Myrna Schkolne has debated how much repair or restoration should be acceptable to collectors (see her blog piece 'A perfect 9'). I suppose much depends on why you collect. For plaque collectors, it's quite feasible to build up a collection of perfect examples, for relatively little money. For those like me, however, who want to assemble as much knowledge, as quickly as possible, a hairline crack or even a missing corner, won't put them off a rare plaque. Who knows? It might be 10 years before another comes along. But one thing I think we all agree on, is that an item covered in heavy modern over-painting has next to no appeal.
Over the last few years I've been following the progress of an eBay seller, 1079edmund, who purchased rubbed or plain items and embellished them with fake over-painting. See my March 2010 blog postings and the Fake over-painted items page for the full story. Despite a large spread in the Antiques Trade Gazette and many complaints to eBay, 1079edmund has continued to trade.
A few months ago he changed his eBay identity to toby-20. Take a look -- the same feedback history, the same private listing auctions, the same photographic backgrounds, the same appalling spelling, and the same location, Wales. It's the same eBay account with a different name. Until now, the items he's listed, under his new identity, appeared untampered with. So who was I to knock a man who'd turned over a new leaf?
But over the last few weeks, toby-20 has listed two plaques I've felt unsure about. The first, a typical 'Eastern scene' (see below), looked to have perfectly original enamelling to the central transfer. Unusually, the outer borders are pink rather than copper lustre. But that's possible for late items stamped 'Dixon Co'. However, the irregular-looking corners might suggest over-painted damage, and I don't recall ever seeing an outer border quite so purple. You'll have to make up your own mind about this one, because I'm not sure.
The second plaque, currently listed on eBay, looks all wrong. What should be dark and rich copper lustre in the corners is flat and brown. The pink lustre on these 'Carr' plaques is usually very deep, almost purple. Compare toby-20's plaque to the plaque with real lustre (second picture).
In fact, the only place I've seen this combination of colours is on 1079edmund's faked plaques (see below). So if the lustre was rubbed or faded, and the seller decided to over-paint 60% of its front surface, has this plaque been acceptably restored? Note that the seller doesn't list any restoration in his latest listing.
My frustration here isn't with a petty criminal, who can't resist the compulsion to smear antique objects with household paint. It's eBay who are at fault. They choose to ignore complaints from buyers, after the event, because the seller has 100% positive feedback rating. Despite a marketing pledge to tackle antiques fraud, every 'improvement' to eBay's site over the last few years appears to be designed to protect their revenues. Come on eBay, isn't it about time you put your buyers first?
If you are sure that an eBay item looks wrong, click on 'Report item'. Then select 'Fraudulent listings' and 'You suspect a listing is fraudulent (you didn't bid)'. In the above case I gave the description as 'Fake over-painting, item listed as restoration free'.
Though my faith in eBay is rock bottom, if enough people complain they'll surely have to do something.
Stephen Smith lives in London, and is always happy to hear from other collectors. If you have an interesting collection of plaques, and are based in the UK, he will photograph them for you. Free advice given regarding selling and dispersal of a collection, or to those wishing to start one. Just get in touch...
This website is indebted to collectors, dealers and enthusiasts who have shared their knowledge or photos. In particular: Ian Holmes, Stephen Duckworth, Dick Henrywood, Norman Lowe, Keith Lovell, Donald H Ryan, Harold Crowder, Jack and Joyce Cockerill, Myrna Schkolne, Elinor Penna, Ian Sharp, Shauna Gregg at the Sunderland Museum, Keith Bell, Martyn Edgell, and Liz Denton.