Robin Butler on Twitter

October 2011

For a good many years I performed valuations of antiques - several hundred in fact.  Then my business emigrated from Georgian furniture, clocks, and silver, and edged towards wine-related accessories.  Of course, keeping my finger on the pulse of current prices outside the wine accessory field diminished; consequently I brought my valuation service to a conclusion three or four years ago.   However, that is not the end of it; I have found another dealer who is very competent in the areas of my previous expertise - and more to the point, he is very happy to value customers\' antique chattels.  As I was, he is a council member of the BADA with wide experience, so if you need a valuation of antiques, please do enquire.

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I have always, well - at least since I became an antiques dealer 48 years ago, been fascinated by fakes. The first question one has to ask about the subject is \"what is a fake?\", to which the answer is that it is something made to look like something older, and upon which the signs of age have been simulated. The crucial aspect is that a fake is something made to deceive. This is the antithesis of a reproduction which is simply something made in an earlier style. A reproduction may have an approximate appearance of an old piece, but it was not made to deceive.

You will not see many fake copies of 17th century oak coffers (or chests), because it would cost more to make one than to buy an original. The same would apply to a Georgian mahogany bureau or a Victorian red overlay decanter - for the same reason. However, silver wine labels are being faked because they can be cast from originals quite cheaply, and because wine labels are highly collectable, their current price bears little relationship to the cost of the silver from which they are made, even if they are gilded. I am told that some fake wine labels were recently sold by one of the \'major\' auction houses.

How then, can one tell the difference, and how should one avoid the pitfalls of buying antiques? The answer to that question could fill the pages of a book, and I may one day publish what I have written on that subject. So far, I have jotted down some 50,000 words, but there are a few more to go! But the answer to the more specific problem of faked cast wine labels is more simple, and the principle applies to a great many other areas where fakes can and have been seen. It all revolves around technology.

With silver hallmarks being one of the oldest consumer protection laws in the world (France beat England in that race 800 years or so ago), you may imagine that if you buy something with a hallmark, you will be safe. As the tale of the wine label above relates, that may not be the case. The Antique Plate Committee at Goldsmith\'s Hall does prevent many fakes, forgeries and other problems coming to the marketplace, but the safest precaution to take is to buy only from dealers whose knowledge and integrity you trust. One has only to read auctioneers 'conditions of sale' (and who does?) to realise that even fakes can only be returned under quite stringent conditions and within brief timescales.

The illustration at the head of this newsletter is of a set of cast 'hallmarks'.  It would be unlawful to sell an item with these marks without it being re-assayed real hallmarks being struck on it.

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As you may gather from these newsletters, I enjoy communicating, particularly with those who share my interests in wine paraphernalia.  I have not yet succumbed to twittering, nor Facebook, and while I have a presence on LinkedIn, I have not yet found time to use it - but I hope to do so before long. However, I do have a Skype telephone should any of my readers, particularly those from other countries, wish to speak without incurring prohibitive call charges. My Skype name is robin.butler1, and I have a webcam if you would like me to show you something from my stock/inventory. In view of my having to collect any item from a nearby shelf, and to connect the webcam, it would be appreciated if warning could be given by e-mail first.

This new service should enable anyone, anywhere in the world, to see objects and discuss them first-hand while I hold them and answer any questions you may have about them. All I would ask is that you consider the time here in England - I would not relish answering a call at 3 o\'clock in the morning!

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