Wednesday, April 25

Antique season is upon us, but buyer beware - what I learned from expert Charles Hummel at a symposium at East Hampton Historical Society

The crest of this New England tall chest has been "embellished"
to potentially deceive the purchaser of it's value
Fakes & Forgeries: 
an education in the art of antiquing...
Are you attending the upcoming Brimfield Antique Show from May 8-13 this year?
It's a wonderfully rich show which simply takes days to navigate. Before you pile in your car enthusiastically in pursuit of the next bargain, I recommend reading this post to assist you on your hunt.
here I am at the 2010 Mulform Farm Antique show organized annually by the East Hampton Historical Society
With the onslaught of antique shows, auctions and fairs coming our way this spring and summer, I was fortunate to have attended a valuable day-long symposium, organized and hosted by The East Hampton Historical Society at their Clinton Academy on Main Street in East Hampton, and lead by renowned antique expert Charles F. Hummel.  Mr. Hummel wielded a deluge of information to inform a room filled with decorators, collectors and dealers on the pit-falls, concerns and cautions when on the "hunt" for antiques.  “Fakes & Forgeries,” was a a rare opportunity to speak with expert Charles F. Hummel first hand in regards to American decorative arts and antiques. With his encyclopedic mind and talent for teaching his craft, he educated us with intriguing stories and taking us on an illustrated journey, including examples of "house of horror" of famous pricey dupes.  All of this showed how difficult it can be to learn the true nature of an antique. Hummel brought forward several examples of high-end antiques which were obtained for museum exhibits and later found to be reproductions or extremely altered.  Many of these pieces now reside in museum's "study library" to better educate the consumer. Hummel pointed out we are all at risk.  He talked in-depth about how to become a sleuth when scoping out the true value of an antique, and began the session warning the room filled with eager ears to listen to your inner voice - and chances are if it is too good to be true, it's a fake or altered a great deal.  He gave us helpful pointers on how to ascertain a real antique from a fake or altered piece.  

Hummel is one of America’s most important historians, as well as the author of With Hammer in Hand, the Dominy Craftsmen of East Hampton, New York. A retired senior director of the collection of American decorative arts at The Winterthur Museum in Delaware, Hummel has honed his connoisseur’s eye in period design, having examined thousands of examples of antiques made in America.
Mr. Hummel began the session by pointing out the lack of rights buyers have in the US, as opposed to the European market when purchasing antiques.  He encouraged to read the fine print in an auction's catalogue.  He went on to explain their is a finite amount of inventory on the market yet the desire and need for antiques have increased over the generations.  Many fall in love with idea of owning something original and in pristine condition, and this need has helped to drive a difficult market in which to navigate.  After a few hours of Hummel's tutoring, I am sharing with you five important tips I took away from this symposium to set you on your hunt in an informed manner:
Charles Hummel working his magic, utlizing his many years experience in the industry
About Charles Hummel: In 1953, Hummel was awarded a fellowship to study for a master’s degree in early American culture at the Winterthur Museum and the University of Delaware. The museum’s philosophy is that objects are to be used for the purposes of interpreting history and cultural values, and they place an emphasis on the authenticity of objects. In 1955, Hummel joined Winterthur, and has realized a life-long passion for revealing fakes, forgeries and reproductions. His Winterthur assignments have been varied and include the non-precious metals collection with John Hayward of the Victoria and Albert Museum; ongoing study and examination of its furniture collection; and teaching required courses in museum studies to subsequent classes of Winterthur Fellows. Since 1960, Hummel has been assigned by Winterthur to assist organizers of the Delaware Antiques Show. From 1960 to 1995, the Delaware Antiques Show was vetted before opening to the public, and for 10 years Charles F. Montgomery and Hummel were the principal vetters. From 1970 to 1995, Winterthur’s curatorial staff and Hummel were responsible for vetting the show. Since 1980, Hummel continues to have an interest in ethics and white-collar crime in museums and not-for-profit organizations. He regards his lectures and workshops as consumer education, espousing that “knowledge is power” when it comes to antiques.

I am thankful to the East Hampton Historical Society, which continues to provide many educational programs for those of us in the community.  Please read the story I wrote last September about their annual
You may read my stories, both in Nest and in my weekly column East End Nest
about the annual Mulford Farm Antique Show in July set on this
bucolic, historic farm in the center of East Hampton near the windmill. 
as you may know I grew up hunting for antiques; my father is an antique dealer so I learned early how to shop for antiques. I don't just buy at high-end stores and fairs,
 but I hit the daily yard sales and flea markets, asking questions holding the wares and learning as I go.

