Pressing Irons - Faked & ReproducedBy Carol and Jimmy Walker
Pressing Irons - Faked and Reproduced
Record breaking prices are bringing faked and forged irons into the antiques market. First seen in Paris flea markets and London street fairs, these irons are now appearing in the United States.
The "not-quite-genuine" is a fact of life for iron collectors. Imports from Taiwan and Mexico, particularly solid cast iron pieces the size of children's toys, have caused concern for several years (Figs. 2, 3, 5). But have heart, several tests help you identify these impostors.
To begin, old cast iron, like that used to make the "monster" iron above is not the same as new cast iron. The composition of today's iron, modern casting methods and faster finishing techniques all leave their marks on reproductions. New cast iron typically has a rough, grainy surface (Fig. 4). Details of new pieces lack the detail of old; production is rushed and shows little hand-finishing seen on old irons.
New iron often has a fresh gray look; recent rust is a bright color as opposed to the dark black color of old stabilized oxidation. The irons in Fig. 3 are typical examples of toy-sized new cast iron pieces arriving from Mexico. They arrive here coarse grained, rough finished and often with the sand from the mold still clinging to the base.
The most copied small iron is the swan (Fig. 5). This shape is being reproduced in several sizes. As a general rule, all old swans should have a gate mark, or runner (Fig. 6). A runner is a channel usually down the center of a mold which feeds molten metal into individual molds (like an irrigation canal carrying water into separate fields). When the molded piece is snapped off from the runner, or main channel, the resulting mark is called a runner mark or gate mark. Reproductions are cast from a different method that produces a tell-tale smooth chest.
But even this test is not one hundred per cent accurate. The authors have seen a fake swan with a chest runner mark; however, other clues gave it away as a fake. This drives home the fact that no single test can be depended on; reproductions usually fail two or three tests.
While it's fairly easy to tell new from old cast iron pieces, items made of brass requires some additional study. First, look for workmanship or manufacturing methods inconsistent with the supposed age of the iron.
Old Dutch brass charcoal irons, which burned charcoal inside, are never soldered (Figs. 7-8). In actual use, heat produced by the charcoal would melt the solder. Reproductions will sometimes attempt to conceal the solder under a smudge of soot or paint. Look for periodic bulges along the base; a small scratch of a knife blade or pin will reveal the underlying solder.
An overlapping rear seam on the body of a Dutch iron is another sign of a reproduction (Fig. 8, left). The old pieces are joined in the back with a neat smooth almost invisible joint.
Another widely reproduced brass iron is the Danish type box iron (Fig. 10). A box iron holds a heated slug of metal inside. Ridges inside hold the slug above the bottom and act to spread the heat and prevent hot spots. Old irons have the ridges; new pieces do not (Fig. 11). But again, this is a general rule. A few new irons have the ridges and some genuine irons do not (legitimate box irons lacking the ridges are usually two centuries old).
A further test of box irons is to examine the uprights supporting the handle. Old pieces have smooth, seamless turned brass uprights (Fig. 13). New uprights are made of cast brass and show casting seams ( Fig. 12). Old uprights have threads at the base and screw into matching threads in the iron (Fig. 14). Reproductions are usually fastened with nuts on the inside of the iron.
Another type of brass reproduction is the fraudulent iron that does not pretend to be old... the decorator's item (Fig. 9). Because brass irons are attractive, they are manufactured for the tourist and gift trade. A recent visit to an Amsterdam flea market found tables filled with new brass irons and not an honest one in sight. Quality of the new brass varies, some are better than others. Their recent manufacture is sometimes disguised so you need to apply the same tests used for old brass.
Less often seen but harder to detect, is the "enhanced" iron. An enhanced iron is a genuine iron that has been changed or altered to make it more valuable. Brass box irons can be fancily engraved and carved; plain grips can be replaced with handles of ivory or other exotic materials. Various parts of several ordinary irons can be combined or "married" into one rare iron. Dates can be added; patinas can be removed or applied. The forger making these changes tries to push back the supposed age and raise the selling price.
Be cautious of the too-elaborate. Is the engraving consistent with the style? Is the handle made of a rare or unusual material you have never seen before (like ivory)? Are too many wonderful pieces of similar qualities coming on the market all at once?
Frauds, fakes and phonies are out there but education and experience can help spot them all. Use the tests described here, ask hard questions about sources and never stop learning.
Carol and Jimmy Walker
are leading authorities and
dealers in antique pressing irons.