Antique Marks, “Mike, what have I got?”

Patent dates on metal fittings can give the earliest date the piece could have been made and close window of its actual age.

Patent dates on old hardware, like this rocking chair spring, can give the earliest date the piece could have been made, as well as a general window of its actual age.

As an Appraiser who participates regularly in Antique Roadshow-type events and teaches courses on the identification of  antiques and collectibles, I receivea huge amount of requests questions via e-mail and in person, about the marks found on metal ware such as silver , pottery, porcelain, glass, lamps and figurines. A lot of these questions seems to be at the lack of hard and fast rules explaining what the variaous markings mean. In most cases it’s just a matter of a novice collector reading a bullet-point list of information on say, ‘Staffordshire pottery’ online, then buying a Staffordshire platter based that list, only to find out once they got it hom the piece was more 1980s than 1880’s reproduction. So, I’m going to run through some questions with examples to answer the questions I’m asked most often  hear most often about marks on Antiques and Collectibles.

QUESTION:

I have a platform rocking chair that has a spring mechanism on the base that has “Patented 1884” molded on it. I was led to believe that means this chair was made in 1884, the problem is but documentation from the great-granddaughter of original owner clearly  stating that it was bought brand new in 1897 as a wedding gift, which story is right?

ANSWER:

All the patent date indicates is the earliest date that spring mechanism was in existance and found on that type of platform rocking chair. What Patents do is provid protection from other companies copying it for set period of years. Different countries each have their own regulations for patents, so it varies. In the U.S., design patents could run up to 14 years, so an item marked “Patented 1884” could have been made as late as 1898. So, in the case of this chair, its family history of being purchased in 1898 could be 100-percent true. There are exception to this rule. If there are any other patent dates on the same fitting , but with a later date, for example 1900, that date would be the earliest that fitting would be found.

 

QUESTION:

Based on what I’ve seen on antique road shows for years on TV, I purchased what I thought was an antique floor vase. I’ve often heard the appraisers on these shows say that really old china sometimes don’t have much in the way of markings. Mine just had a red script on it and nothing else. I didn’t pay much for it, and not seeing any company markingsmade me think I’d lucked out with a find. I local Antique dealer look it, who told me the vase was Chinese and was probably only 10 years old at best. I don’t know if he was trying to rip me off or what.

ANSWER:

No reason to be discouraged, Chinese porcelain is tough subject, it takes years to even begin to get a handle on it. I don’t have an image of you vase to give you my opinion, but based on what the Dealer told you, here is what he should have told you, if he was being honest with you. A great many vases that have been imported from China for the Decorator market since the 1970’s. Most are based on traditional Chinese porcelain and hand-decorated very much like the originals. A great many had a paper or foil label that indicated it was “Made in China.” Labels like this are not very durable or often removed after sale. floor vases of this type have been flooding the market,  the majority sold through Import/Export outlets, Decor stores and Garden centers.

Mike Wilcox
Wilcox & Hall Appraisers