How to Identify Art Deco Antiques: Real vs. Fake

Learn how to tell if something is Art Deco or a fake.

We hand-pick antiques for our readers and may earn a small commission if you buy something featured on this page.
small art deco table lamp

Art Deco antiques are appealing to collectors because of their distinct aesthetic and rich history. However, there are a ton of reproductions on the market that are appealing in their own right. Some people might even prefer purchasing reproductions because of the cost savings or safety.

If you’re looking to purchase an authentic antique from the 1920s, it’s important to be mindful of descriptions. Below are some quality items in the Art Deco style. Can you tell which is a reproduction and which is authentic? If you’re having trouble, keep reading for more tips.

Authentic Art Deco

Quick Tip

When you’re navigating a market flooded with reproductions, knowing what to look for can help you identify authentic Art Deco antiques. Here are some features that are generally not found on reproductions:

Original Patina: The natural aging of materials like metal and wood can be a strong indicator of authenticity. Reproductions often lack this aged appearance.
Maker’s Mark: While some reproductions may attempt to mimic maker’s marks, authentic items often have specific, well-documented marks or stamps that can be verified.
Documented Provenance: Reproductions won’t have a history that can be traced back to the Art Deco era. Authentic items might come with documentation or a known history.
Limited Production: Authentic Art Deco items were often produced in limited runs, making them unique. Reproductions are usually mass-produced.

Original Frankart “Sarcophagus Girl” Metal Ashtray Stand

Frankart "Sarcophagus Girl" Metal Ashtray Stand
$2,875, etsy.com

Here is an original Frankart ashtray from the 1930s. Frankart was a company out of New York that mass-produced nude figurines in the 1920s and 30s. These statues were generally made of white spelter metal and spray painted in shades of gold, bronze, or green.

Each item has a stamp and patent number on the bottom, which can help authenticate the piece. Old Frankart molds are still being used to make items today, but this market generally includes lamps and not ashtrays. Also, these reproductions from the company are usually clearly marked as such.

Antique Art Deco Spelter Lamp With Art Glass Shade

Art Deco Spelter Lamp with End of Day Shade
$365, etsy.com

This Art Deco lamp is original to the period. However, it has been refurbished to include updated wiring and a new socket and switch. Most of these figural lamps were made of a white spelter metal (a period-specific mixed metal) with a bronze-colored coating. This type of antique lamp is highly collectible, but it’s less desirable than bronze originals. Spelter antiques from the Art Deco era were much more common and far less expensive to make than their solid bronze counterparts.

Keep in mind, most reproductions (that aren’t bronze) are not made of spelter and are much more lightweight. Bronze statues can be difficult to authenticate if the casting is good quality because it’s easy to add a patina to bronze metal. Otherwise, bronze holds up well. Spelter, on the other hand, tends to show its age in ways that are harder to replicate. The surface could be more warn or corroded, or the top finish could wear away. The bottom also tends to show its age more readily than bronze.

Art Deco Reproductions

Quick Tip

When browsing for Art Deco antiques, it’s crucial to know the language honest sellers use to indicate that an item is a reproduction rather than an authentic piece. Here are some terms and phrases to be on the lookout for:

Art Deco Style: This often means the item mimics the Art Deco aesthetic but is not an original.
Inspired by Art Deco: Another phrase indicating the item is not from the Art Deco era.
Modern Take: Suggests that the item is a contemporary version of an Art Deco design.
Newly Made: Clearly states that the item is not an antique.
Replica: A direct admission that the item is a copy.
Reproduction: Explicitly states that the item is not original.
In the Manner of: Indicates that the item is made to resemble Art Deco pieces but is not authentic.
Art Deco Revival: Points to a newer item made to look like it’s from the Art Deco period.
Vintage Style: The use of “style” often indicates it’s not genuinely vintage.
Crafted Using Original Molds: While it may use original molds, the item itself is newly made.

Art Deco Revival Glass Hood Ornament

Art Deco Glass "Spirit of Ecstacy" Hood Ornament Figure
$189, etsy.com

By all accounts, this hood ornament looks original. It’s the right color, the right shape, seems like it’s expensive, and looks to be decent quality. However, this is actually a modern reproduction made using an original Art Deco mold.

By using old molds, companies are able to “fake” an authentic antique more easily. Be mindful that this listing is tagged as being from the 1930s. But if you read the description carefully, it explains that this item is newly made in the Art Deco style. This type of tagging can be intentionally deceptive. Original hood ornaments from makers like Lalique would be hundreds or thousands of dollars more.

Modern Art Deco Table Lamp

$165, etsy.com

This Art Deco accent lamp is very clearly marked as a reproduction. There are several reasons someone may wish to purchase a new Art Deco lamp, the most important of which is safety.

We do not recommend using original Art Deco lamps in your home unless they have been professionally cleaned and rewired. However, when updated with modern wiring, period antique lamps are much more heavy weight and in many cases, more beautiful.

Keep Reading

Art Deco Complete: The Definitive Guide to the Decorative Arts of the 1920s and 1930s

Art Deco Complete: The Definitive Guide to the Decorative Arts of the 1920s and 1930s

Alastair Duncan’s Art Deco Complete is the last word in Art Deco, the most glamorous decorative arts style and the one that shaped popular ideas of modern luxury.
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