ASCAS Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
article # 208
by Maurice Meslans
(click on photos to enlarge image)


I have always been fascinated by fakes, who made them, how, and why.
When I was new to the business I bought a "fake" Kentucky julep cup. But even it wasn't a real "fake". It was a copy made by a collector, from Kentucky, in the old way, and marked with his own mark.
I remember the first real fake I ever saw, and recognized, a 17th century German beaker. It shouldn't have fooled anyone as it was seamed instead of being raised.
This brings up the two types of fakes one finds. The first I would call a "whole cloth" fake which is a piece made specially to deceive. Most faked 18th century silver can't be made by raising or any of the 18th century methods as these methods require too much skill and are too expensive to be cost effective.
Everyone talks about fake 18th century French silver. But normally they are talking about Hanau fakes, which normally wouldn't fool anyone, except a rank amateur. They are more often than not just castings soldered together, in a style of questionable taste.
Occasionally you will find an ornate piece of 18th century style silver, completely lacking patina, showing no hammer marks, with very unconvincing marks. Most of the time a quick look at the fake marks in Helft (see note 1), will resolve any doubts.

The second type of fake requires the faker to find an appropriate but unmarked old piece and add fake marks to it. This method isn't always very successful as it requires a real knowledge of styles. However if an old piece has fake marks added, the result can be quite convincing.
Recently I purchased a Bordeaux 18th century ladle at auction without having personally inspected it. It is 35.24 cm. long and weighs about 183 grams, the bowl was repaired and was rather thin.

The marks are those of Agen (jurisdiction of Bordeaux).
The town mark AN, the charge and discharge marks, are all shown on page 162 Les Orfèvres De Bordeaux (see note 2) without any notes, for the dates 1776-8. Only when one looks up the maker, Jacques Charpantier, does one find a note under the third of his marks shown, that it is perhaps a false mark and directs you to another page. On page 443 is shown a pair of candlesticks with all four marks all noted as perhaps false.

The marks on the ladle are here, in the order in which they are found, but turned for easy recognition.

So what is your opinion? My thoughts are below.

The first thing to note is the ladle has not only the Grosse Guarantee and first standard marks for Paris 1819-38 but also the maker's mark of Cincinnatus Lorillon. It is not terribly uncommon to find a later guarantee mark on 18th c. French silver, but it is quite unusual to find a second maker's mark.
Being French I am a firm believer that rules are meant to be broken, so for the sake of argument, let's let it pass for now.
So the question is: are the Agen marks real and the Paris marks added later, or are they fake and added to a 19th century ladle?
Which marks were fitted in between already existing marks?

In favor of the 18th century marks being real: They are after all only noted as being questionable by the authors, and they even listed them as legitimate marks without note. If fake they would have to have faked all four marks, not an easy task. Then who would add fake marks to a damaged ladle or even an undamaged ladle? Sounds like a lot of expense and effort to add a little value to an inexpensive piece.

However the arguments against the Agen marks being real are much more substantial. First looking at the ladle itself, the size doesn't tell us much. While French ladles tended to get smaller after the 18th c. this one is middling size, and could be either century. The bowl is quite thin, which points to a later origin, and the monogram, or what there is of it, looks more likely to be 19th century.

But the real arguments are marks themselves, and their location. The first two of Charpantier's marks both have a three pointed crown. This mark has what looks like a basket with a ball in it. All four marks have a curious matt or frosted finish, especially noticeable in the open field parts. All four have this characteristic, as if all four were made by the same method. The high points show little or no wear. Curiously the later marks also look odd. The two Paris marks are very dark, as if treated with something, and while very deep they look like they were also deliberately scratched.

Then there is the placement of the supposedly older marks. Obviously if the Paris marks were already on the piece, an overstrike would not be successful. In the 18th century marks are not necessarily found in a particular spot, but they are more often than not put on the handle close to the bowl but not on the shoulder (if there is one). The reason being the marks would often distort the shape of the handle, and would require hammering the silver back in shape. This is of course the reason many early French marks are pinched, and hard to read. But on this piece the faker put the marks for the most part on the shoulders, where they were less likely to distort the shape of the spoon. If they had put them further down the handle, they would have distorted the metal and needed re-hammering, something easily done in the 18th c., but if reshaped in modern times, would destroy the patina on the sides, and thus show the marks were added later.

Of course 19th century marks were smaller and were less likely to distort the shape of the handle. So their placement was more likely to be placed at the whim of the person striking them.

To explain further, if the 18th century marks were real, they probably would have been placed farther from the bowl, then the 19th c. marks would have been placed where ever there was room.

The questions I can't answer is why the faker cut the maker's mark so oddly, when it would have been easy to copy the mark more accurately. Also why have only two pieces with these marks turned up? I searched on the internet, and could find no other examples shown. The only references were either the real marks, or not shown. I looked under the two spellings; Charpentier was more often used although the Bordeaux book uses Charpantier. It seems odd that someone would go to such great effort to cut dies and then use them so rarely that even Helft didn't note them. Finally what made the authors doubt the marks, and yet not doubt them enough.

So I guess I have a very rare ladle, but I can't use it legitimately to ladle out my Armagnac soaked pruneaux d'Agen.


[1] Nouveaux Poinçons by Jacques Delft Editions Berger-Levraut, 1980

[2] Les Orfèvres De Bordeaux et La Marque Du Roy Jean et Jacques Clarke de Dromantin Editions de Puygiron, Suresnes 1987

Maurice Meslans
- 2016 -