For those with short attention spans who can't be bothered to read all the following, it boils down to: If someone is telling you an antique piece of jewellery is made by a particular, collectable maker and it doesn't have full hallmarks, then you are potentially buying a reproduction at your own risk.
Generally, the items that most sellers are passing off as original seem to be necklaces with the occasional brooch or earrings. They are generally beautifully enamelled and always described as the enamel being in perfect condition despite such heavy 'wear' to the makers marks and hallmarks that they are obliterated. They always seem to have their drops intact despite this heavy wear and often, although the drops may match perfectly in colour, they actually come from a different maker. I have seen some Fenton designed drops on Horner pieces and vice versa. Finally, if the slight hint of a makers mark is unavailable, then they are often laid on a book illustrating the design to add authenticity. Of course, all this does is add authenticity to who designed it originally and not to the actual piece.
A lot of the reproductions are indistinuisable from the originals and often the enamelling is in fact better. This is why sellers think they can get away with it. The reverse of a piece may give some indication as to originality. Reproductions are cast which necessitates more grinding, cleaning and polishing, whilst often the originals, if mass produced which most of these are, was stamped out which gives a cleaner finish at the back. With some of the really mass produced stuff that is only ever stamped sterling, it is really hard to tell the difference, but you do get a feel for it after a time.
There have recently been a glut of cheap asian imports of reproduction jewellery. These items originally had square plaques to the back with "R&SD STERLING" as part of the casting. Since buyers became aware of the nature of these items, I have noticed that a number of sellers have been removing the identifying marks from the backs and continue to sell them as antique, despite the fact that these items are not even enamelled. The 'enamel' is in fact plastic resin. Always look at photos of the back. Antique items, even the cheaper ones which aren't hallmarked, usually have either smooth plain backs if they are cast, or an impression over the whole of the back if they are stamped. There are a couple of examples of pendants which were originally stamped, reproduced by R&SD (who incidentally NEVER sold their products as antique) and then had the marks removed and sold as antique.
First of all a note about what hallmarks are and are not. Hallmarks are a very specific set of marks to be found on items made from precious metals. The oldest consumer guarantee in the world, on British antique pieces they consist of the following: Makers Mark, e.g. CH JF L&Co; Assay mark which varies depending on where the the item was assayed as gold, silver or platinum; Fineness mark, for Sterling silver this is the Lion Mark and finally the date stamp. The words "silver", "sterling silver" or "925" are NOT hallmarks. Antique British hallmarks will always have the four elements described previously.
Most but not all silver jewellery from this period is hallmarked. If the hallmark is on a raised edge then it may have got worn somewhat, but it should still look crisp in parts. If enlargements of the hallmarks look grainy within the hallmark, it is possibly a casting of the original piece. This is unusual though, because casting hallmarks is a very serious offence and most reputable casters won't do it. It is not an offence to cast makers marks though. If you see a purported Charles Horner piece with the plain (as opposed to intertwined CH trademark) CH makers mark but no hallmark then it's most likely a copy. The only exceptions to this are the fine, bent wire brooches and hatpins which were sometimes just stamped with the CH before being made up as hallmarking would have deformed the shape.
The same goes for James Fenton, Murrle Bennett, and a number of Norwegian makers. All the major manufacturers from Adie & Lovekin to Liberty had makers marks or trademarks at the very least, if not proper hallmarks. Sellers saying that the design is 'attributed' to... is not the same as 'made by...'
How they fool you into believing it's the real deal
Some sellers knowing they have a reproduction piece, will claim that the hallmarks and maker's marks have been 'rubbed' away, though the enamel is still, miraculously, in perfect condition! They are right. The hallmarks and makers marks were rubbed away, but from the mold of the original piece prior to casting. I'm going to add pictures of the backs of repro jewellery as I get them, but I'll start with this one below which is an obvious copy ... no way can makers marks or hallmarks get rubbed from a hollow! The seller knew it was a reproduction, but sadly the buyer paid in excess of £200 for something that normally sells for £40ish.
This is the back of another Horner designed repro.....
and this is the back of a Horner designed bat pendant. These are pretty rare as originals, but I've seen a good number of repros on ebay recently.
Unscrupulous sellers will often use names such as James Fenton, Murrle Bennett in the titles of auctions in order to attract buyers and fraudulently list under "Vintage and Antique Jewellery" or the international equivalent. There is usually a lot of waffle about how ... "anyone who is familiar with the jewellery of Charles Horner or those who have the reference book of Charles Horner jewelelry by Lawson will recognise this pendant instantly without any doubt what so ever as an unmistakable Charles Horner design" or
"unmistakably a recognised Horner/Fenton/whatever design" or "the same design was recently sold on ebay and attributed to.... whoever".
I have a list of the worst offenders for this, but suspect that ebay would prohibit any 'naming and shaming' because they make an awful lot of money themselves in fees from these practices.
I was previously contacted by another ebay seller asking me to correct my guide. The above comments are in relation to the Assay hall stamped CH maker's marks, not the intertwined CH marks which are cast into the silver. ALL stamped maker's marks should be accompanied by full hallmarks. There are some of the hand made wire brooches that have the CH stamp but not the hallmark, rather a 'sterling silver' stamp. My guess this is because the delicate nature of the piece would mean it is damaged by hallmarking, but this way it can be stamped with the CH before it is properly made up. I've never seen any of these pieces copied and the same goes for the later, post-war Horner pieces.
Horner mostly used Chester to assay their jewellery. Work was also assayed in Sheffield and Birmingham, but as the curator at Bankfield has pointed out, there are at least 14 other manufacturers with 'CH' registered as maker's marks with the Birmingham assay office.
Therefore the only way to ascertain if a CH piece assayed in Sheffield or Birmingham is a genuine Charles Horner piece is to check in Lawson's book. Additionally there are of course contemporaneous copies of designs Horner used, but again these are often stamped and hallmarked. The scarab design has been made by at least three other makers, all from the turn of the 20th century (This also holds true of designs by James Fenton).
As a collector and having spoken to other collectors, I have never come across any quality Horner pieces from Birmingham or Sheffield, though the Lawson book does illustrate that they exist. The seller also suggested that you can tell reproductions just by looking at them.
1) on ebay, you cannot handle the product, only go by photographs.
2) items which have been professionally cast are almost impossible to tell from the original. Even if you have a repro and an original in each hand, it's not easy. Castings are always very slightly smaller, but it is really a tiny difference to judge by eye. You have to go by the hallmarks.
3) there are some truly brilliant enamellers out there creating reproduction pieces. These people are not in the same category as some sellers who are offering cheaply cast cold (ie plastic) 'enamelled' pieces.
I know all this because as well as owning original Horner pieces, I also have a good few quality reproductions (well, the thought of losing a £300 necklace if I wear it out is just too much. I only wear the real thing on special occasions and if I don't have a copy).
Hope that clears things up. Like I say, this guide is designed to prevent people being duped by unscrupulous sellers into paying high prices for reproductions, and is not intended to be an authoritative piece on Horner or anyone else. There are also many honest sellers who believe that what they are selling is original and not a repro. Generally if alerted to it being a repro, they modify their listings. Thanks to guides on ebay, awareness of the repro market has much improved on ebay over the last few years, to the point that some of the worst offenders are using new user names to cover their tracks. If in doubt, look at some of the stuff that is sold under "reproduction" on ebay and see if any of it looks a bit like the 'Horner' or other Edwardian/art nouveau piece you are looking at.