Determining whether or not a pewter mark is fake can be a difficult task. It is estimated that approximately one third of the pewter pieces produced in early America were never marked, according to the Pewter Collectors' Club of America, Inc. Oftentimes pewter pieces would be melted down and recast when they became worn or scratched. Complicating matters further, forgers would sometimes remove a legitimate maker's mark from one piece and add it to another. The piece itself would not be a legitimate antique, even though the mark was genuine. Despite these difficulties, there are a few guidelines you can follow to help you discover whether a specific pewter mark is fake.
Determine whether the piece in question is in fact pewter at all. Use a simple nitric acid test kit to discover if a piece is silver or pewter. Silver passes the acid test, while pewter does not.
Find out whether the piece you're inspecting is American or British in origin. This isn't as easy as it sounds, as early American pieces often had marks derived from those used by British guilds, such as a rose and crown, a full-rigged ship or a rampant lion. Sometimes American pewter makers would stamp an X above the rose or the crown. Later American pieces often included an eagle or stamps indicating the town where the piece was made.
Understand that pewter marks fall into the following broad categories: pewterer's marks, catalogue numbers, ownership marks and merchant's marks. Pewterer's marks could be as varied as the craftsmen themselves, although the designs tended to grow less complex after the 1820s. Catalogue numbers simply refer to a number given to the piece by the maker. These tended to be stamps of four or five numbers, sometimes accompanied by the maker's initials. Ownership marks also usually consisted of two or three initials, usually in a straight line but sometimes placed in a triad. Merchant marks were placed by the company that sold the piece and could be as intricate as the maker's marks. Fake pewter marks often combine an older mark with a later catalogue number or vice versa.
Inspect the mark carefully. Fake pewter marks can be different in design or size from the actual maker's marks they are attempting to imitate. They can be missing details that were included in the original maker's mark or those details may be located in the wrong place. Sometimes the stamps used to make fake pewter marks are blurred or indistinct, lacking the crisp detail of the original maker's marks.
Even antiques experts sometimes have a difficult time spotting a forgery. Always get a second opinion if you're not sure the piece you're buying is genuine.
Tips and warnings
- Even antiques experts sometimes have a difficult time spotting a forgery. Always get a second opinion if you're not sure the piece you're buying is genuine.