Published by Semler Appraisals & Estate Liquidations
A Professional Service for the Valuation of Personal Property
Fall/Winter 2001 Vol. 3, No. 3
What’s in a Word?
Every profession has linguistic nuances that are unique to that profession. Appraising is no different. The terms “fake”, “reproduction”, and “revival” have special meaning in the world of antiques. Let’s examine each as it applies to antiques and appraising.
Dictionary definitions of “fake” include: designed to deceive or cheat; fraud; hoax; and counterfeit. In the world of antiques, however, there are varying degrees of fake.
Some items may be entirely made to deceive, built from scratch to fool the unsuspecting buyer. The Henry Ford Museum purchased a supposedly 17th Century Pilgrim chair that was made by a disgruntled wood sculptor in the 1920s with the express goal of fooling the experts. It did. Even after the hoax was revealed, it took the Museum four years to study and verify the fake.
Another type of fake is a new object made from old parts. Often, this type of fake is even more difficult to detect than a totally faked piece because some or most of the parts are genuinely old. An example is a new chair made from the disassembled parts of several old chairs. The seat and back may have come from one chair, the legs and rungs from another, and the arms from a third—old parts resulting in a new chair.
A variation of the old parts/new object is the made-up or enlarged set. Chairs from two or more similar sets are often combined. If you need six chairs for your table, you might find four of the chairs are an exact match, and the remaining two vary slightly because they started out as part of another suite. Another scenario: the four original chairs are copied and two exact reproductions made. The additions may not have been made to deceive, but simply to accommodate additional guests at dinner. The longer ago the set was enlarged, the more valuable the additional chairs. Two copies added in 1780 to ten chairs made in 1760 will have a higher value than two reproductions made a century later.
Motive, not method, is the determining factor of a fake. Reproductions, however, may not be motivated by malicious intent. Standard dictionary definitions of “reproduction” include the terms “copy” and “duplicate” but most furniture reproductions are not exact doubles of the items that inspired them. Honest reproductions may have the same overall look as the originals, but will have their own distinguishing characteristics.
Most reproduction furniture that today’s appraisers are likely to see is 20th Century reproductions manufactured in America. Drawers in furniture made today to resemble older pieces do not use the hand cut dovetails of centuries past, but have machine-made dovetail joints which are stronger than the hand-made joinery. Today’s veneer is the fifth layer of a wood sandwich in which each layer is at a 90-degree angle to the previous layer. Period furniture with veneer has a layer of veneer over a single solid core of wood. A reproduction takes on a life of its own through technology and interpretation of style. It becomes its own separate entity with ties to the past.
A “revival” is the borrowing of detail or even the entire design of a previously popular style. Major revivals of the 20th Century included Neoclassicism, Gothic, Rococo, Louis XVI, and Renaissance. The Centennial Revival beginning in the 1870s produced versions of 18th Century classics. I wouldn’t be surprised to see in the future a revival of the furniture of the Depression Era, now becoming popular with the just-out-of-college crowd. Resurrection of a particular style or period is the essence of a revival in the antiques and appraisal profession.
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- Lorrie Semler is a Certified Member of the International Society of Appraisers, specializing in Antiques & Residential Contents.
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