Having promised you to blog about selling your stuff part 2, I'm going to interrupt this little series with another item on Charles Horner. You see we had my cousin staying this week and inevitably, as both our Mum's were grand-daughters, long discussions were had. I think it's fair to say that, other than a few specialists, the knowledge in the room was of a pretty high order. More than the vast majority of auction houses, for example.
One of the big topics we got into was the amount of fakery, and the even more worrying amount of misrepresentation there is on the market. The fakes are pretty easy to spot; quality, the enamel, the marks etc., and I include in this category the repaired and re-enamelled items. If you are a collector, or aiming to become one, try to learn how to identify when someone has re-enamelled. One tell-tale sign is to look at the hallmarks. If it looks like the silver has been cast with the hallmarks rather than these stamped on later, then don't touch it. If someone represents a re-enamelled item as original that is fakery.
And I advise caution when buying through internet traders who pretend to hold great knowledge and tell you that Horner retailed through Liberty's and other high-end retailers. There is absolutely no evidence to support this claim and it is simply marketing puff. I'd be very dubious about someone who makes such an easily disproved assertion*: what else are they asserting so confidently that is not true? Enamel originality, for example?
But to my mind, perhaps the most egregious of the crimes committed against Horner is the simple assumption that any CH hallmark via Chester, Birmingham and/or Sheffield is Charles Horner silver. Its simply not the case. There were several other silversmiths in the time of Charles Horner's 100-ish years, and again I refer you to the definitive Lawson tome on Horner for a list. But, and its a big but, if you go on some of the silversmith hallmarks websites they simply attribute all but one CH mark to Charles Horner. So they are misleading at best, and promoting a deceit at worst. I could direct you to one very respected website that is considered authoritative, that lists at least two CH marks that are very obviously not Charles Horner, but they lazily attribute the stamps to him. In fairness there is another website that goes swinging back the other way and hardly gives Charles Horner any credits at all. Perhaps that's better. Caution should be the watchword all the way. But a company that traded for the best part of 100 years, and as a silversmith the first Charles Horner was hallmarking from circa 1860, will have had several dies registered with the various assay offices. And then you have the added variances that comes with these marks being hand-punched, and the resulting variability in quality and readability. I defy almost anyone to tell the difference between the Charles Harris mark of the 1890's with the Horner mark from about 1906 that stayed in use until the 60's.
Sadly the Horner company is no longer trading. The first-generation descendants are nearly all no longer with us, and those that might have been able to give us an insight are long gone. But the myths, and misattributions are flourishing in this era of the internet, and traders are feeding off the growing interest in this fabulous jewellery.
So the advice to anyone on this fascinating trail of Charles Horner collecting is to be very careful indeed. But you can't really fail if you follow the truth of collecting: buy something because you have fallen for it. But I would add to this, if its Horner, trust nothing until you have quizzed the piece, the marks (especially the date mark) and double checked it has not been repaired, misattributed or is a downright fake. If all else fails, perhaps you should trust your instincts, if not the internet hallmark sites. It will be a long time before the market is cleaned up, and that will take expertise and experience that really doesn't exist yet.
Next time I'll bring you a side of the Charles Horners that is not widely known.
* read Tom Lawson's book on Horner, mentioned in my first post
Here's a real and genuine piece of Horner (now sold):