Bronzes with Fake Tiffany MarksBy Mark Chervenka
Bronzes with Fake Tiffany Marks
"Bronze" figures and pieces with various Tiffany marks are routinely sold by antique reproduction wholesalers. These new pieces often sell for substantial prices. A new frog paperweight (Fig. 16 ) marked Tiffany recently sold for $200 through an Internet auction site. It sold for $4.50 at a reproduction wholesaler's warehouse.
So how do you avoid the new Tiffany fakes? It's fairly easy once you know what to look for. You can identify the new piece by looking at company marks, model numbers, finish and construction details.
FAKE MARKS The ten new pieces examined for this article were marked in two ways. One mark is "TIFFANY STUDIOS NEW YORK ". This mark appears in a depressed rectangular area with two lines of raised letters. This mark is cast. It is a fantasy mark; no raised mark like it was ever used on authentic Tiffany items.
The other fake mark is simply the single word "TIFFANY." This mark appears below the surface and is cast during molding. It is almost one-quarter inch tall. Like the two line mark, the single word mark is also a fantasy. The single word "TIFFANY" was never used to mark authentic items.
ORIGINAL MARKS The vast majority of authentic metal items made by Tiffany such as small bronzes, candlesticks, desk sets, etc., made between ca. 1900 and 1919 are in fact marked TIFFANY STUDIOS NEW YORK. But unlike the fake mark, the original mark is die stamped or impressed below the surface. The fake mark on these latest reproductions is in raised letters. The location of original die stamped marks can vary since they were individually applied. But original marks never appear in depressed rectangular areas found on the fakes.
Another major feature of virtually all authentic Tiffany metalwork is the presence of a model number. This three or four digit number is stamped or impressed below the surface (Figs. 5-6). Model numbers on a piece you examine should match the model numbers on a similar piece listed or shown in original Tiffany catalogs and price sheets. Each shape had its own number. Each piece in a metal desk set, for example, inkstand, blotter holder, stamp box, etc., should be marked with different model numbers.
Although there are a handful of confusing model numbers used on more than one shape, they are the exceptions. As a general rule, every piece of metal-work should have a model number and all model numbers should be confirmed as correct for the piece to which they are applied. Keep in mind, though, that model numbers, which can be forged, are not by themselves a guarantee of authenticity. They are just one of several important features to consider when making your evaluation.
The best book to research model numbers is Tiffany At Auction by Alastair Duncan published in 1981 by Rizzoli Publications of New York. An appendix lists all numbers in sequence with the piece they appear on. Unfortunately this book, which has been out of print for many years, is expensive when a copy becomes available.
The next best book is Tiffany's Glass, Bronzes and Lamps by Robert Koch, Crown Publishing, 1971. Almost all of the 350 photos in this book are of original catalog pages which list the model numbers with photos of Tiffany products (Fig. 8). Although the model numbers do not appear as a convenient list, the cost is much more reasonable. The Koch book, also out of print, goes for about $30-$50.
All original Tiffany bronzes were generally finished in traditional patinas created with various chemicals but primarily acid. With the exception of the frog (Fig. 16), all fakes in this article have a painted surface. Ordinary dark brown and green paint is used to imitate the patinas found on the originals. How can you tell it's paint?
A true patina is the result of a chemical change in the surface of the bronze itself; it does not peel or chip. Ordinary paint, which is only a layer of bonded pigments, chips and peels relatively easily especially on metal. Several of our samples were chipped right in their packing material (Figs. 9-10). With any handling, the chips will undoubtedly increase in number and grow in size.
The paint on our samples was so thin that it was easily removed with fingernail polish remover (acetone) on a cotton swab (Fig. 11). However, use this test with care. Many authentic patinas are protected only by wax. Depending on type, condition and thickness, acetone could possibly leave a dull spot in the wax. Any dull spots should be able to fixed by polishing, but be aware that this test is not without some potential problems. Never test a patina by scratching the surface. Although a scratch may cause paint to flake, it can also permanently damage an authentic patina. And always ask the seller's permission before making any test.
On virtually all originals, metalwork was marked before the patina applied. This means that the same patina or finish on the overall surface should be also be found in the letters of the mark below the surface. Some forgers who have made a fake Tiffany stamp will try to mark a non-Tiffany item. If the letters in the mark show up as shiny metal, the stamp has been applied after the surface finish. This also applies to forged model numbers.
Details of manufacture
Mold seams, tool marks, rough burrs, pits and flaws are never found in original Tiffany bronzes and metal wares. Originals were made by highly skilled artisans and all pieces were subject to strict quality controls. The fakes are the product of cheap mass production techniques. Grinding marks, surface lumps and rough edges were obvious on every new piece that was examined (Fig. 12). No magnification needed. All the flaws were easily seen with the unaided eye.
All original Tiffany figural bronze paperweights are fully rounded solid forms. The new frog (Fig. 16) has apparently not been getting his proper ration of flies; it is cast in only half-round. Be alert for other shapes in less than fully rounded solid castings.
Authentic markings in genuine Tiffany bronzes are virtually always made by a die stamp which makes an impressed mark below the surface. Generally, all authentic Tiffany metal wares should also have a model or shape number which is usually a three or four digit number which is also die stamped. All numbers should correspond to authentic pieces listed or shown in reference books. True patinas are a part of the surface they are formed on; they do not flake off. The fake "bronzes" marked Tiffany in this article have a painted surface which can be removed with acetone and is frequently found with fakes. Refer to the chart at the bottom of the page for a complete list of genuine Tiffany marks.