DURING her 40-year stint on the Antiques Roadshow, Hilary Kay has seen all manner of fakes and forgeries, including “microwave safe” stamped on the bottom of a supposedly ancient dish.
The legendary appraiser is in Perth this Saturday (February 9) to share some tales from her time on the road, including those difficult conversations with punters who’ve been “sold a pup”.
Ms Kay says people are fascinated by fakes, because they bring to light very human issues: “It’s about greed, about taking down the experts, it’s about opportunism. But also, one has to say it’s about genius.”
She says some forgers have come up with inspired ways to make their items look genuine.
One of the early forgers, Carl Wilhelm Becker, pioneered fakery in the early 1800s during a coin-collecting frenzy driven by the release of a collector’s price guide.
Ironically, Becker was drawn to forgery after being duped.
“He was sold a pup by a fellow collector, and this seriously irritated him…he was driven by such a rage.”
He started producing Roman coins intended to be about 2000 years old: “and of course they looked brand new,” Ms Kay says. So Becker would put the coins in a box of iron filings and attach the box to the axle of his wagon, and season them with several months’ travel until they appeared suitably battered.
“Coin collectors have a grudging respect for Carl Wilhelm Becker,” Ms Kay says.
The UK National Gallery defines a fake as an object that’s been tampered by adding a signature or a false provenance, while a forgery like Becker’s “Roman” coin is an object created to imitate a genuine piece.
Ms Kay has seen some terrible fakes in her time on the Antiques Roadshow, and when someone finds out their treasured item isn’t real, the reactions vary.
“The emotion depends on why they’ve bought it and how much they’ve paid for it,” she says.
“If it’s a 500-pound investment and they’re told it’s worth 10 pounds, the reaction is different…some people are very disappointed and want to find out how they can take the seller to court or get their money back,” but the sellers have proved good at being untraceable.
She says these conversations are “not easy…my colleague Paul Atterbury says it very well: ‘We’re something between a priest and a doctor. We have to be able to deliver bad news in a palatable way.’
“It is always hard, because as a human being it’s much easier to deliver happy news, because we want to make people happy. To deliver bad news, you have to take a good deal of time to judge it, and you have to manage people’s expectations…it is difficult to do well.”
She says the fascination people have with these conversations is one of the reasons the Antiques Roadshow has enjoyed such longevity.
Ms Kay is in town as part of the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Societies’ 2019 Perth lecture series.
She has two talks on February 9 at North Metro Tafe: At 1pm she’ll speak about fakes and forgeries, then at 3pm it’s tales from behind the scenes on the Antiques Roadshow.
The lecture series continues February 16 with British historian Guy de la Bédoyère telling the story of a Roman cameo that survived being aboard the Batavia when it was shipwrecked in 1629.
Later lectures include the story of the Bayeux Tapestry, the tale of Constantinople/Istanbul, and the secret desert city of Petra.
The lectures are $25 each or $10 if you’re under 30, via trybooking.com
But if you’re not an online-type there’s some available at the door, or there’s an annual membership to the ADFSA to see them all, enquire at email@example.com
by DAVID BELL