I bought this light fixture several years ago at John Rosselli's annual sample sale in NYC - it is one of my favorite finds and although it's worn and even has a little crack in the wood, I love it. I keep it above my very favorite painting by a local Long Island artist from the 1960s.
Collecting Majolica or American Pottery? 
check out my 2010 post on collecting antiques 
Do you collect Folly Cove?  A historically rich fabric created by a group of women in
Gloucester, Massachusetts - read my story about Folly Cove 
read about the five important points I took away
from Charle Hummel's symposium 
advice #1: learn about the markings on what you collect
be sure to brush up on your knowledge of markings on porcelain, silver or pewter. I collect Blue Willow and above are two pieces - one old and the other a reproduction - Blue Willow was made across many centuries in various countries from Holland to America.  I do know that Blue Willow was made more recently in the U.S. as reproductions of the original antiques from Holland...that's not to say I don't buy the more recent pieces to add to my collection because I certainly do but I am now better informed on how much to pay for those pieces understanding some were made between 1940-1970s in reproduction of the originals.  The one on the right is reproduction and the one on the left is the bottom and markings of an original Blue Willow from Holland.  And, as a side note, I keep my original Blue Willow hanging on the wall for display while we enjoy daily meals on the reproduction versions (many of which are over 100 years old as well).   Hummel warns to become informed about the markings of some very well known reproduction houses in the U.S. and in France who put their stamp on the bottom of many pieces showing them as reproductions.  One of the major reproduction houses was in France called Samson and it was the largest porcelain reproduction houses in existence for many years.  Chances are if is has Samson stamped upon a plate, it means it may be old, but not the original antique it is depicting, but rather a reproduction version this French company created. 
read about Edme Samson:
"Samson began his career by making service and set piece replacements in the late 1830s. In 1845 he opened the ceramics firm Samson, Edmé et Cie at 7, Rue Vendôme (later Rue Béranger) in Paris, with the intention of supplying reproductions of ceramics on display in museums and private collections.They copied from and all the major factories of England, France and Germany.
During the nineteenth century, the market for fine china was considerable and Samson reproduced ceramics in a breadth of styles including the faience and maiolica types of Italian pottery, Persian style dishes, Hispano-Moresque pottery plates in the FitzHugh pattern. Another frequent style copied by the Samson firm was the famille rose and famille verte styles produced in China between 1720 and 1790. Imari wares, named for the Japanese port where a type of richly decorated porcelain made at Arita was shipped, also copied.

Samson did not set out to produce copies with the intention to deceive, and claimed that all reproductions the firm produced would be distinctly marked to avoid confusion with the originals. However, many of its products have been passed off as originals.

It is impossible to determine when, by whom, and for what reason the Samson marks might have been removed. However, during the same period other companies were producing reproductions similar to those created by the Samson firm. In Hungary the Herend company produced famille rose pieces and armorial plates. However, unlike the Samson firm’s marks, Herend utilized both impressed marks and painted ones, which cannot be erased or removed. The Samson company continued to produce porcelains until 1969. The salesroom models were sold in 1979 by Christies, London. Today many of the Samson’s pieces are collectors’ items."

from Wikipedia
Advice #2: buy prints unframed
I bought a set of three of these antique prints at Mulform Farm show two years ago, and I bought them unframed - it was easy to see the age of the paper and the true nature of the engravings.  I love them and have since framed them myself.  Hummel recommended buying antique and vintage prints unframed so as to properly view the markings and paper.  He discussed how the making of paper has changed over the years and of course that will reflect whether the age given is correct or not. 

Advice 3: study the high-end museum versions of what you collect

educate yourself by attending local museum exhibits and become knowledgeable about what you are looking at by seeing some of the best examples of the finest made.  This glass exhibit at NYC's MET is exquisite and by viewing this I learned that glass made before the machine age had no seams, more imperfect edgings and was often thicker than those made after 1890, which sometimes can be noticed with seams and more perfect proportions.  
the real deal at the MET museum

Advice #4: run your hands around the pieces, take the drawers out and thoroughly inspect
it's important to feel porcelain, glass, silver and pewter
These examples of Majolica I examined at a show last year show the rough edging of majolica and even the heavy pottery layered on top.  If it's an antique dresser for instance, take the drawers out and look at the inside guts of the piece - there's a story in there waiting to be told. If the woods don't match up you will see any repair work or sections that have been replaced.  Make certain if you buy at auction to attend the viewing (often the day or days before) to thoroughly inspect the item.  If you watch dealers at work at any given auction house, you will see they are handling the pieces quite a bit - so don't be shy.    

a set of 8 Italian antique chairs I purchased for a client -
w/inlaid wood they were in decent condition but of course they had wear and tear in certain expected areas
Advice 5: look for natural wear and tear
When viewing antique furniture look for normal wear and tear when deciphering if it is a "real" antique or a reproduction that was made to look real.  Something that is over 100 years old usually has been used repeatedly in a fashion that would show the scuffing of legs, the hands on a rail, etc...Hummel encouraged to use your sixth sense and ask yourself is this believable? He warns to listen to your inner voice here.  When looking at dowels or rounded edges of wood furniture, Hummel recommended closing your eyes and running your hand around the reeds - if it is oval chances are it may be real.  If it is still round after all these years, it's most likely a reproduction.  Why?  because wood expands across the grain not with the grain over time, therefore, the wood dowels which were originally carved in a round shape will naturally warp to an oval shape with time.  Many reproduction houses are crafty and they will even make the furniture with an oval shape to depict the natural aging of wood, so become a sleuth.  When purchasing antique upholstery, Hummel suggest to view the bare frame - he pointed to examples of modern frames simply resting on old feet to give the illusion of age. 
2011 hunting for antiques at Mulford Farm

  1. My word of advice is ask questions
  2. Many of the dealers have an immense passion for their industry and also a great deal of knowledge.  While walking the aisles of these shows, I listen more than I talk and ask advice from the dealers and about the history of the pieces. At the very least I walk away learning something new about antiques with each visit. As with the case for me and my clients, we are often aware that something may not be completely authentic and we may decide to purchase that piece anyway for various reasons, but we feel better making that decision in a well-informed manner.  Another important note Hummel suggested -- unless you are a museum curator, most times it is better to buy antiques and collectibles for the love of the object rather as an investment.  In this high stakes industry with even the most educated sometimes tricked it may be difficult for the consumer to decipher, so buy what you love but with an eye towards understanding it's value.

  3. now go on,
  4. get out of here and enjoy the shows,
  5. but don't forget to do your homework 
  6. and take Charle Hummel's advice to heart!