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Know Your Stuff: Original or Reproduction

Cleaning out a drawer the other day looking for my garden book, I came across an old import catalog dated 1977. Wow! When I was first starting out in the antique business about 30 years ago, I used these catalogs to see what was being reproduced so I would know what to be on the look-out for. Back then – much like today – items being reproduced covered just about everything you can imagine . . .

  • Furniture
  • Glassware
  • Clocks
  • Copper & Brass
  • Iron Toys
  • Plates
  • Porcelains
  • Blue & White wares
  • Figurines
  • Dolls

Interestingly, some of those circa 1970 reproductions are still making the rounds out there. So what do you look for when shopping for an antique to tell if it is an original or reproduction. Obviously it depends on the item, but we’ll cover a few basic things to watch out for when shopping.


The most common types of furniture reproduced were accent pieces like coat racks, fern stands (some with marble inserts), wooden easels, vitrine tables (tops opened for displaying items), corner what-not shelves, shaving stands, towel rails, china cabinets, small lamp tables, as well as some miniature pieces.

Samples of Furniture Reproduced c1977


What to look for:

1) While a few pieces were oak colored or had a dark, almost black finish, most of these reproduced wooden items had the same evenly applied light walnut colored finish with a very thin coat of clear sealer – that did not wear well.

2) Wood used was very light in weight without a visible grain that can be attributed to the quality woods of oak, pine and walnut. Know your wood grains!

3) Construction was often sloppy with the joints being glued (often over-glued) and/or the prominent use of Phillips head screws.

Tip: When looking for old furniture look for dove-tailing, flat-head screws, square head nails and good quality wood. Some of the very fine old furniture used good wood not only for the outside but for the insides of the drawers as well.

Cast Iron – Banks & Toys

Some of the more popular antique banks and toys were reproduced to look similar to their original counterpart. This is another situation when you need ‘to know your stuff’. The difference between an original and a reproduction can be something as minor as a 1/2″ difference in the length. Then other times, you’ll see that the paint job and construction of the reproduction has been poorly done. And too, there are those that would try to pass off these replicas as old by burying them in the yard allowing them to rust and age.

Samples of Toys Reproduced c1977

What to look for:

1) Construction is the top thing to look for. Most old toys were very well made. You’ll not see any grind marks, seams will be tight and the mechanism will work well.

2) Look for names and numbers, most authentic, good cast iron items will have some sort of mark.

3) The use of Phillips head screws, bolts and other modern hardware used to hold the piece together is a sure sign of a reproduction.


Glassware is probably one of the most difficult reproductions to determine. Just because glass looks like an ‘old type of glass’ doesn’t mean it’s old. Some of the old types of antique glass reproduced were Cranberry, Mary Gregory, overlay glass with cut designs, Satin glass, hand-cut lead crystal, pattern glass, ‘gold encrusted’ art glass, and depression.

Samples of Glass Reproduced c1977


What to look for:

Aside from being familiar with the type of glass you plan to collect, look for mold marks, size and scuffs on the bottom of the piece. Remember – even if an old piece of glass was set on the shelf for 100 years, it would have been picked up and set back down to dust so you’ll see scuff, scratch marks on the bottom. If there are no marks at all – the piece may be new.


Many porcelain pieces were produced including hat pin holders, tea sets, cookie jars, cheese dishes, jewel boxes, hair receivers, figurines and bisque piano babies. Most of these are very pretty and well done. Some were even marked on the bottom to imply a well known manufacturer. So again, ‘know your stuff’. Become familiar with actual marks and items produced.


Samples of Porcelain Reproduced c1977


What to look for:

1) On items with metal banding or ormolu, look for aging or discoloration to the metal. If the metal is bright and clean, inspect the item closely.

2) Check the marks on the bottom. Are they stamped on? Under the glaze? Are all the words spelled correctly? Some actual names were misspelled intentionally so as to appear similar to the real thing.

3) If the item is ‘hand painted’, use a magnifying glass to look for brush strokes. If the decoration is composed of tiny dots, it is a transfer.


These are just a few tips to help you while you’re out there antique shopping. There’s nothing wrong with buying a replica IF you know that’s what you’re buying, you don’t mind . . . and the price is right.



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