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Author Topic:   Fakes & Counterfeits in Russian Silver
IJP

Posts: 326
Registered: Oct 2004

iconnumber posted 06-08-2005 01:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for IJP     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
[07-0269]

Among the very first things said to me by one of our resident experts about Russian silver, "There are many good fakes on the market." I also came across a webpage which discusses the problem (RUSSIAN ANTIQUE SILVER FAKES).

All that in mind, what at first seemed like a fascinating new field for me with potential for my personal growth as a collector, also seems like not a terribly safe one.

The webpage cited above seems to warn that most any inconsistency is an immediate red flag, despite how authentic the marks look. I'll describe an example.

I've come across a piece bearing the assay mark of Victor Savinkov (Moscow), for 1887. The city mark, however, most closely resembles that for Tbilisi, and the maker's mark is shown in the Postnikova-Losseva book as a Tbilisi maker, though his name is not known. The capital of Georgia is no small distance away from Moscow, and though railway travel was well-established in Russia by the 1880's (Anyone remember the grisly train station scene in Anna Karenina?), I still hardly see why a Tbilisi maker's work would end up assayed in Moscow.

From time to time, English sterling will be assayed and marked for a town other than the town most strongly associated with a particular maker. I've seen Sheffield makers' works with London marks, for example. Would this ever occur with Russian silver? And if assayed by a master of a particular town, wouldn't a piece most certainly receive the town mark associated with the assay master?

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Dale

Posts: 2132
Registered: Nov 2002

iconnumber posted 06-08-2005 01:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Antique dealer folklore has a story about Russian marks. According to this tradition, when the Revolution came, a number of silver smiths fled to the West. Taking with them the tools and marks they could grab. As emigres they continued to produce Russian style silver wherever they ended up. And used the marks and stamps they had brought out of Russia. Once settled in the West, these products were made in a traditional fashion and sold as 'from a refugee family'. This is, however, folklore. I have never seen any confirmation of it. But it does clarify a number of things.

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sazikov2000

Posts: 254
Registered: Jan 2005

iconnumber posted 06-08-2005 06:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sazikov2000     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I can understand the fear of the beginner to buy fakes. The only weapon against forgery is to know what you are looking for. One has to learn how the Russian silver was hallmarked (every part of an item was marked!). The fakers use simple punches (for the expert)and mostly hallmark without the neccesary knowledge.
My advice: start slowly, learn as much as possible about what you are collecting, compare, ask (other collectors), see, watch,
and most of all, if something is too good to be true - it always is too good to be true.

Sazikov 2000

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Dale

Posts: 2132
Registered: Nov 2002

iconnumber posted 06-09-2005 01:01 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Excellent advice Sazikov.

My own little thought is to only buy things you really like an enjoy. That way even if it is a fake, you will be able to live with and appreciate it.

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Scott Martin
Forum Master

Posts: 11377
Registered: Apr 93

iconnumber posted 06-09-2005 08:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Starting many years ago, every Christmas, an old friend would give June & I one Baccarat champagne flute. Sadly, our friend past away.

We were shy one to complete of set. So when we were walking by one of those “tourist” antique (everything is new) “Going out of business” stores with a Baccarat sign in the window, we went in. They had a flute at an unbelievably low price and a sign swearing they were an authorized Baccarat Crystal Dealers so we purchased it.

When we got home I started thinking about the low price and began ruminating maybe it wasn’t Baccarat so I got out another to compare. They looked identical. I then turned them over and looked for the faint Baccarat mark which they both had. I then flicked each with my finger and they had very different tones. Aha!, I thought (by now can you tell I don’t know anything about glass/crystal?). So I got out the other flutes and they all had different tones. Apparently the new one was the real deal and at a very low price. I commenced to think maybe I should get another just in case we ever break one.

Since I was done futzing with the glass, June handed me my loupe and some silver to look at. I then thought I would get a better look at the small faint Baccarat mark with my loupe. The mark on the new flute was near identical except instead of Baccarat it says Vaccarat.

