There are lots of diverse experts on the Dumpdiggers.com discussion forum. The site is a great place to fraternize with relic hunters, privydiggers and antiques collectors of all descriptions. Everyone has something to share, and diggers are now beginning to meet and frequent the boards in search of rare and valuable information.
It was obvious to me that Greg Dean was different right from the moment he arrived. He's an Aussie. And a bottle digger and historian. But most remarkably, he's a man with a message – beware fake transfer ware pot lids on eBay!
It was late November 2008 when Mr Dean first introduced himself as ‘Card Shark’ in the Dumpdiggers Discussion Forum and soon launched discussions about this ongoing fraud. But Greg Dean could talk about anything - his website is chock full of awesome digging pictures, (he has great photos showing thousands of recovered old bottles and pottery pieces beside deep holes in England). But the new member immediately posted links to his pot lids on display in a show somewhere and then proceeded to warn us all about a crises in the world of pot lids. Yes that’s right, pot lids. Crises.
What the heck are pot lids?
In the 1840s, as the steam engine transformed England, the kingdom's foremost chemists, druggists, and toiletry suppliers paid commercial artists to create pictorial labels which could be applied to ceramic containers using new ‘transfer printing’ techniques.
Greg Dean collects pot lids, among other things and some of the prettiest pot lids you ever did see are on display on his website, Dean Antiques.com
On the federation of historical bottle collectors website, there’s a very informative Adobe pdf article outlining the specifics of collecting pot lids. Collecting Pot Lids by Bruce Pynn and Swanson Jr begins by describing the ‘transfer-print’ procedure that makes 'transfer ware'.
The Transfer Print Process
To properly understand Greg Dean’s message, it’s important to understand how this early printing was actually accomplished. The simple process was as follows:
1. Ink is distributed on tissue paper from an engraved copper plate.
2. The art is baked onto the pottery or porcelain surface during the ‘bisque stage’
3. The paper is rubbed and some pressure is applied to assist in the transfer
4. The object is floated in water or washed until all the paper is removed.
What was inside the decorated pottery?
Toothpaste or tooth powder tins were almost always decorated, but also pomade, shaving cream, cold creams, various ointments (bear’s grease), mustache wax, shoe polish, and medicinal salves.
What are fake pot lids?
Some pot lids are very rare, and they are valuable because they are so beautiful and so hard to find. Reproductions MUST be clearly labeled as such and identified here. Greg Dean of Dean Antiques has written articles and posted pictures to help identify fakes, and document the relatively recent phenomenon of reproduction Pot Lids appearing on eBay. Here is a repo beside a genuine pot lid. Can you tell which is which?
Greg Dean writes about how to determine a pot lid label's authenticity on his website, Dean Antiques. From what I can gather it has to do with colour and the particular shade of light that’s reflected by genuine pieces under ultraviolet lamps. Buyers should also scrutinize the density of the lacquer or surface glaze, and the presence and quality of the crazing.
What is Crazing?
‘Crazing’ is the patchwork of fine cracks inside or under the surface of a glaze.
Technology Makes Reproduction Easier and More Effective:
Greg Dean laments that new photocopier technology is what makes it possible for unscrupulous artisans to mimic transfer printing so successfully – especially when these artists skillfully transpose images to a thin transparent film, and then apply this to a blank lid from the same time period.
Greg writes, “Using a blank or acid cleaned original as a base, the image can be easily resized and attached to fit almost anything.” But armed with proper knowledge it is possible to spot these reproductions.
Here are three Rob Smith Bears Grease lids:
The first of these three Rob Smith Bears Grease lids is real. It's extremely rare and has a well known pedigree in the X-Ball Collection.
The next two however are fakes. This art is just a modern photocopy of the original paper label, and from their grainy appearance Greg believes this eBay seller simply copied a reference publication. He writes, “This particular pot lid has been well documented over the years.
The copied label is adhered to a genuine more common antique lid, possibly once a paper label, sometimes even an acid etched lesser valued regional lid of approximate size, then sealed with some form of epoxy or similar. Although the transfer is generally less than sharp, unless you have owned or handled an original, on the spot identification can be deceptive.
Over time the fakery becomes more obvious as all repairs fade. It is not uncommon for repairers to coat their modified lids with urethane, or similar glazes to protect the porous "very workable" repairing compounds used from being discovered. Any discoloration should be carefully examined.