Month: October 2013

A few tips for identifying real versus fake vintage fur

Fur: Real versus Fake fur

Fake fur is a relatively modern invention. Thus, fake fur will help identify fake fur will help identify an ‘antique’ item as a fake antique, retro, reproduction or altered in modern times.

Fake fur was introduced in 1929 and has been commercially available since the 1950s. Due to animal right sentiments it has become increasingly popular and well made. Modern fake fur can be deceptive.

The following are some tips for identifying fur versus fake fur:

** Check the backing – The best way to determine whether a fur is real or faux is to examine the material the fur is attached to. Genuine fur will be on leather. It will resemble suede and there are often strips of leather sewn. You may also may be able to see the backing if you part the fur and separate the hairs.

The material on faux fur, on the other had, is clearly not leather. It is ribbed fabric a bit like a knitted sweater.

** Price- Real fur tends to be much more expensive than fake.

** Feel of the fur— Real fur is soft and smooth,. on the other hand, feels coarse and synthetic.

** Burn test. Pull out a few strands of hair. Hold the hair to a match over a plate or fire-proof surface. Fur will singe and have a burnt hair smell. Faux fur will smell like melted plastic and curl in to plastic balls.

** Pin test. Poke a pin through the fur and backing. If it’s hard or impossible to push through, this is consistent with with real fur. If it goes through easily, this suggests it’s fake fur.

Identifying wood in antiques Part I: an introduction for beginning collectors


Even experienced wood experts say that identifying the type of wood is difficult and involves guessing. There are a number of reasons for this difficulty. One is trees are generally categorized by external qualities such as shape, flowers and leaves, rather by the inner wood. This means different woods can be similar in grain and color and overlap with other woods. Further, there can be wide variations within a species of wood, including depending on age and where the tree came from. When wood is cut, varnished, shaped and/or painted, it can be difficult to impossible to identify. There is also ‘unwhole’ wood, meaning wood pieces that are made up of different kinds of wood and even non-wood wood. This includes veneered wood and particle board, laminated, painted and printed wood, and plastic and other material made to look like wood.

When looking at wood, the first question in wood identification: Is it wood?

It may seem that the answer to this question will more often than not be obvious, and it usually is. The look, feel and. of course, smell often gives away real wood. However, if the item is small, say a button, carved/polished/sanded or part of an intricrate and ornate design involving other material in may not be so easy.

As mentioned, a common test is the smell. Wood smells like, well, wood. However, the smell can be masked if varnished or painted.

Another test done often done on small items is the hot needle test, which will easily tell the diference between wood and say plastics. Plastic is sometimes molded to resemble wood, especially for things like buttons. Press a hot needle into the piece. If it’s wood, it will smell like burned wood. Plastic will not. This test is destructive, so you should be prudent and careful in its use.

For many collectors of buttons or toys, identifying that the item is wood is enough. An antique button collector may just want to know that it wood versus plastic or glass, and may have no great desire to know if its cedar, oak or ask. Obviously for funature collectors, the type of wood can be more important and influence the value. The latter type of identification is beyond the scope of this small intro article.

Is is a solid piece of wood?

Many wood pieces are not a solid, single piece of wood, but pieces of wood or wood with other wood and non-wood. This includes verneer, laminated wood, painted and printed wood, plywood and particle board.

A good test to see whether or not a piece is whole wood is to check the edge of the wood to see if the grain wraps and matches the front as natural wood. Also check the front and the back of the wood to see if the grain pattern matches.

Playood, verneer wood and particle board are obvious if you can example all sides of the wood.

Playwood: made of of multiple pieces of wood glued together.

Plywood: made of of multiple pieces of wood glued together.

Particle board, invented in 1950, made up of bits of wood mashed together. In person, it is clearly not a whole, single piece of wood.

particle board detail, showing the mashed up pieces of wood.

particle board detail, showing the mashed up pieces of wood.