We love our fake. On the rare occasions we get to use the flutes, we have a great story to tell and then challenge our guests to find the fake.

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IJP

Posts: 326
Registered: Oct 2004

iconnumber posted 06-09-2005 03:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for IJP     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A subcategory of Russian silver which evidently is very much counterfeited is antique silver Judaica. An internet search will yield numerous hits, probably a relative few are authentic.

The history and politics of Judaism in Europe, where Jews were often confined to ghettos and limited in their freedom and potential, would seem to have had a considerable impact on decorative art objects made expressly for them. A number of questions arise: Which, if any, Eastern European (or other) silversmiths of the 19th century or earlier, were known to be Jewish? What were the restrictions on Jews who wished to practice such a trade? I found a site discussing this briefly. The pertinent statement is that "In Europe, Jews were not normally allowed to be silversmiths or goldsmiths because they were excluded from membership in the guilds." Thus, it later says, "many of the ceremonial objects in Judaica collections, though used by Jewish communities, were made by non-Jewish manufacturers or artisans on commission."

This brings up an interesting question... Could a non-Jewish trades person at such a time in Europe freely associate with Jews, and take commissions, without fear of penalty, either officially imposed or otherwise? How many such tradespeople would even have been willing to associate with Jews, given the tense atmosphere of prejudice in some places at the time? Are any particular makers known to have produced significant amounts of Jewish ceremonial silver? Or, if the social and political environment was unfriendly toward the manufacture of such articles, is it possible that some makers produced such work, but secretly and without signing their work? and in which particular regions of Europe were the political situations conducive to the production of silver Judaica?

Some more information about European Jews and their relation to trade and craft is available Judaism:
Ashkenazim

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sazikov2000

Posts: 254
Registered: Jan 2005

iconnumber posted 06-09-2005 07:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sazikov2000     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Many polish silversmiths, especially in Warsaw (19th century) were Jews, in Russia the names of silversmiths ending with ...ski or...witsch were mostly Jews, in Europe (Germany) Jews could not work as silversmiths because of the exclusion from the guilds but it was not forbidden to sell or trade with Jews until 1933.

Sazikov 2000

[This message has been edited by sazikov2000 (edited 06-10-2005).]

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dragonflywink

Posts: 975
Registered: Dec 2002

iconnumber posted 06-09-2005 08:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dragonflywink     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well-known 19th century German Jewish silversmith Lazarus Posen (and the later family firm) made some wonderful pieces of Judaica, many now in museum collections.

Cheryl ;o)

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blakstone

Posts: 493
Registered: Jul 2004

iconnumber posted 06-09-2005 08:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for blakstone     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In reply to your question about noted makers of Judaica, I suggest you hunt down a copy of the periodical Jewish Art, v. 19/20 (1993-1994), pp. 180-193. There is an excellent article there about the Becker family of silversmiths in Bratislava (Pozsony in Hungarian; Pressburg in German) by Ilona Pataky-Brestyanszky.

It illustrates a number of items of Judaica and some secular domestic items by the Becker family during the first third of the 19th century.

Additionally, the article has a very good précis of the centuries-long conflict between the guilds and Jewish craftsmen, noting that - in Hungary at least - some Jews were admitted to the guild as early as the 18th Century. It appears to have been their skill - winning favor and patronage among the aristocracy - that finally broke the barrier. Indeed, also illustrated among the articles by the Jewish Beckers are some Christian items: a cross and votive icon!

In the case of the Beckers - and I would assume nearly all Central European makers of Judaica - many of their works in museums and private hands that were catalogued in the late 19th-early 20th century have vanished. Pataky-Brestyanszky makes clear that while much beautiful Judaica was made, vast amounts of it was destroyed during the horrors of the two world wars.

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ozfred

Posts: 87
Registered: Sep 2002

iconnumber posted 06-09-2005 10:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ozfred     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Further to Dale's comments about the Russians who fled in the early 19th century, some went into China.

Here is another scenario for discussion.

Silverware was made in Harbin in the Russian style with the appropriate marks.

