|The caddies which are reproduced in great
numbers are the ones which bring high dividends
for the work involved.
from vetted antique fairs or established dealers
is not always a guarantee of authenticity. A
reproduction exotic fruit caddy has recently made
its way up very high echelons pretending to be
the real thing. Even fifteen years ago, at a most
prestigious vetted event, I opened an aubergine
shaped caddy and was knocked back by the smell of
wood stain emanating from the inside. Water based
stain would not have left a smell although the
stain would still look artificial. Al the
senses should be used.
There is nothing wrong in buying honest
reproductions as these are on the whole pretty
boxes with a period flavour. What is wrong is
overpaying for a box, which is not genuine. This
can make a difference of hundreds or even
thousands. It is also wrong to buy things which
are misrepresented. Reproductions should be
clearly labelled as such: "in the style
of" or "copy".
The obvious first candidates for reproductions
are the fruit shaped caddies. As I said in my
article on Tea Caddies, even the best earliest
examples are crude and were relatively easy to
make. These caddies were first made in the 18th
century and they continued to be made up to the
beginning of the 20th century. After that there
was a gap of several decades before the prices of
the original ones hit the roof and woke up the
fakers to the possibilities of easy profits.
In all fairness the new examples are not
aesthetically much different from the 19th and
early 20th century examples which frequently sell
for thousands. After all one can argue that fruit
caddies are a continuing tradition. However what
has gone wrong is the fuzziness of description
and the attempt at uniformity of price.
In my opinion the only fruit caddies worth
paying thousands for, are the earliest ones with
absolutely wonderful patination. You must get at
least a couple of hundred years of care lavished
on the fruit caddy to be worth paying so much for
it. If the patination is not there, a few hundred
is more than adequate for a pretty box of instant
appeal and not much else going for it. Even a
19th century example in most cases is not much
different from a recent one.
There are many more fruit caddies on the
market now which are not eighteenth century; and
the number is growing.
Watch for wood stain inside. If the caddy is
lined in artificially "aged" lead or
new lead try to peel a little off and see if the
wood looks brand new. If someone has over cleaned
the inside of an old caddy detection is tricky.
Look at the outside: is it patinated correctly?
If not leave well alone unless the price matches
the status of the caddy and you do not mind a new
The second candidate for reproduction is the 18th
century small caddy. There is a
proliferation of these doing the rounds in all
sorts of shapes: square, oblong,
octagonal, oval etc. Some are very good
indeed and I know of more than one experienced
collector and dealer who fell for them. I am
going to give some "check points" as
alarmingly these have even appeared in
prestigious auction rooms and vetted fairs.
Original caddies when opened should have
traces of the old lead lining or old
"lead" paper. If they have been cleaned
the wood should be without artificial stain.
Unfortunately with hard woods like mahogany and
even oak, it is difficult to see the difference.
It is easier with pine where little age dents and
scratches are more obvious.
The inside of the fake caddies is mostly
stained or lined in new lead, sometimes with
attempted artificial ageing. This however cannot
be the only test, as the inside of 18th century
caddies was sometimes relined with a silvered
paper or lead in the 19th and early 20th century.
Even today sometimes caddies get relined.
However, even though relining cannot be the
ultimate proof, it should ring alarm bells for
checking other points.
The locks on a large number of recent
reproduction caddies look superficially correct,
but in most cases the mechanism inside is missing
and was never there in the first place. Sometimes
even the rod for the key is there but the rest of
the works are missing. Look at the key hole. Does
it have the expected ware and colour for 200
years? Again this not a 100% test but another
important alarm bell.
The following criteria are more subtle and
need a more experienced eye and touch but once
you recognise a few fakes you should be able to
spot them pretty fast.
The woods used are usually not consistent with
the woods used on the early caddies. For example
thin knife cut veneers are used instead of the
early thick veneers. Try to turn the box upside
down and try to judge the thickness of the veneer
if the caddy is not "faced".
Study the woods used at different periods.
