Treasure Detectives

Commonly faked collectibles

Frank Spinelli | Stone | Getty Images

Collectors may search for years for the most coveted rarities in their field. For some, the urge to top off their collection by buying that completer piece could leave them prone to believing they've struck it rich when it's really fool's gold.

Whether sales take place at antique shops, flea markets, online, or at top auction houses, no marketplace can completely protect buyers from sellers who are unscrupulous or simply unaware they're peddling fraudulent items. Here's a roundup of commonly faked items in popular categories of collecting.

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By Colleen Kane
Posted 19 March 2013

Toys: Rocket-Firing Boba Fett

Source: Randy Falk

Just before the 1980 release of "The Empire Strikes Back," packaging for Kenner's "Star Wars" figures featured an exciting mail-in offer: Boba Fett, the "new evil villain in the Star Wars galaxy," which could launch a rocket from its evil and villainous back.

Concerns over possible injury from the projectile prompted Kenner to redesign the product before it reached the public, however, and thus the ultimate collectible was born.

"A handful of pilot samples and test runs have surfaced over the years from Kenner employees," said Randy Falk, senior director of product development for the National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA). "When documented and legit, they sell for $2,000 and more."

He added: "They get faked or bootlegged so much because the demand is so high and someone with minimal skill can replicate them fairly close. ... Also, some people don't mind buying the fakes, since they can't afford to obtain a real one for their collection."

Another commonly faked "Star Wars" figure is the vinyl-caped Jawa. In the first-ever run of "Star Wars" figures, Jawas were outfitted with vinyl capes, which were later changed to cloth, so the rare figures with vinyl capes ones bring in the big bucks on the secondary market.

Artwork: Corot

Timothy O'Rourke | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In a survey from ARTnews, experts were asked to name the most faked artists of all time. Almost every expert cited the 19th century Barbizon landscape painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, whose work has been knocked-off so frequently that jokes about Corot's impossibly prolific production have run in print since 1940. In 1990, Time magazine said: "It used to be said that Corot painted 800 pictures in his lifetime, of which 4,000 ended up in U.S. collections."

Other frequently faked artists, according to that same survey, include Vincent van Gogh, Salvador Dali, and Auguste Rodin.

Autographs: Elvis Presley

Getty Images

Each year, the third-party Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA)/DNA services issues a list of the "10 Most Dangerous Autographs."

Last year, the No. 1 most commonly faked entertainer's autograph was Elvis Presley. An Elvis signature can sell for as much as $1,500, and a signed contract or letter could go for $35,000, according to the PSA. The organization said a large numbers of forgeries are found in Europe, specifically Germany and the Netherlands. Coming in second for the most frequent forgeries is the band The Beatles.

Sports Memorabilia: Babe Ruth's Autograph

Karen Bleier | AFP | Getty Images

The PSA, which annually ranks the most commonly forged autographs, includes a list of the most common athlete forgeries and Babe Ruth, "The Babe," came in at No. 1 for 2012. The second most-forged athlete signature is that of Lou Gehrig, and in third place is Mickey Mantle.

A legitimate Babe Ruth signature can fetch from $3,000 for a signed cut to up to $60,000 or more for an autographed baseball, according to the PSA. Ruth signatures are determined to be fakes about 60 percent of the time. Many weren't forged for malicious purposes, however, the PSA website noted. A number of fraudulent signatures were made by secretaries and Babe Ruth's nurse as he lay dying.

Furniture: Barcelona Chair

Chicago History Museum | Archive Photos | Getty Images

If the cool seat pictured here, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Chair, looks very familiar, it's likely because, as one blogger points out, it is one of the most popularly knocked-off pieces of mid-century modern furniture.

It's not even close to the only one of its peers getting the knock-off treatment, however. Numerous iconic furniture pieces from the midcentury modern era have retained their popularity, or are even more popular today. Although they rose to fame with their designer's name attached—Arne Jacobsen's Egg Chair, Eames chairs, the Noguchi coffee table—knock-off versions are reproduced with regularity and sold in retail stores and catalogs. Danish furniture maker Fritz Hanzen recently addressed the phenomenon by making a series of videos demonstrating the flimsiness of copies of their Series 7 chairs.

Porcelain: Meissen

John Macdougall | AFP | Getty Images

Meissen Porcelain (pictured here) was the first line of porcelain china produced in Europe, and three centuries later the company continues on. Many of the Meissen figures are famously marked by two crossed swords. The website, which uses the tagline, "We are aggressive buyers of antique Meissen figures," has a page identifying more than 200 signature marks found on fake Meissen porcelain. There are also certain indicators, like obvious vent holes, color (they should be a blueish white, not a creamy color), and eye color (all people depicted in Meissen porcelain from the 1700s should have brown eyes).

Another popular—and popularly faked—collectible porcelain is Nippon. Porcelain china items made in Japan were stamped "Nippon" from 1891 until 1921, and thereafter the exports were stamped "Japan." However, since the Nippon items are more valuable, that mark gets used to make phonies.

Glass: Emile Galle Art Glass

Boyer | Roger Viollet | Getty Images

The distinctive floral Art Nouveau designs of Emile Galle's vases and other art glass creations are worth thousands of dollars. A century after they were made, however, new versions are being produced in China and Romania.

A user guide on eBay cautions, "If you want imitation mold-created Galle glass made in China (including vases, bowls, lamps, perfume bottles, and other items), you will find plenty..." It provides tipoffs to help spot the fakes: low starting auction prices and multiple auction listings for the same items; and some items even arrive bearing a "made in China" sticker. A guide to spotting Galle glass fakes on the Philip Chasenan Antiques website points out that, like paintings, no two works by Galle were alike, and that some fakes bear the word TIP ("type" in Romanian).

Wines: Old Bordeaux

David Hogsholt | Getty Images

When billionaire Bill Koch discovered some of his most precious and very expensive wines were fakes, he hired Brad Goldstein to run a fraud investigation team. Goldstein then provided a list of the most faked wines to Food & Wine magazine.

According to the article, the most frequently faked wines are old Bordeaux, but Burgundies are an up-and-coming market in knock-off wines. Specific wines he named include a 1811 Chteau d'Yquem (a label that didn't even exist until the 1970s), a 1947 Chteau Cheval Blanc, and any pre-1924 Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

Costume Jewelry: Bakelite

Cyrus McCrimmon | Denver Post | Getty Images

Bakelite was one of the first plastics produced between World Wars I and II. It was once used to make everything from radios to umbrella handles to boxy handbags. Items made from Bakelite have been popular collectibles for years, and one subcategory of that collectible is costume jewelry, including carved bangles, pendants, and brooches.

Fake Bakelite jewelry is so prevalent that it inspired one collector to make to warn fellow buyers. The site has a gallery of fakes and gives collectors instructions for making their own Fakelite detective kits.

Other frequently faked costume jewelry types include Eisenberg, Weiss, Jelly Bellies (figural, typically animal brooches with lucite center "bellies", popularized by Trifari), Marchel Bouche, and HOB (House of Bangles).

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