Ceramics world hit by Wedgwood fraud: Experts fooled by 'flood' of high-quality forgeries

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The Independent Online
Wedgwood fakes are circulating the market in what may be the most serious ceramics fraud of the century.

The fakes, all masquerading as 18th-century pieces, were made between the 1950s and 1970s by a single forger, who died in 1976. His name is known to the Wedgwood Museum in Stoke-on-Trent, but is being withheld for the sake of his elderly widow.

Suspicions were raised last year, when identical pieces with an identical flaw came up in New York and London.

According to a report in the Art Newspaper, the quality of these Wedgwood copies is so good that even experts have been fooled. It quotes Tisch Roberts, Sotheby's senior vice-president, describing it as 'the worst ceramics fraud' this century, and that 'there are bound to be some in public collections'.

Peter Williams, a dealer and consultant to Sotheby's New York, said 'the market has been flooded, but carefully flooded'. He explained that no single item was produced in bulk, which shows clever marketing by a skilled forger. Most of the pieces will have gravitated towards the United States, where there is a particularly strong market for Wedgwood.

The forger was once employed by the Wedgwood factories. It seems that his foray into fakes was not the result of a grudge; he simply realised the fortune to be made. He set up a pottery factory and, as well as his own line of designs, made 'Wedgwood' - the earliest and, therefore, the more valuable pieces (priced up to pounds 10,000).

He made Jasper and Black Basalt Wedgwood decorative pieces that included plaques, classical figures and ewers.

Mr Williams said that forging them would not have been difficult. Wedgwood's potting techniques and the make-up of the materials are well-known to potters, having been published. As copies would have been made from a mould taken from an original, the forger would have only needed access to the original 18th-century ware: he could have used damaged Wedgwood, which could be bought cheaply at that time.

Gaye Blake Roberts, curator of the Wedgwood Museum, said that when the fakes were placed next to the originals, the differences became evident. Often, there were at least 10 major clues, she said.

Some 20 fakes will be on display from Friday to Monday at the International Ceramics Fair in the Park Lane Hotel, London, W1. Each will be placed next to the authentic piece, borrowed from the Wedgwood Museum collection. Visitors can play a spot-the-difference game in training their eye.

For example, in a plaque of 'The Apotheosis of Homer', there are differing details in the figures and in the angles of features. The wing of the angel is almost touching the head of one figure in the 20th-century reproduction, whereas it is hovering well-above him in the original of 1778-80: the moulding may have been lifted from a vase, and then opened out. That would explain why the perspective is strange.

Different coloured backgrounds offer no clue to authenticity as Wedgwood worked in a variety of tones.

Mr Williams advises collectors to obtain a copy of a Wedgwood catalogue which will be published shortly, and compare their piece with the real thing.

However, he warned collectors not to panic as the forgeries affected a limited group of objects, rather than the broad spectrum.

(Photograph omitted)