Whether these pieces were made by ex pats or local smiths is not known.

Unfortunately I do not have any examples but did see a large desk set with an inscription in Cyrillic and indicating Harbin as its origin.

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Gaspare

Posts: 97
Registered: Jan 2004

iconnumber posted 06-09-2005 10:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gaspare     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In old town square in Warsaw there are a few gift shops that specialize in 'antique silver Judaica'. Cups, pointers, coin boxes etc. They are made very well and all stamped up..

A friend that works in the square mentioned to me that I would just have to show a photo of what I wanted and the guy at one shop in particular would have it for me in a week! When I questioned him about this he said the guys family made such items before the war and can still do it now..

G.

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IJP

Posts: 326
Registered: Oct 2004

iconnumber posted 06-10-2005 12:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for IJP     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks to all for the great information about European Jewish silversmiths and silver Judaica. However, I seem to have directed the conversation away from the initial subject...

As I was explaining earlier, I'm a little uncertain about what to think of inconsistencies in Russian marks, more specifically those of geography. In English sterling, as I mentioned above, it's not uncommon to come across a maker's mark which appears in Jackson in one town, while examples exist bearing marks for another town. But England is not a very large country, so it's not so baffling if a London maker's work turns up with Birmingham or Sheffield marks. This is often not so in Russia and its surrounding region. Moscow and Petersburg alone are as far apart as most European countries are wide. It simply doesn't make any sense to me that a Tbilisi town mark and maker's mark would appear with a Moscow assaymaster's mark. The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that it must be spurious. But how easily might I dismiss a less blatant geographical inconsistency? Are any authentic examples known to have such inconsistencies? My key questions are these:

  • Was it ever possible for Russian silver to be stamped with the assaymaster's mark of one town, but the town mark of another?
  • Are Russian silversmiths known to have had their work assayed and marked in multiple locations?

It may be enlightening to know just what the marking process was. In the past, blakstone has very graciously made such explanations of the French marking process. Is anyone able to do so here?


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sazikov2000

Posts: 254
Registered: Jan 2005

iconnumber posted 06-10-2005 02:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sazikov2000     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
IJP, I try to answer your questions as best as I can:

In my not small collection of Russian silver I have sometimes (not very often!) come to pieces stamped with the assay master's mark of one town and the town mark of another. My explanation for this is:

  1. the assay master went on duty into another town and took his punch with him (example: Alexander Romanov, St. Petersburg, who went to Warcaw).

  2. in the later years silver was produced industrially, in a factory or workshop, specialized in a certain technique (niello, samorodok or email). The item was locally assayed and then distributed to the town of the firm, who ordered the goods, there it was hallmarked and got the name of the firm or the silversmith who sold it. (example: Georgian niello was mostly town marked in Kiew. Email was always town marked in Moscow even if it bears the silversmith from St. Petersburg).

The reason why you find often pieces stamped with the name of a certain silversmith working until 1907, but the piece is hallmarked for the years 1908-17 is: they simply had stocks which this firm sold.

In any case you see two town marks you have to be alerted until you have an waterproof explanation for it.

Sazikov 2000

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IJP

Posts: 326
Registered: Oct 2004

iconnumber posted 06-25-2005 06:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for IJP     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
After my near-acquisition of what I was almost certain was authentic Faberge silver (see here I've Learned the Error of my Ways), I have been warned that it actually was counterfeit... Whew! I think to myself.

So the question of real or fake becomes all the more vital. Sazikov2000 tells me time and again, "If it sounds to good to be true, it is." That's a sound warning, but I don't want to be so jaded, and that's not the sort of attitude I want to adopt as a default. If 1000 sellers are at my door, and only one has the Real McCoy, I want to know how to tell it apart.

In the case of the Faberge spoons, I knew the marks to be absolutely consistent with Postnikova-Loseva et al. I suppose, however, that the post-1908 Russian national mark would not be so difficult to forge. I don't know if there is any relevance to the fact that these spoons were mixed in their maker's markings, some stamped "K.FABERGE" in Cyrillic with the imperial warrant, others stamped simply with Cyrillic "K F".

