By Lorial Francis of www.decodame.com
"Fayral" statue made by the LeVerrier Foundry. France, 1920's.
Remember the days when searching for Art Deco was a challenge? We scoured antique shops, flea markets, garage sales and our parent's attics in hopes of finding an Art Deco treasure.
Those days seem long gone today. We can now log onto the internet to find Art Deco treasures, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from all corners of the world. With today's rising fuel costs, and high stress traffic, the appeal of shopping from the comfort of home, coffee by our side, is even more appealing. We then have our packages shipped directly to our front door. It often seems as though Christmas is everyday and we are now on a first name basis with our UPS delivery person.
We can shop online from specialized websites or online auction sites, each feeding our need to search and shop for more deco! Now, the challenge before us is not in finding Art Deco, but how to find, scrutinize and purchase that specific item we are searching for, from the internet.
First you have to find the item. Utilizing search engines such as Google will help you focus your search for a specific item. Remember that the more specific you are in your search, the better your results will be. For example, if you are looking for an Art Deco Dining Table, you should type those words into the search engine. If you simply type in "Art Deco" or "Art Deco Furniture," you will end up sifting through many sites that are related to books or general sites on the subject. If you know more specifics on the table (or item) you are looking for, put those descriptions into the search engine as well. An example might be, "French Art Deco Macassar Ebony Dining Table." Although a seller may not word the description exactly the same way, if those words are anywhere on that page, in any order, you will still find the website. Targeting your search from the beginning will save you a lot of time.
Searching online auctions for Art Deco is an even bigger challenge. Auction Sites like eBay or Yahoo offer almost everyone an opportunity to sell their goods. If you type in "Art Deco" you will find thousands of items described as such. For the most part, the auction descriptions are not examined for accuracy. Often it seems that many items described as "Art Deco" are not deco at all. I have seem items from the Art Nouveau Era, Victorian Era, items made in the 50's through the 90's described as "Art Deco." It almost seems as if some sellers, when they do not know how to describe something, call it "Art Deco" for lack of a better description. Remember, many sellers are putting numerous auctions online each week, and they do not always research the items they are posting. Some sellers may also use the term thinking it will bring them more prospective buyers because they know it is a very popular search phrase.
Goldscheider Terracotta Busts, Austria, 1920's.
This situation is frustrating for many true deco buyers, as we waste our time looking at items that are not accurately described, that we have absolutely no interest in. Unfortunately for the sellers, many do not seem to realize that by not describing their items accurately, they are missing out on the most likely buyer for their objects.
You've found that special item and now you are thinking of making a purchase. Whether buying from a website, or online auction, keep a few things in mind. In many cases, buying from an online auction is similar to buying an item from a garage sale or flea market, in other words, you have to rely on your own judgment. Of course, this is an even bigger challenge, because you cannot see the item in person to examine it closely. Therefore you must rely on the photos supplied by the seller and the seller's description of the item. If you are considering buying from an auction or a website, don't be shy about asking a seller to supply additional photos of an item.
If the item is small and easy to move, ask them to photograph it in natural daylight, so you don't have a flash reflection in the photo. It is a good idea to request photos of all sides of an item, and close ups, if possible. Be sure to ask if there are any known repairs on the item. Keep in mind, unless the seller had the item repaired themselves, they may not be aware of an old repair, if it was done properly. Certain items are prone to different damage problems, so make yourself aware of these issues and be on the lookout. A good example would be the Terracotta Goldscheider busts, with the ringlet curls, which are prone to easy breakage. This is a good place to examine closely when buying this type of item.
REPRODUCTIONS AFT FAKES
Many auction site shoppers have developed their own methods of weeding out these types of items, to save time. Some buyers do searches, requesting to view items with the highest prices first, or only search items in their country or geographic area, for shipping reasons. Of course most do specific searches for certain deco items, just as when using a regular search engine as Google. A great feature that many auction sites have, is that you may register your favorite searches, in a list format, making your search much easier. You may also register to have an email sent to you, when new items are posted, for that particular search. Of course you must set up an account with that online auction, to take advantage of these time saving features. Setting up an account is fairly easy, and once you start using the site, you'll likely find your way around quickly.
Unfortunately, this is not a new problem for Art Deco or antique buyers. However, shopping on the web has probably increased the likelihood of coming across reproductions and fakes, which may not be accurately described as such. A specialized dealer will generally know these items, and will hopefully describe them properly. Buying from an auction site can put you at a greater risk for this as the seller may not know their item is a repro or a fake.
As always, it is best to familiarize yourself with items on the market that have been reproduced. Some items that have been reproduced are clearly marked as such. A good example of this is the line of Frankart, produced in the 1920's. Cast metal decorative objects such as lamps, bookends and ashtrays were made, many featuring a stylized art deco nymph. In the 1980's, a company called Sarsaparilla bought the original Frankart molds and began reproducing many of the Frankart designs, along with their own designs. They were usually cast with their own signature, however, some were made with the original Frankart signature, along with the Sarsaparilla signature stamped in another place, that may be more inconspicuous, such as under the felt protector on the bottom of the object. Interestingly, these designs have now become collectable as well, although they generally do not command the higher prices that the original Frankart pieces do.
Many items were made, not as reproductions, but made with the intent to fool the buyer, hence the term "fake." Keep in mind, the more an item gains in value, the greater the chance that fakes of that item or artist, will be offered on the market. There are many specialized books on the subject of fakes, with guidelines on what to look for in the way of signatures and the way a piece was made. Unfortunately, many books do not offer photos of every type of signature that may have been used by that artist or manufacturer. Because the signature on your item is not shown in that particular book, does not necessarily mean the item is a fake. You need to rely on other clues as well to help determine the authenticity of an item. The way an item is constructed or finished is another clue. Depending on the type of item, each will have its own set of clues to look for. Your best bet is to study books on that particular subject, or talk with other dealers who specialize in that area and can give you tips. The way you examine a piece of Spratling, Mexican Silver jewelry will be different than the way you examine a bronze sculpture or piece of art glass and so on.
Frankart bookends, circa 1929.
CLOSING THE DEAL
You've made the decision that the piece is all you had hoped for and now wish to purchase it. Of course this means you have to pay for the item now, and wait until it is shipped to you. Amazingly, this is where faith comes into play with the internet. Since this market is fairly new, many buyers are reluctant to send their hard earned cash (so to speak) to a complete stranger. Of course it is always nice to do business with someone you already feel comfortable with, but this is not always possible. Many online dealers will offer a reference of some sort, if needed. Online auctions offer a feedback system so that you can review comments, good and bad, about buyers and sellers. You must use your own judgment to do business with an online vendor. One thing is for sure, the more people become comfortable with the internet, the more purchases they seem to make off the internet. Comfort levels are increasing everyday with web sales, as consumers enjoy the convenience of online shopping. This is not some passing fad, the net is here to stay!