A few basic tips.
Exceptions occur to every rule, but the pointers below may help in spotting lower-grade forgeries. I have focussed on things which most people can try, rather than scientific methods or complex variables and comparables. This only a brief introduction to the many ways of avoiding fakes.
1. To look for concealed damage, spray the object with a fine mist of clean water, restoration and repair will often show up in different tones from the original surfaces as these later additions are either impermeable or absorb water at different rates to the ancient material.
2. If you dampen an unglazed area of an ancient pot it should give off a lovely rich soil smell, like a summer rainstorm in a musty garden, this applies particularly to Iron Age, Bronze Age and older pottery.
3. Ancient pottery was usually fired at a lower temperature to modern pottery, therefore it may impart a duller noise if "pinged".
4. Fake encrustation is often the same colour, density and texture overall as it is applied rapidly with chemicals. Many fake Greek and South Italian pots are covered in an insipid thin white layer of calcification. If the encrustation looks the same on a number of different pots for sale at the same time, be very cautious.
5. Greek pottery is commonly faked, avoid pieces with well known mythological depictions. Avoid pieces where the style of painting seems a little bit odd: the modern painters copy but cannot replicate the thought-process of the ancient painter. Avoid odd shapes or shapes with unusual variations of handle shape etc, for the same reason.
6. Greek glazed pottery usually has a very flat surface, if the black areas stand unusually proud of the red areas on Athenian pottery, it could be a warning signal.
7. Be cautious of pieces which appear to be completely intact.
8. Avoid dusty even encrustation or soft crumbly encrustation as these are often fake, especially on "Syro-Hittite" figures.
9. Re-painting often occurs, both in restoration or entirely reproducing a scene on an otherwise ancient pot to add value: acetone (nail polish remover) very carefully dabbed on a very small area will erode modern re-painting as it dissolves most varnishes and paints and glues. This will not damage an un-touched item, but it may well damage something which has been tampered, so think carefully before doing this! It will not identify modern forged pots.
1. Surface iridescence usually forms in layers, forming skins like an onion, therefore if you try to dislodge it, it should flake rather than crumble (there are exceptions).
2. The colours in the iridescence should flow like colours in a petrol spill in a puddle, if they don't, investigate why, and it may lead you to some restoration which has been covered up, or worse still, lead you to a modern glass which has been covered with bits of genuine ancient iridescence.
3. Glass is often cleverly repaired or restored: being very careful, run a very hot pin embedded in a heat-proof handle (like a cork) over areas which look suspicious, the glass will not melt but glue and resin will give off fumes and even smoke. This may damage an item if not done carefully.
4. Though iridescence can occur on the inside only, look for signs of erosion on the outside surface too, look for pitting containing small traces of iridescence.
5. With the right chemical reactions iridescence can form in less than 100 years in natural soil conditions, so it is not a guarantee of authenticity. Nor is a piece devoid of iridescence necessarily therefore fake.
6. Multicoloured glass (heavily faked) will erode at different rates: different colours contain different chemicals which will react at different speeds with chemicals in the soil over 2000 years, if the erosion is even, it may be fake.
7. Avoid "mosaic" glass, and beads with intricate figurative decoration as nearly all which are offered at bargain prices are fake.
1. Avoid anything which does not absorb a drop of water when left on the surface, ancient faience is nearly always porous.
2. If the surface is very hard (vitrified), it is often an indication of a tourist-grade fake, but it may also be fine: look out for signs of age in the glassy surface: crazing or iridescence or surface wear.
Shabtis, scarabs and amulets ... this area is heavily faked and a real minefield, tread carefully though bargains can still be found if you are lucky!
1. Look out for surface patination incorporating different colours, this is a good sign.
2. Avoid powdery surface encrustation.
3. If the raw metal is exposed anywhere, does it show signs of wear and age?
4. Avoid pieces with clear casting lines or retaining any evidence of the casting process.
5. Look out for small crystalline structures in cracks, these are usually a good sign of age albeit also an indicator of possibly "rotten" metal.
6. Avoid pieces which appear to have active surface encrustation: it may mean that they are genuine and someone has cleaned it in acid or it may mean that it is freshly excavated or it may mean that the surface is fake/recently applied: all bad.
7. Avoid pieces which have been excessively cleaned, they could be fake but if genuine they are often considered less desirable than pieces with a good patina.
1. Avoid pieces with no patina.
2. Avoid pieces with sharp edges to the decoration.
3. Avoid pieces which seem very crude, for example the eyes are at uneven heights or out of proportion to each other.
4. Look out for re-cutting on ancient stone, a sadly common practice for several centuries.
5. If its a fragment, is the decoration central to the piece, and if so, what is the likelihood of the break occurring so conveniently?
1. Avoid dealers claiming to be selling antiquities for export from (for example) Egypt, Greece, Turkey or Italy: they are probably selling fakes as these countries do not permit the export of ancient objects except under very specific circumstances and under government authority.
2. On ebay avoid anyone with private auctions. There is no explanation for this except to conceal shill-bidding or the identities of buyers because they don't want them to be informed that they are bidding on fakes.
3. On ebay feedback is a reasonable indicator, but if people are bidding on fakes, they will also leave positive feedback when they receive them if they know no better ... worth thinking about.... ask others about the dealer's reputation and ignore the hype which they write on the item description: no-one checks or verifies it before its broadcast to millions of people, it means nothing.
4. Be wary of phrases like "valued at USD10,000 but offered at only USD100", this is nonsense ..... stop, have a cup of tea and engage the brain before bidding!
5. Myriads of dealers and collectors view ebay for bargains, did they all miss that relief portrait of Tutankhamen or the huge Greek pot for 1000 dollars, or is it possible that its just another fake?
Above all, the identification of fakes is based on comparison: the experienced collector or dealer will learn to understand why something looks or feels "wrong" but there is always room to learn something new, so never stop researching!
We hope you have found these tips helpful, and I will try to add many others which I have forgotten to mention (or learnt since) when I have time but please do not email us for authentication or valuation as we cannot conclusively determine age or condition based only on photographs. If you would like to learn more, please join our mailing list which is sent out 3 or 4 times per month and contains well-researched authentic antiquities with multiple views for you to look at and study, we welcome new clients at any level and never pressure people to buy.
Antiquites collecting is a great hobby and never becomes boring, armed with knowledge and common sense it can also be rewarding in many other ways, so I hope this has not put you off, but has encouraged you to learn more about this varied and enormous subject....