How to Spot Fraud

In the antiques world, it’s easy to be conned into paying a large amount for an item of lesser value. Antique collector Bob Erspamer shares a few tips on how to spot fraud to avoid walking away in regret.


Antique Chair

With these tips, you’ll become an expert antique collector in no time!


When shopping for antique furniture, knowledge is the best defense against fraud. The following guidelines will get you started on the right track:

Research. Study the pieces you seek in books and museums to know what they really look like and understand their value beforehand, suggests Bob Erspamer, a Duluth, Minnesota, collector. “Items that have been around for 100 to 250 years have normal wear on them,” he says. Anything that looks suspiciously new may have been altered.
Know your tools. Similarly, study the types of screws, nails or glue blocks used. Old screws and nails have been handmade out of brass or steel and are irregular in size and shape. Check for oxidization patterns around glue blocks on tables and other furniture. Be sure original glue blocks have not been replaced with modern steel brackets that have been screwed in.
Look for signs of newness. Look for repairs that have been made, especially to chair legs and seat backs. Anything that doesn’t have its original finish or hardware will probably have a lower value, Erspamer says.
Reupholstered furniture is acceptable. Original upholstery on a piece is a plus and will probably increase the value. It is acceptable to reupholster furniture, but it should be done with reproduction fabrics of the same material as the original, and remnants of the original upholstery should be saved underneath the new cover.
Search for holes. Look at the line of tacks where the fabric is affixed to the frame. By carefully pulling the fabric back a little, you can check to see if there are any other tack holes, which would indicate that the piece has probably been reupholstered.
Look for labels. Look for hidden marks and tags on the bottom of furniture. Simply finding a chair or sofa with the original label of John Henry Belter on it, for example, may raise the value by $10,000 or more.
Don’t overthink it. Finally, if you see an antique and you don’t have specific knowledge about it but you like it and it’s within your means, go ahead and buy it, advises Erspamer. “You may never find another one like it again.”

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By Carrie Loranger Gasker

Photography by Jaimee Itagaki

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