Bronze soldier

Collecting authentic, high-value items can be a tricky endeavor. Anything that is valuable and highly collectable has also been faked or forged to scam unknowing buyers out of their hard-earned money.

In fact, there are very profitable industries built on just making fraudulent items that look and feel authentic. The trick to not getting taken for a ride is to do your homework and always be wary when you find someone offering a deal that’s too good to be true.  

The con typically begins by plying the unknowing buyer with charm, misleading information and false hype that the piece he is holding is available for only a short time at a bargain price. The sale is completed by the seller playing on the ignorance, gullibility and misplaced trust of the buyer. 

After the swindle is ultimately discovered by the buyer, anger erupts. But as much as you are the victim of a conman, a large amount of blame also rests on your shoulders. Your lack of research into the qualities and characteristics that identify the item as genuine make you responsible as well. 

I have a friend, Burt, who is fascinated with Roman history. He was recently at an antique store and found a small, bronze Roman soldier figure with a perfect patina. The dealer assured Burt it was special.

On the base of the Roman figure there was a depressed rectangle with raised letters in two lines, reading “TIFFANY STUDIOS” on the top line and “NEW YORK” on the bottom line. Burt knew “Tiffany and Associates” and knew “Tiffany” made bronze figures in the past and that the figure could be a valuable collectable.

He had seen similar items sold at auctions for up to $1,500. With the origin of the item supposedly proven, the seller turned on the charm and set the trap with an unbelievable special price of a mere $125. Without much more thought, Burt took the deal and was overjoyed with his extraordinary find and purchase. 

But the feeling wouldn’t last, of course. 

There are certain indicators that will tell you if an item is authentic or a reproduction, especially in this case of well-known makers. “Tiffany” forgeries or reproductions are universally manufactured to deceive others for profit. 

In this case, authentic, original Tiffany bronze figures made between 1900-1919 are marked “TIFFANY STUDIOS NEW YORK” in two lines, “TIFFANY STUDIOS” on the top line and “NEW YORK” on the bottom line. The words are die stamped or impressed below the surface with no perimeter border. Also, all authentic Tiffany metal work will have a three- or four-digit model number as the third line, also die stamped or impressed below the surface.

Burt’s purchase failed the last test: his mark did not have the model imprint, and he ultimately learned it was made in Taiwan. 

In addition to always doing your homework, the moral here is to be wary of anyone who offers a deal that is too good to be true. Because it almost always is exactly that. 

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