re out there, especially since stoneware prices have been increasing for a few decades, with some rare examples selling for over $50,000.
I contacted the Red Wing Collectors Society (RWCS; www.redwingcollectors.org), a very helpful group of collectors who are eager to share their extensive knowledge with others. RWCS newsletter editor Rick Natynski recently covered part of this growing problem in his December 2009 newsletter article. He reported that reproduction advertising stamps are being found on old stoneware at auctions, flea markets, and online. He warned that these reproductions are “so well done that it’s fooling even the most advanced collectors.” To illustrate his point, he shared a story about one longtime Red Wing collector and dealer who had purchased a one gallon crock with Nebraska advertising for $2,000 from an online auction. Although this particular advertising was new to him, upon receiving the crock, it passed his inspection and he sold it to one of his regular customers. Before the dealer even had a chance to ship the crock, the customer contacted him because he had been told by another expert that it was a modern reproduction. Upon hearing this, the dealer tested the piece by scraping a corner of the advertising, which came right off – this was a sure sign of a fake label. Being an honest dealer, he refunded the buyer’s money and would attempt to recoup his money from the original online seller.
Natynski did some investigating. “After doing some digging, one person told me these pieces are being made by a guy in Hastings, Nebraska, but they didn’t know the name of the person making them,” he wrote in his article.
Natynski wasn’t able to verify that the person making these crocks actually lives in Hastings, but he was able to discover that the person is selling these fake advertising pieces as new and includes a waiver stating that the crockery itself is old but he has fired a new advertising stamp onto it. Unfortunately, the waivers are printed on paper and there is no mark on the stoneware itself indicating that the advertising stamp is fake and was added on later, so it’s all too easy for an unscrupulous seller to buy one of these pieces, throw away the waiver, and then misrepresent the item as authentic and sell it for a high price.
Natynski offers a couple of ways that buyers can determine the authenticity of an advertising crock. Like the dealer in the story above, he suggests gently scratching a corner of the advertising with a razor blade or pen knife; if it’s fake, it will come off easily.
“Before you start scratching a jug in front of its owner, however, explain to them that scratching at the glaze won’t damage the crock or the advertising if it’s original,” Natynski wrote. “The glaze on original zinc-glazed Red Wing stoneware pieces is extremely strong, and provided the glaze hasn’t pitted due to acid damage at some point in the past, scratching it with a knife will not harm the piece.”
It’s a little more difficult if you’re considering buying an advertising crock online and can only judge the authenticity from photos. However, Natynski advises that buyers study the advertising stamp and if it doesn’t look “quite right,” has a slightly different looking font, or the size of the type or shape of the ad is different than that on known original Red Wing pieces, you may be looking at a fake. If you’re well educated in Red Wing advertising and come across an advertising stamp that you’ve never seen before, Natynski recommends talking to other collectors to find out if they’ve ever seen similar examples. While it’s always possible to come across one of those rare examples that’s been tucked away for years, he advises buyers to proceed with caution before investing a large sum in a piece that a good number of experienced collectors have never seen before.
Larry Birks, President of the Trails West Chapter RWCS, underscores Natynkski’s advice and offers some additional information from his “Stoneware Fakes” seminar presented at the July 2010 RWCS Convention. He warns that there are five distinct types of faked stoneware that buyers need to be aware of: those with reproduction vinyl stickers, decals, paper or vinyl labels, and complete reproductions of old pieces. While most reproductions are marked by modern potters as such, there have been a few instances where unscrupulous sellers have ground off the new mark and tried to represent the piece as old. These pieces are relatively easy to detect, as buyers will see the ground-off area.
Sometimes buyers can tell a fake by the type of advertising on the stoneware. Birks said that obvious mismatches, such as whiskey advertising on a syrup jug or mineral water advertising on an open crock (which should instead be on a jug) are clear indications of new advertising added to old stoneware. In addition, buyers should exercise caution if the entire piece of stoneware is coated in the dirt of time except for the area where the advertising is located. Because an advertising piece with a factory mark can sell for up to quadruple the amount of an unmarked piece, fraudsters are adding advertising to old factory-marked stoneware; this emphasizes the importance of checking the legitimacy of any advertising piece.
Birks offers a couple of easy ways for buyers to detect fake advertising. Vinyl stickers tend to look authentic, but you can feel the edges if you run your fingers over the advertising. Even if the sticker has been coated to make it appear as if it’s underneath the glaze, you can still see the sticker’s edges in bright light. In the case of water-applied decals, you’ll see discoloration from age as well as scratches on the edges. Birks said that old paper labels are now being duplicated with inkjet printers. The presence of a paper label can increase the value of a stoneware piece, and while some labels are obvious reproductions, others are of high quality and even look aged. Buyers need to use extreme caution in order not to be fooled by these labels.
But the biggest problem is vinyl labels that are so thin and are being reproduced at such a high quality level that they’re almost impossible to detect if coated. Birks recommends looking at the piece in bright light or using a portable ultraviolet light, which will highlight the edges of the label. If the vinyl label hasn’t been coated, look for peeling edges; uncoated labels will also wash off. Gently scratching the label area will reveal both coated and uncoated vinyl labels.
As a final note, two pieces of Red Wing stoneware that are known to have been faked are the half pint brown-top jug with the miniature red wing and a miniature union logo, and the one gallon Red Wing shoulder jug with a number 1, red wing, and small union logo.
The original Red Wing Stoneware Company opened in 1876 and operated under several different names until finally closing its doors in 1967 as Red Wing Potteries. In the 1980s, a new Red Wing Stoneware Company located in Red Wing, Minnesota, opened for business creating its own wide-ranging line of stoneware; it’s important to note that this company is not in any way related to or descended from the original Red Wing Stoneware Company. However, the marks they use are very similar to those used by the original company, as are the shapes and designs they are producing, though the dimensions are different. This new company is not trying to deceive buyers into thinking they are purchasing vintage stoneware, but an unscrupulous seller could try to misrepresent their pieces to novice buyers, so it’s important to recognize the differences between the marks and sizes of the pieces.
All photos are of fakes and courtesy Rick Natynski. (To view photo visit original article posting http://www.antiquesandauctionnews.net/artdet.epc?uid=edsp003699)
At a glance:
Signs of a fake or reproduction:
1. Advertising marks that can be gently scraped off.
2. Advertising with fonts of the wrong size.
3. Advertising of the wrong type or shape.
4. Ground-off area where the maker’s mark should be.
5. Edges around advertising when exposed to bright or ultraviolet light.
6. Dirty stoneware with clean advertising area.
7. Advertising on the wrong shape stoneware.
Reference books and collecting groups are the best ways to keep from being fooled by fakes. Here are a few: Red Wing Collectors Society (www.redwingcollectors.org); Red Wing Collectors Society Foundation (www.rwcsfoundation.org); Red Wing Stoneware by Dan DePasquale; Bruce & Vicki Waasdorp’s American Pottery Auction Repro Alert (www.antiques-stoneware.com/reproalert.html).