Verneered wood. Veneer is a thin surface layer of higher quality wood glued to the surface of inferior wood. The edge of the wood will shows the different wood. If you see a large panel that has a repeating grain pattern, it may be a veneer.

Veneer is sometime uses surface plastic made to resemble wood. This may clearly look like plastic. The hot pin test test will give off the smell of wood.

Veneer is usually easy to identify if you can inspect all sides of the object.  

Veneer wood surface showing the different type s of wood used

Veneer wood surface showing the different type s of wood used


Painted or printed wood. Many times a modern piece of particleboard laminated with a piece of wood-colored plastic, or painted to look like wood grain. Many of today’s interior hardwood flooring planks are good examples of this.

The two major types of whole, natural wood: hardwood and softwood

There are two main categories of wood: hardwood and softwood. As the the name suggests, hardwood is more durable than softwood and includes such woods as mahogany, walnut, rosewood, maple and elm. Softwood is more susceptible to scratches and gouges and includes such woods as pine, spruce, cedar and fir. Identifying hardwood lumber from softwood lumber is an easy task, given that the inside of the wood is already exposed and easy to examine. Identification requires no special tools and is quick to perform.

Pieces of Veer wood, showing how the surfaces and edges are of different wood.

Pieces of Veer wood, showing how the surfaces and edges are of different wood.

Press a fingernail firmly into the lumber and then remove it. If an indention is left behind, the wood is a softwood. If no indention is left, it is hardwood.

Examine the color of the wood . Most hardwood, such as mahogany, is dark in color, while lighter wood, such as pine, is a light colour. Scratch the surface of the lumber with your finger to make sure it does not contain a stain to make it look like a darker hardwood.

Examine the surface with a magnifying glass and look for tiny pores that resemble holes or dots. All hardwood lumber has tiny pores in the wood, while softwood does not. A magnifying glass is necessary because not all tree pores are visible with the naked eye.

Common softwoods include cedar, fir, ponderosa, pine, spruce and woodwood

Common hardwoods include ash, basswood, birch, cherry, maple, black walnut and oak.

Identifying Non-Precious Metals : a quick look


Purchase a copy of Identifying Common Materials in Antiques

Identifying Non-Precious Metals

bright shiny chromium

bright shiny chromium

Metals are identified by examining numerals qualities, including appearance (color, shine, signs of aging), weight, magnification (drawn to magnet or not), use (your bicycle spokes won’t be made out of sterling silver) and hardness. Metal is often easy to identify. It can be more difficult with the metal is a small piece, such as when an embedded part of a larger ornate object.

What can further make make things harder is there are alloys, meaning mixtures of different and varying percentage of metals. Steel, for example, comes in varying percentages of different metals giving it different tone, hardness and magneticism. Gold is almost 100% gold . . . Someone might call something a ‘copper alloy’ meaning the metal is copper metal a smaller percentage of something else. Common alloys names include bronze, steel and brass.

For the purposes of collectors, it’s rarely important to determine the exact percentages of non-precious metal but determine a general label. Calling something an aluminum alloy or an iron alloy is usually good enough. Collectors often just want a good label. Now, if it’s silver or gold, then details are more important. Precious metals (silver, gold and platinum) are covered in an other.


Some metals are attracted to a magnet and some are not. The magnet is a good aid, though not a definitive test, in identifying metals. Metals are usually magnetic because they contain iron, though nickel is magnetic despite having no iron.

Magnetic metals include iron, nickel, cobalt and most of their alloys. Some forms of steel are magnetic, while others are not.

Non magnetic metals include aluminium, copper, lead, tin, titanium and zinc, and alloys such as brass and bronze. Precious metals such as gold and silver are not magnetic.  Platinum is not magnetic, but, depending on what other metals is aligned with, can be magnetic in jewelry.

Mohs scale of hardness. The mohs scale of hardness is helpful in identifying metals, and this is a simple test to do. The hardness of a material is ranked on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being hardes and 1 being softest. Obviously, you want to take care not to scratch valuable antiques. It’s best to do the hardness test on an out sight place, like the bottom.

