Why Antiques Get Mis-Attributed – Six Reasons
Unfortunately, identifying an antique’s manufacturer is sometimes an art and not always a science. It is not often that a 19th Century item has a patent existing to help us easily identify the maker as does the “lollipop chair” (as we call it today – he never did) by Hunzinger, above. Absent a definitive mark somewhere on a piece, one has to revert to being Sherlock Holmes to come up with a reasonable story. I’ve come up with my personal list of six potential reasons why antiques can get mis-attributed by their seller/owner:
- Innocent, lack of knowledge, mis-attributions – the seller/owner bought it from someone that passed on a particular maker’s name or maybe they have seen similar styles with an attributed maker but do not have the expertise or knowledge to say otherwise.
- Good Intentioned mis-attributions – the seller/owner has done all the research that can be reasonably expected of someone and has put together a reasonable case for a strong attribution to a particular maker’s shop. However, due to lack of a key piece of information being known or available to them, they get it wrong.
- Semi-innocent mis-attributions – the seller/owner has a fair amount of knowledge, isn’t for sure of the maker, but assigns a name that could reasonably be possible and that name garners more $$. Better to be overly-optimistic since there are no repercussions to not do so. Those potential buyers that know better about the attribution won’t buy it and those that don’t know may buy it based on the prestige.
- Un-innnocent mis-attributions – the seller/owner purposefully trumps up the maker yet puts a sub-normal price on the piece that doesn’t represent anyway near the fair market value of that maker (a sure sign they know it probably isn’t by that shop), hoping that someone will bid up the piece to the level normally seen for that maker. They are happy to sell their $600 “Herter Brothers” chair for $600, but secretly wish buyers will bid it up to $40,000 if they put that name on it.
- Denial mis-attributions – the seller/owner falls into categories 1, 2, or 3 above and is subsequently presented with very strong information to the contrary of their original attribution and refuse to rectify it. The denial can either be due to the seller/owner’s self-delusional convictions about their original attribution, or can be due to the desire to keep the price at the most favorable level (the better maker’s name).
- Blatent Lie mis-attributions – the seller/owner purposefully trumps up the maker for increasing an items worth, knowing that no one can or will call them on it due to lack of definitive means of identifying antiques with 100% certainty. No one will be able to call them on their visibly impressive (and believable) Aesthetic “Herter Brothers” cabinet from New York with an $80,000 price tag that actually was made by an unrelated shop in England and came here on a container ship.
Personally, I try to keep myself in categories 1 & 2 above. What do you think? Did I miss any scenarios?
Here is the relevant Hunzinger chair patent related to the top image, below: