MORE SHAM ANTIQUES
We are induced to recur to this subject— to which not many weeks ago we devoted an article—by the fraud that has recently come to light as to the sale of sham "antique" plate bearing hall-marks of the days of Queen Anne, It appears that in the years 1872 and 1873 a silversmith in London, in a large way of business, sold a large quantity of silver plate to a customer. Last autumn, a person who is well acquainted with plate marks saw this plate, and informed the owner that it was spurious.
Hereupon the Goldsmiths' Company were communicated with. Their officers were sent to examine the plate, and over 600 pieces were found to bear counterfeit marks.
Application was then made to the seller, and he was informed that the Goldsmiths' Company would sue for the penalties, unless he could relieve himself under the statute by making known the person, and the place of abode of the person, from whom he received it. After having seen the invoices he admitted the sale, and, after some time, during which he had the plate examined by several persons in the trade, gave the name and residence of a person who, he said, supplied him with all the articles in question. This person is a working silversmith in a small way of business.
The Goldsmiths' Company thereupon applied to the last-mentioned person, who examined some of the plate in a cursory way, and, after some time, replied through his solicitor that he was not prepared to admit that he sold the plate, or that he had ever had the plate in his possession, but that if the wares in question had been sold by him, they must be some of certain wares which in 1872 he either bought or received in exchange from a person whose name he mentioned, who is dead.
The solicitor of the person first applied to was then asked by letter whether he was prepared by production of his books, or in some other manner, to substantiate his statement.
Whereupon he produced invoices which cover about 600 pieces of plate, answering the description of the plate which is the subject of inquiry, and cheques to order for payments made for it, all of which cheques appear to have passed through a bank, and are duly endorsed.
The circumstances bore a very suspicious appearance, but the Goldsmiths' Company were advised that the evidence was such as would be deemed sufficient in a court of law, and that they would not be doing right to continue the proceedings against the person who apparently had cleared himself under the provisions of the Act of Parliament. They there upon commenced proceedings against the person from whom he asserts that he bought the plate in question, and these proceedings are now pending. The defendant has raised a point of law under the Statute of Limitations, which is set down for argument on demurrer. The articles in question purport to be of the time of Queen Anne, before the duty was imposed, and therefore do not bear the duty mark.
This revelation has excited a flutter in many a butler's pantry. Since the mania for what is "old" has seized rich people, prices out of all proportion to its intrinsic value have been given for ancient silver plate. For instance, only recently, 25s. per oz. was paid for a hammered bowl of date 1729, and 30s. per oz. for a cake-tray of 1696. Six tea-spoons, weighing a little over 2 oz., though of unknown date, were purchased for five guineas; and a cream ewer, believed to be of Charles II.'s time, fetched 84s. per oz. These were, however, well authenticated vessels. But since the taste for the antique, apart from its beauty or ugliness, has raged, silversmiths have almost ceased to bring out new designs, finding it more profitable to reproduce copies of Queen Anne or Stuart articles than run the risk of having their shelves cumbered with a dead weight of objects really better, but which it is not the fashion of the hour to buy. Hence, the ancient art of working in silver is rapidly declining. Electro-plating is pushing it hard on one side, and on the other the slavish imitation of the antique is discouraging any budding Benvenuto Cellini from trying a fresh departure. The taste is also producing another effect. It is tempting dishonest artificers not only to prepare avowed imitations of ancient plate—which is quite legitimate—but to cunningly fabricate articles to be sold as the veritable objects of which they are only the counterfeits. These specimens are frequently very exact imitations—so exact, indeed, that it requires a finished judge to say whether they are real or a sham. The "hall marks" are cleverly imitated, in exact accordance with the date to which the plate purports to belong. But the makers go even further. They buy small pieces of old plate of little value, and then skilfully cut out the hall marks from this, and " let them into " their modern manufactures.
Source: The Furniture Gazette - 2nd October 1880