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In the beginning...

As the early pioneer farmers began to turn the sod and cul­tivate the fields of rural North America, stone age artifacts of long past civilizations began to emerge from their hiding places. Most were merely looked upon as unusual curiosities and of little worth; some were viewed with amazement and became mantle piece decorations, and a few made their way into china closets and places of repose.

In the beginning, there were no known frauds, reproductions or fakes. But eventually, reproductions of these curiosities began to find their way into private collections, and into pub­lic museums and institutions. Very early reproductions were sometimes the work of a neighboring farmer who also wanted an example of these stone age artifacts to show his friends and relatives. Many museums quickly recognized the artistic value of these ancient items, placing them on display for public view. Some institutions were not so fortunate, finding their meager displays did not measure up with the larger and more aggres­sive institutions. This opened up a market for manufactured replicas of the originals. And as we might suspect, some of those early pioneer replicas found their way into collections of major institutions where they remain today on display as her­alded works of ancient art. But, some are not.

Had the business of manufacturing replicas of North America's ancient past survived only for the purpose of pro­ducing museum reproductions; there would be no need to con­tinue this treatise. Museums seldom deaccession their collect­ed material, unless to raise capital for more desirable artifacts. So, after nearly 100 years of collecting stone age items, little worth was attached to those things of stone as most people believed that modern Indians made them. The Twentieth cen­tury saw the organization of a scant few collector societies and archaeological groups. Major excavations by early archae­ologists provided displays for World Fairs and Centennials; and this peaked the imagination of the masses.

The reproduction of antique and ancient artifacts is not unique to the new world. Ancient Romans reproduced art of their predecessors, Etruscans and Greeks as imitated artworks were highly desirable. The Chinese are well known for imitations of art from previous dynasties. They were manufactured for those who could not afford real antiquities.

Reproduction of North American Prehistoric artifacts did not necessarily have the same theme. In almost every instance the attraction of money strongly overwhelmed any other reason for imitating past artworks. With the majority of the American work force out of work following the financial depression of 1928, many persons sought any means to make a living. Enter the era of Birdstone fakers and repro artists. No other form of prehistoric North American artifact illicited such an impact and produced higher dollars than the enigmatic Birdstones. In Kentucky and Michigan entrepreneurs set up fully mechanized shop fully turning out thousands of replicas. They were exposed in the late 1930's. One maker was found guilty and fined a $500 for his deceit. That did little to stem the tide. Serious reproduction efforts went almost unnoticed until the 1950's when spendable income returned to the American pub­lic. Enter the age of reproduction Bannerstones, Gorgets, Pendants, Discoidals, Axes and so forth. And on the horizon were spurious pipes and smoking instruments. Many collec­tors believed that a pipe or two would improve their collec­tion. Bad Pipes slipped into the cabinets of top collectors and museums with the greatest of ease; simply because there were too many different styles and manufacturing techniques to be understood. Unless one is expert, it is easy to be fooled by questionable pipes especially displayed among other genuine artifacts.

The late 1940's, early 1950's and then 1960's saw the advent of major flint reproduction. Called the "Gray Ghosts" because most were manufactured of gray Edwards flint obtained from the Texas plateau. These monstrosities sold by the inch. Most were slabbed with a diamond blade saw, then knapped by pressure flaking using a common drill press. Some collectors recognized the awkwardness of these "too good to be true" replicas, but many collectors fell prey. For the tourist and casual collector, these bargains were enticing and literally thousands of these grotesque replicas found their way into col­lections. On the heels of the "Gray Ghost" epic; lacey eccentric effigy forms were made. Fish hooks, turtles, thunderbirds, alligators and more became par excel­lence in almost every antique and gift store throughout this country. The inexpensive price and attractive appearance of these imaginative ideas by modern flint knappers found their way into many collector's display.

In the late 70's, archaeological experiments with ancient flint knapping techniques entered the scene. Originally stud­ied for the purpose of reviving an ancient art; these techniques were taught as college courses to help students recognize arti­fact remnants left by ancient man. Soon some began to exper­iment, and found it was easier to knap than hold a day to day job. Today, it is estimated that more than 5,000 knappers engage in replicating and reproducing ancient flint tools. Heralded by some archaeologists as a deterrent to illegal loot­ing, many reproductionists have become illegal "fakers" as they produce up to several thousand replicas each year selling them at flea markets, curio stores and through artifact dealers as genuine (especially if their wares are good enough to pass the test of credibility). That's why this treatise is entitled "Is it real, or reproduction"? By 1980, reproductionists improved their work with more attention to style, finish, size and native material. This is an era when many pipes, bannerstones, bird-stones and other forms were produced by the thousands.

Throughout this work, excerpts from previous writings are introduced where they augment a thought, circumstance or relate to the next subject. Pay particular attention to the date ofth excerpted subject matter (as published). This informa­tion has been taken quite literally from various publications; many which are almost antique themselves. Also of particular note is the emphasis on Flint projectiles, Knives, etc. There are millions of artifacts yet to be found in streams, river banks and plowed farm land. All items illustrated in this book were obtained legally by their owners; and may be displayed con­fidently.

 

“Used by Permission of the Author” and originally published in American Indian Artifacts; Genuine or
Reproduction by Col. John F. Berner. Copyright © 2000 by American Antiquities, Inc.