The site of marking is another good point that S2K brings up. I've often seen Russian silver flatware stamped on the side of the handle, just above the join of handle and bowl. The spoons mentioned above were stamped on the outside convex portion of one side of the bowl, maker's and kokoshnik marks side by side.

If deceptively faithful reproduction of older Russian marks is a common problem, does this necessitate a microscopic analysis a la blakstone in Small French cup? Are fraudulent kokoshnik stamps examples of salvaged originals/negatives, or are they copies based on existing stamps/positives? Would it become necessary, if the latter is true, to inspect the millimeter discrepancies between the relative positions of kokoshnik profile, district letter, and fineness number?

The illustrations of marks in the Postnikova-Loseva text appear often to be approximate, and sometimes crude. Certainly in a world of fakes and copies, I can't expect to depend on those drawings to base decisions on authenticity.

What have I gotten myself into?

"Curiouser and curiouser!" As Alice cried on the other side of the looking glass.

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sazikov2000

Posts: 254
Registered: Jan 2005

iconnumber posted 09-28-2005 08:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sazikov2000     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In the last 6 month an increasing number of Russian Silver fakes could be seen at eBay and little European auction houses. Mostly things made by Fabergé, Ovtschinnikov, Klingert and Gratschev. These things are total fakes. The newest trick is to take some fine Austrian-Hungarian silver, remove the original hallmarks and re-hallmark it with the names from above. The only problem the fakers have are the different sized punches for the different places on a piece, which m u s t be hallmarked! So they have the wrong stamps on the wrong places. That is what an experienced collector know and look for. Why do you think somebody try to sell a dozen "real" Fabergé spoons at eBay, starting at US$ 15.00 with no limit (!) or at an unknown auction house somewhere in the province, when Christies or Sothebys exist?

Please use your brain!

I show some Fabergé punches (real ones from my collection) and even a naive person can see the difference and the details. I can show every punch of every important Russian silversmith in all its variants (cigarette case, vase, Beaker, spoon, flatware, hollowware etc.) in natura! If you need some, let me know.

Please compare this hallmarks with the hallmarks you often see at "occasions"!

Much luck

Sazikov 2000

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wizard

Posts: 78
Registered: Feb 2005

iconnumber posted 01-07-2006 06:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wizard     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The question raised in this post as to whether European silversmiths made Judaica interested me . I have a silver box with lock made by the Polish Atisan Karol Malcz who had his own shop after 1828 in Warsaw and certainly maade Jewish ceremonial objects, some of which are in Warsaw Museum. I don't believe he was Jewish himself. I would be interested in more info on Malcz if anyone has some to add.
Murray

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sazikov2000

Posts: 254
Registered: Jan 2005

iconnumber posted 01-10-2006 06:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sazikov2000     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Malcz (Malsch), Karol Filip

*Warsaw August 10th 1797

+Czorków March 15th 1867

Polish gold-and silversmith. He was the son of an immigrated saxonian chirurg and the daughter of a goldsmith of Warsaw. He made an apprenticeship at the Warsaw goldsmith Jan Maciej Schwartz (1772-1828) and later traveled through whole Europe to get some experience and to see what others do. After his return to Poland he made his master-piece in the workshop of his master and opened 1828 his own workshop in Warsaw. He received numerous distinctions and developed his workshop to a big enterprise with up to 50 employees, among them many professional artists. Most of the works were designed works, many of them made by himself.(Examples in the Historical Town Museum Warsaw). The early products of Malcz have the character of the Empire. His works consists of table services, candle sticks and liturgical vessels. Later he produced items in the style of Revival, especially in the style of Neo Rokoko and in the end of his life his creations get more eklektic. In the year 1864 he gave the leadership of his firm to his partner August Theodor Werner (1836-1902). On his silver you find his name Malcz and his trademark, an anchor. Silver from Malcz is one of the best of that time!

Sazikov 2000

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