I encountered my first example of a fake Gustav Stickley shopmark more than twenty years ago, when I was living in Durham, North Carolina. A reputable antiques dealer who had sold me a legitimate Gustav Stickley two-door bookcase a few months earlier called me about a dining room chair he had picked up at a Raleigh flea market.
My friend knew the mark on the chair was bogus, both because the shopmark had been done so poorly and because the chair was a wobbly Sears & Roebuck style chair with nails instead of pegged joints and with nary a single quartersawn oak board. What made it even more curious was that the seller was only wanting fifty dollars for what he was touting as a “signed Gustav Stickley chair.”
The shopmark on the wobbly chair was a poor photocopy of a Stickley Brothers oval paper label found in an Arts & Crafts reference book. The forger had copied it onto brown paper and had used pair of rusty upholstery tacks to attach it to the inside of one of the seat rails, but it was still done so poorly that I wondered who he thought could ever have been fooled by it.
One edge of the paper label had been torn off, either accidentally or in a failed attempt to make the shopmark look old. All that did, of course, was to show that the finish beneath the label looked just like that around the label – with no ‘shadow’ to indicate a difference in weathering between the finish under the paper label and that around the paper label.
This month’s rash of obvious forgeries brought to mind again the advice which veteran collector and author David Cathers published thirty years ago in his first book on Arts & Crafts furniture: “get to know the furniture first by examining it carefully – then look for marks as confirmation.”
The furniture which has surfaced most recently with a bogus mark has been easy to spot, simply because it was poor quality Arts & Crafts furniture to begin with. Add to that a suspicious-looking shopmark and you would wonder who could be fooled.
But with a new generation of Arts & Crafts reproductions being made by woodworkers who have studied Stickley, Limbert and Roycroft furniture, we have to be on our guard against a new crop of quality forgeries, possibly with better reproduction shopmarks.
1.) Learn the unique characteristics of the antiques you collect by studying authentic examples in shows, museum exhibitions, shops and reference books.
2.) Learn, too, the shopmarks they used, whether they were paper labels, decals, carvings or brands. You can examine nearly 500 shopmarks here at ArtsandCraftsCollector.com.
3.) Know your seller. If you don’t, get his/her address and phone number – and hope its legitimate.
4.) Ask for a written receipt with specific reference to the maker, the finish and anything else that might be questioned in the future.
And remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
Until next week,