The following looks at the most common metals and allows in alphabbeti order.

Aluminum is fairly easy to identify as it is a silvery white color and is very light and bendable. It does not tarnish or rust so always remains its silver white color. It is commonly and widely used, but is not strong. It’s been used on toys, pins and many inexpesnive items It’s mohs hardness is 2.5-3 (about the same as gold) and it is not magnetic.

Brass (will be added later)

Bronze usually is an an alloy of copper and tin, but architectural bronze actually has a small amount of lead in it. Bronze has a dark coppery color and gets a green oxide over a period of time. Because bronze is an alloy densities vary. Bronze vibrates like a bell when hit. It’s Mohs is 3

old bronze vase

old bronze vase

Chromium is easy to identify because it is a very, very shiny and bright silver color and forms a clear oxide over time which means it rarely rusts or corrods. Things are rarely made of pure chromium but lots of things are coated with it to make it shiny and not rust. Chromium’s mohs is 8.5 which is very hard.

Copper is made into many alloys including brass and bronze. Copper is light red in color and gets a green oxide over time. Copper is not magnetc. Copper, like brass, also vibrates like a bell when hit. It has a mohns of 2-1/2 to 3.

copper wire. Old copper often tarnishes green

copper wire. Old copper often tarnishes green

Iron s a dull grey when unpolished and can rust to a reddish color. It is also used in a lot of alloys invlufinhsteel. Iron is heavy, and has a mohs of 6-7.

Lead is a dull grey when unpolished but shinier when polished. Lead is not magnetic Leads is extremely heavy, but not hard. It has a mohs of 4.

Magnesium has a grey color and develops an oxide that dulls the color. Magnesium is extremely flammable in powder or thin strips. Magnesium burns very brightly and hot and is very hard to put outs, even with water. Magnesium can also burn without oxygen Magnesium is very ligh . Because magnesium is so light it is used in engine blocks in cars, and because it burns so brightly it is used in weapons and fireworks It is soft wiith a Mohs of 2, mwaning it can be scratched by glass..

Steel Metal is used for wide variety of reasons and comes in a variety forms.  It ranges in hardness from about 5 to 8.  Some is magnetic and some is not.  Hallmarks often identify it as steel.  Old steel kitchen utensils are sometimes misidentified as silver.

Stainless steel knife, which is sometimes mistaken for more valuable silver

Stainless steel knife, which is sometimes mistaken for more valuable silver

Nickel is shiny silver when polished and is darker unpolished. Nickel is one of the few metals that is not an iron alloy that is magnetic. Nickel has a mohs of 4. Todays nickel coins are not made out of nickel.

Tin is silvery grey in color when polished and darker when unpolished. Tin has a mohs 1.4

Titanium is a silvery grey metal metal when unpolished and darker when unpolished. Titanium mohs 6

Zinc is naturally dull grey and is hard to polish. Zinc naturally rusts or galvanization. Because of its low cost zinc is the main metal in us pennies. Zinc’s mohs hardness 2.5 which is soft.

Aesthetics and Epistemology * Free ebook

download Return Trip: aesthetics and epistemology

product_thumbnail.php“Looking at visual illusions and how they work show us that reality and human perception of reality are different things.”

Return Trip by David Cycleback is a shortened, chopped-up and transformed version of prominent art historian Cycleback’s earlier published works on aesthetics, psychology and epistemology. It examines aesthetic perception and cognitive biases in relationship to information processing and the search for knowledge. The aleatory structure and narrative is at turns academic, comic, poetic and psychological.

Cycleback was a 2013 Eric Hoffer Award Finalist for his book Conceits, much of that work incorporated into Return Trip. Reprinted by Beijing’s Three Shadows Art Center, his books Judging the Authenticity of Photographs and Judging the Authenticity of Prints by The Masters were the first comprehensive books on the subjects published in Chinese.

download Return Trip: aesthetics and epistemology