Thanks to the many people who've been in touch regarding the story in the Antiques Trade Gazette (see last post). One correspondent, Ted Knowle, provided some excellent advice on detecting fake painting:
Hello.... I came across your warning about over-painted lustre ware on ebay more or less by accident --- very interesting. But, as you will know, the perpetrator is not unique. There will be less blatant and more skillful operators out there who also realise how easy it is to 'add value', especially by simply hand-tinting a transfer. It is pretty easy. I know because I was a professional restorer.
Although modern repair materials, such as epoxy resins and bake-on lacquers, give a very hard repaired/retouched surface, as far as I know they are still not as hard as fired ceramic glazes and enamels. True fired-on pottery enamels are often described as 'soft' because they are coloured glazes with a lower melting point, but they are still hard and glassy in nature. Paint, whatever kind, is not quite as hard as that.
The basic (non-damaging test) is simply to lightly run the finger tips over the suspect area: fresh paint has a slight 'drag', especially if thick (try it out on newly painted woodwork at home to get the feel) but this becomes less noticeable with age. If a special bake-on (meaning kitchen oven heat) lacquer has been used there will be far less 'drag'. The suspect area may well be slightly warmer to the touch than unpainted ceramic.
A needle point will scratch paint, but with care -- you can scratch/damage almost anything with a hard enough point and enough pressure. It is not generally recommended to use paint stripper, nor bleach, on gilding --- either might affect it (it is thin soft metal, usually fired at low temperature) and the lustre is a very thin soft coating, almost a gas-like layer. A tiny drop of cellulose (car paint) thinner can rapidly soften most paints.
In the case of lustre-ware, as you say, it is not easy to replicate the thin sheen but there are new products coming into the craft shops all the time, so be aware.
Watch this space! On Friday I'm photographing a large collection of religious plaques. I hope to start adding images on Saturday, all being well.
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.