There is an emerging new reproduction field emerging from some of the popular auction sites that the collector needs to be aware of; Authentic old glass of a lower caliber (as a general rule) that has been newly gilded by do-it-yourself forgers. The patterns tend to mimic fine glass houses such as Webb, Stevens and Williams and Harrach but lack the fine detail of the authentic old pieces. It is especially tricky because the first thing the collector tends to look at is – Is it old glass? But then they neglect to pay a lot of attention to the gilding. Gilded pieces are worth a hefty premium over their unadorned cousins so forgers have found this a lucrative field.
The decoration will appear brighter in the newly decorated pieces than the older as a general rule. The detail tends to be gloppy and the insects do not have the fine attention to detail that the Victorians were so keen on.
Some points to look for to help figure out if that piece is authentically decorated or not;
1. Does the decoration fit the glass? The vast majority of the glass that would be gilded for decoration was fine glass. The pontil would have been polished. (if present ) as an example.
2. Is the gilding a bright color or is it a bit subdued? The new decoration tends to be brassy and older decoration tends not to be so brassy. It’s hard to put into words the exact difference between old and new the best way to tell is to see some fakes and then see some that are real.
3. If insects are present do they look natural? The Victorians were very enamored of naturalism and the representations of insects in old decoration reflects that. Modern pieces tend to be more along the lines of “cutesy” the type of thing you might see doodled by a 13 year old girl.
4. Does the piece have any wear to the gilding? Original pieces were first enameled with the design. Then the gilding was added on. When the gilding wears off some of the undercolor will be present. Often the under coat will be pink, orange, purple, or Yellowish colored. It’s a detriment for much of the gold to be missing but it is expected that a little will be gone. This glass is about 120 years old now. It’s probably not going to be perfect.
None of these things on their own is enough to tell for sure if the gilding on that piece of glass is “good” or new. For instance, above I mentioned the quality of the glass; these people are finding undecorated glass where ever it is cheap regardless of quality. Sometimes high quality blanks are available for as little money as their poorer quality cousins. So you might see a high quality piece of glass with modern decoration. This is especially sad to see as it’s a nice old piece of glass ruined. With that in mind, it’s important to take it all in before forming your judgment on a piece. If you’re newer to this area of collecting it’s always good to look at known pieces from reputable dealers and really pay attention to what a good finely decorated piece should look like. Then accept nothing less for your own collection. The best way to stop the forgeries is not to buy them!
I have included two examples. The newly gilded piece is on an old peach colored Stourbridge area glass house blank from the 1880’s. The pontil is broken not finished. It’s a nice piece but not the finer quality that would have been decorated. The decoration is not finely detailed. It is too bold in its coloring for original and the detail of the insect is very basic looking and not at all detailed. Decorating with gold was not cheap and it was not something that was done to cheaper glass in that time period. In the next picture we have an authentic old piece of harrach glass. Notice how the dragon fly has sections on its tail and its wings show little lines. The leaves have veins and the lines on the stems are thin and even. The Harrach piece in this picture is NOT high end for the times. It illustrates the kind of detail that needs to be present in an older piece. Sometimes a vine in old gilding will be wide and woody looking but it will look like an actual old vine.
There are some Webb pieces that have this bright gold decoration that is somewhat similar to the fake gilded piece. When it is Webb the glass itself will always be very high end and the detail on things like butterflies and dragonflies will be detailed and sophisticated in design.
This guide is should be considered a start on how to tell authentic from fake in the area of gilding on old glass. There is a lot to consider in telling old from new but the most important thing is to be aware that fakes are out there and that they aren’t rare.
Written by Alisa Van Ness
Curious Cat Antiques on Ruby Lane