Antique Powderhorn

When you go to buy something at Walmart, you know what you are buying, don’t you? The cashier doesn’t give you tips on how to determine what you are buying. That information is provided on the packaging. The cashier does not suggest special tests for you to perform in order to learn if you have just bought the real thing or if it’s authentic, does he/she?

This common practice of suggesting ‘tests’ that takes place often in antique shops should not be the way we buy objects or determine if they are authentic. You should know what you are buying. The seller should know what he is selling. If he doesn’t know, then he hasn’t done his job.

Here are three of the most common yet ridiculous tests that people have told me they tried in order to identify an antique. Don’t ever do these.

1. Take a Match to It


People have used this ‘test’ to determine if their piece like ivory poker chips are made of ivory or not. First, once you take a match to those poker chips or ivory bracelet, what does that tell you? It tells you that ivory will burn. Great, you just damaged and devalued your antique losing money and maybe your home. French ivory is very flammable, dangerous and its fire spreads quickly. Watch this video where I explain how to tell ivory from bone just by looking at it. Matches not required.

2. Pour Acid on It

This is a favorite of mine since very few know what the results mean, but they still attempt it. You might not attempt it on a ceramic Lladro figurine, but some will try it on a cast bronze sculpture in an attempt to determine its authenticity. People bring me their antiques to identify and I’ll find a piece of damage on the item during my review. The item’s owner will proudly tell me that is where they did the ‘acid test’. Of course, they don’t know what that was supposed to prove, but now their piece has lost value since it’s damaged. There is no need to be playing with acid since a reputable, educated appraiser like myself can help you identify your piece without the dangers of using acid.

3. Scratch the Surface of It

People have ruined many cast sculptures like those by artist Antoine Louise Baryne by scratching them to the point where the patina was damaged beyond repair. Watch video where I explain how most people mis-use the term patina. It’s an easy way to tell if you are dealing with an expert once you know the correct meaning of patina. Revealing the base metal on a sculpture and scratching away the patina or scratches overall will damage the look and the value of a cast metal sculpture. You scratch, you lose money. Part of my Ph.D. program at Penn State University was studying metal sculpture. None of it included ‘scratching tests’.

Let’s be logical about these silly tests. They are not needed and will cost you money in damaged pieces. Bring your antique or send photos to me for an honest, accurate appraisal–no fires, no scratching, no nonsense. Am I missing a test that somebody told you to do? Share it with me on my social media channels.