There are a few overlaps, but if the wood is not
consistent, look again. For example, burr walnut
(desirable now) with bold swirls was used from
the second quarter of the 19th century. An 18th
century caddy made of this wood should be eyed
with suspicion. Very "raw" looking
mahogany or light coloured wood such as satinwood
should again ring alarm bells. Original mahogany
ages and patinates to a subtle glow. Light
coloured woods patinate to a soft golden colour.
Most of the fake caddies are either covered in
interesting woods or inlaid in the manner of the
18th century. The inlays look wrong to an
experienced eye, but not so wrong to people not
so used to handling early pieces. What you must
look for is raw lines where the inlay meets the
rest of the caddy. On the original caddies one
expects little undulations and lines of hardened
glue and wax when running one's hand or eye over
the surface. This is because the different woods
which were used in the inlay have shrunk and
swelled differently over the years. On the new
caddies the woods are flat and nothing has built
up around the inlay. The inlays, which are often
made up of thin veneers look quite
"dead" and flat.
Look at the caddy from different directions
holding it in your hand. Look how the light
catches the "age" features. Feel it
with your fingertips. Notice the unevenness.
There should be slight variations in sheen
values, minute cracks and indentations. If the
caddy is genuine, it should feel and look as if
it has aged organically rather than it has just
Stylistically the inlays are sometimes quite
wrong and easy to spot, although this is not
always the case. For example I have seen an inlay
of snow drops in very late sentimental Victorian
style on a caddy pretending to be 18th century.
Another give away is floral inlays of the type
used on 20th century jewelry boxes.
However fakers are getting clever and some
designs are direct copies and thus more difficult
to detect. Look out for stained woods, especially
green. Unlike the early green this is flat,
uniform and glaringly wrong. Look for fine
penwork lines or incisions defining details on
the inlay. On the old caddies this is a frequent
feature. Incision lines on new caddies are rare
and when there they often look raw.
In old caddies even if there are several
motifs making up the inlay, the design has aged
to a harmonious whole with colours mellowing
pleasingly. In the reproduction versions the
various designs jar. Look at the box: does it
present a coherent whole?
Finally is the caddy well and truly patinated
as it should be after two hundred years? If not
leave it alone, unless the price is right and you
do not mind a nice copy.
Not every caddy has all the tell tale signs
but usually something or other gives it away.
Before you buy look and let your instinct take
over. Does the caddy look as if it has history?
Has it been handled for two hundred years?
The most audacious fakes are made by
printing designs copied from early caddies and
then varnishing over the surface.
Fortunately these are not very common and should
be easy to spot. Basically if it is plastered in
varnish, be weary.
Before I discuss the next group I would like
to say a word about one type of deception
practised, mainly out of ignorance. These are not
fakes as such but misrepresentations. Triple, or
even double tea caddies often contain removable
canisters. These canisters are sometimes
oval octagonal or other interesting shapes.
Occasionally the odd canister survives separated
from the container caddy. Found by inexperienced
collectors or dealers these are thought
to be caddies. The hinging on these and
the way the top closes flat is quite different
from the structure of complete tea caddies. Look
at the illustrated examples. It is not difficult
to get it right.
The next group of expensive reproductions are
the tortoiseshell and ivory caddies.
The easiest to spot reproductions from this
group are the "piano key"
caddies. These are ivory caddies some oval, some
approaching correct ivory caddy shapes made out
of old piano keys. Do not buy anything with
panels of this dimension, unless of course you
buy it as an honest new item for the right
amount. It should be noted that the panels on the
original caddies are wider, so piano key ivory
cannot even make an accurate reproduction.
Original ivory caddies have very fine hinges,
locks and other hardware. Check these.
The lids inside original caddies are often of
plain wood. This is correct.
Because of the way ivory was cut hairline
cracks are unavoidable in early ivory caddies.
The tortoiseshell, silver or gold lines are
fine and thin on the original caddies.
Finally very few shapes were made. Look at the
proportions; do they look right? Look at the
general article on ivory caddies and their
Tortoiseshell fakes are rife.
