A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Lesson Learned is a Lesson Well Worth the Cost

There's nothing new about counterfeit antiques. I imagine they've been around as long as people have collected objects. When I wrote my book on Etruscan Majolica I addressed one of the most common Etruscan fakes available.
The Etruscan "Devil Mug" as it was called, was one of the most successful phonies on the marketplace. You couldn't do a search on Google for Etruscan Majolica without bringing up at least a couple of photos of it. They were glazed in a few different colors and they were routinely selling on Ebay for $50 plus.

Because there was no definitive catalog of Etruscan Majolica in the marketplace at the time, collectors new to the majolica were buying them up by the hundreds. And why not? It looked legitimate to those who knew nothing of the company's work. It had an Etruscan mark on the base. It looked, well... Etruscan!

I'm sure that's exactly what the maker had in mind as he copied the English Bacchus loving cup design on which it is based. 

Bacchus loving cup original on which the reproduction is based.

He placed an Etruscan seal on the base. Voila, an instant antique!

When these first appeared on the marketplace about five years ago they were fooling even longtime collectors who were paying in excess of $150 for them on Ebay. When an Etruscan collector contacted me and asked me about them I assured her that they couldn't possibly be real. Not only were they sloppy and poorly made but the glazes didn't even remotely match known Etruscan glaze formulas. The biggest give away though was the mark on the bottom. Whoever took the time to copy the Etruscan mark, didn't have much of an eye for detail. Compare the mark above with the genuine mark below.

There's something very different about these two marks. In the counterfeit, the letters in the words ETRUSCAN MAJOLICA are raised from the background. In the genuine mark the letters are recessed. Of the thousands of examples of Etruscan Majolica I have seen in my lifetime I have never seen one with raised letters.

I'm happy to say that since my book was released these counterfeits have practically disappeared from the market. It may be too late for some newbies who were caught with the fakes but it is a lesson well worth the cost. 


  1. Even though it's a fake, I kind of like it... it's a cute little mug!!

  2. Thanks for the information! I'm not a Majolica collector, but I recently bought a box full of it at an auction. Thankfully, I paid very little for the entire box! Now that I know what to look for I will be more discriminating!