Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Few Words about Counterfeit Glosses

I already had fake Glosses on my list of future blog posts, but since it’s a topic that’s been making the rounds again, I guess it’s as good a time as any to get to it.

True Breyer Gloss Finishes are extremely variable. Some are thin, some are thick, some are smooth, and others are uneven. Drips are uncommon, but not unknown, especially with earlier models. While most glosses are applied over the painted surface, sometimes the paint or the surface of the plastic itself gives the model its glossy appearance.

In other words, it’s very difficult to make blanket assumptions about Breyer Gloss Finishes, and to determine if a rare or obscure piece is authentic. There’s no standardized checklists to follow, and no esoteric formulas in which to enter objectively obtained data and come up with a nice, neat answer. Authentication is a little bit art, a little bit research, and a little bit intuition.

Unfortunately, with the overheated market for Glosses right now, far too many hobbyists are giving in to temptation and "invest" glosses of a dubious nature. Because of the variable nature and quality of Breyer’s Gloss finishes, it’s very easy for hobbyists to rationalize their concerns away.

The majority of the inquiries I get regarding authentication involve rare or very lightly documented Glosses. Because there are so many variables to take into consideration, and the stakes are so high, I prefer to look at such a model in person before I make a hard and fast determination of the its authenticity. I can tell you if I’ve heard or seen such a thing before, and possible degree of its authenticity, but that’s the best I can do without an in-person evaluation.

Alas, sometimes an honest, in-person evaluation of a questionable Gloss is no help either. The allure of the Gloss is so powerful - and the emotional and financial rewards so lucrative - that some hobbyists will shop around until they find the expert to help them rationalize their investment.

It’s a cliché, but it’s also the truth: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I know, I know, we all want something rare, pretty and valuable in our collections, but we really have to be more skeptical of these things. And I have to tell you, that the majority of dubious Glosses I’ve inspected in person have been fakes.

Some of these Glosses were deliberately designed to deceive; others were not. However, a fake is a fake, regardless of the alterer's intent. An intent that could easily be lost, forgotten or overlooked when a model exchanges hands. ("Silly me. Did I forget to tell you I think he might be faked?")

Until Reeves comes up with a better way reduce the incidence of Counterfeit Glosses (Proprietary decals under the gloss? Carved brand or stamp?) the best advice I can give any hobbyist regarding oddball Glosses is this: if it's rare, beware.


Kelly said...

Sadly, I've had several encounters with dubious glossies and other "OF" pieces. I've also been legally advised to carefully word what I say about such pieces, to avoid the possibility of legal hassles (if the seller/creator of a fake attempts to reclaim losses). Without being a licensed appraiser, we as "informed collectors" are left vulnerable when just trying to help. When approached with a questionable piece, I attempt to arm the owner with enough information to come to his/her own conclusion regarding the piece's authenticity. I've also been torn at times when seeing a suspicious piece in the show ring. As a judge, I have the choice of not pinning the model, knowing that I'll have some explaining to do when the shower inevitably asks why the model didn't place. From a shower's perspective, I've cringed at times when I've seen pieces place that had no place in the show ring. Do I inform the judge? Pull the shower aside? Argh! If only people were more honest!

ANDREA said...

Glosses and other counterfeits in the hobby are such a legal and ethical quagmire, I agree.

That's why I find this super-hot glossy market so scary right now. So many hobbyists, so willing to overlook the all-too-obvious for the sake of having anything rare ...

Most of my evaluations of questionable glosses tend to be pretty generalized, and I try to emphasize that it's an opinion, not a fact. A more informed opinion, perhaps, but still an opinion.

(For the record, I'd like to say that I have an art history degree, but I am not currently employed in either a curatorial or academic position, and while I've had some legal training, I am also NOT a lawyer, nor am I qualified to give legal advice.)

Kelly said...

"Informed opinion" is the phrase my over-tired brain was looking for last night. Agreed on all points!

ANDREA said...

Reminds me of a favorite quote:

"You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant." — Harlan Ellison

beforetheRfell said...

I have thought long and hard for years on how to explain the signs of a fake glossy. While OF gloss coats can vary slightly, I think experience with OF models is the best way to judge a questionable specimen.

I have collectors ask me often how to tell the difference and like you, it is not easy to describe. Most of the fakes I have seen (and unfortunately even bought a few sight unseen) appear to have been sprayed with a heavy enamel of some kind, much like auto clear coat. I doubt that cellulose acetate models painted with clear enamel will hold up for long since the two materials are basically incompatible. Acetone is going to still try to leach out of the model and it will eventually disturb the fake gloss.

So in some cases, time may be the best give away. In instances where a quick determination must be made for purchase, I recommend thumping the model on the side or belly and listening for an OF type sound. If it sounds like you are thumping a horse coated in thick nail polish rather than OF gloss, it is probably a fake. Most faked glossies I have seen in person appeared to have much more detail filled in by the gloss than OF glossies and it is not always noticeable in photos, so seeing them in person can be important. It also seems that the fake glossies yellow quickly as well. So far, those are the only tangible things I have been able to come up with to tell the difference. A lot of it is gut. Some faked models have been frighteningly good, but not too good to fool me. It really is heartbreaking when a friend asks your advice on a model they just paid a lot of money for and you have to tell them it is an obvious fake. I will probably never buy another rare glossy unless it is from a collector who I can trust to verify it as OF.

I learned my lesson on the first Stone SR to make low number/rare glossy versions slightly different from the matte counterpart and collectors really appreciated it later. Unfortunately, there are probably more fake glossed versions of that first horse out there than of the original 20. Like you, I wish Breyer would make glossy versions different in some way so that they might be easily distinguished from fakes by something more than a paper certificate.

beforetheRfell said...

Being a large Breyer retailer in 2000-2003 was particularly exciting due to the much higher possibility at that time of receiving significant variation and glossy versions of regular run models. The year 2000 (Breyer's 50th anniversary) alone saw small quantities of glossy versions of regular run models popping up at random dealers all across the country.

During this 4 year period, though, it was sometimes possible for large accounts to obtain published stock quantities on retired and close-out models. It was not at all uncommon for us to purchase the last few dozen or even last hundred or so of a particular retired model, especially if it was one that sold well.

Outside of the year 2000, it was then, from these shipments that most of our glossy models arrived. It is unclear whether or not some of them were merely leftovers from the random 2000 shipments or if they had intentionally not yet been shipped to retailers, but what is clear is that there were several instances where the very last few cases of models remaining at Breyer contained significant variants and glossies.

Some were sold at the time since demand was so high when the news broke about glossy models randomly being found at toy stores and tack shops, but we have held on to others. They are certainly very nice models and we are glad to have received them, but we still have no way of authenticating them for collectors besides the fact that they are dealer stock, new in box straight from Breyer.

Becky said...

I have a glossy medicine hat Fighting Stallion (from the JCP set that came w/the grulla Mustang). I got him in a trade; the gal I got him from got him from someone else who told her it was authentic.

I contacted Breyer, but they have no record of that set being glossed...but couldn't tell me it *wasn't* authentic, just that they couldn't find a record of it.

He's gorgeous, and I'll keep him, but I sure would like to know for sure. The gloss is smooth, no drips or runs. It's even, and really makes his color pop.