Some are not even shell but an excellent looking plastic
substitute. A hot pin will penetrate
this. Watch out for old wooden caddies covered in
Tortoiseshell caddies are difficult boxes to
judge as a knowledge of the correct shapes is
much more complex. The early ones in blond or
green shell are easier in that the shapes of the
originals are restrained and very well
proportioned. The fakes of these often have quite
thick lines of ivory which looks wrong, or try to
be more complex than the real thing.
When it comes to later caddies unless they
have features which would be time consuming and
expensive to reproduce it is very difficult to
judge. Again look at the hardware. The original
hardware was not as fine as on the ivory caddies,
but was quite fine. Look at the shape, the
escutcheon, the metal or ivory lines. Do they
look right? Are they fine enough?
Another feature which an experienced eye can
detect is the colour. Tortoiseshell caddies were
veneered on a bed of gesso. The genuine articles
often show subtle signs of fading where the shell
is not so tightly attached, the corners, near the
hinges etc. These of course could disappear with
good restoration. However if the caddy looks over
glossed and has no tell tale marks of age, look
at it very critically. Is it restored or made up
of new shell? Sometimes if you look at enough
examples you begin to distinguish the difference
Other fake candidates are rolled paper
caddies. Look out for new or re sprayed
papers. Fakes of these caddies are fortunately
not as wide spread as the wooden and
tortoiseshell boxes. There was a spate of them in
England a few years ago.
Larger caddies with removable canisters,
Chinese, penwork, sadeli mosaic, papier mache,
mother of pearl inlaid and generally caddies
which would be very labour intensive to reproduce
are to my knowledge quite safe to buy.
A few carved caddies in
"Chippendale" style have
appeared on the market but as far as I know
nobody has tried to market these as genuine.
These are made of very low quality, often stained
mahogany. The carving is crude, usually
representing foliage. These boxes look very
"raw" and crude. They have the
characteristics of fast and careless manufacture
done for a price.
There is occasionally the odd attempt at Tunbridge
ware of the mosaic type on all types of
boxes, not just caddies. These experiments are
short lived, presumably because they are not
financially worth while. However these
reproductions are so different from the real
thing that I do not think many people would fall
for them. Using much fewer woods for the inlays
than on the originals, the resulting pictures
have no depth or vitality.
What has made it difficult in the last two or
so decades to enjoy antique boxes in their
original condition is the crass restoration
carried out on 18th century boxes which has
blurred the line between reproductions and
genuine articles. When bringing this up with
dealers who treated boxes in this way, I was told
that this is how "customers liked
them". I find this wanton destruction of
heritage by people who should be custodians of
antiques irresponsible. Surely part of the
dealer's duty is to explain. The only remedy is
to refuse to sell to such people as I have done
in the past.
Many an early box has had the undulations
resulting from the use of early thick veneers
sanded down and varnished to a super gloss,
killing its character and patina stone dead. The
word pristine which should mean original good
condition has been used to describe boxes which
have had a surface lift. Refinishing 18th
and early 19th century boxes is an anathema not a
Antiques are precious precisely because they
are antique and should look as if generations
have taken care of them, not as if they have just
arrived from the high street. The 18th century
patrons who commissioned these boxes were
perfectly aware of the "antique" and
would be horrified at the thought that their much
loved objects are not allowed to retain the
patina and character they have built up over the
Please if you do feel that your decor looks
best with new looking objects, buy the
reproductions. They are on the whole well crafted
and very pretty. You should also be able to buy
them cheaper. Do not demand that old boxes be
refinished. There are precious few antique boxes
left which have not been robbed of the charm of
their age. Allow the people who appreciate
antique boxes to find them patinated.
Fortunately the tide of
"conservation", which has been museum
policy for sometime, rather than
"restoration" with refinishing, is now
beginning to filter down and influence attitudes
in the antique trade and general buyers. To the
relief of connoisseurs the rate of the murder of
the real antique box is slowing down.