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False patina; an illusion of age

Pg.31, Vol. XXX, No.1, 1996, “Prehistoric American” 

What is patina? Webster’s diction­ary(2) says:”the sheen on antique sur­face produced by use and age”. If that is patina, what is false patina? I would describe it as any attempt by modern man to give a false illusion of use and age. But then if the finish is modern, should it be too difficult to recognize it for what it is? The Chinese have been reproducing and ageing copies of ancient works for centuries; and the closer an item appears to the orig­inal, the more valuable it is perceived. However, this is not the case with pre­historic American artifact reproduc­tions.

Nearly everything made by ancient man in North America has been copied and reproduced over the past 150 years. Some of the copies were made to fill voids in museum dis­plays. Some reproductions were made as experiments. Most were made for profit and deceit! Those are the ones we’ll talk about. There were attempts to age copies around 1900, bury them in mounds and dig them up in the presence of a witness.

Because Flint objects have been the most widely reproduced item in the past 30 years, emphasis of ageing methods will be assigned to those items with false patina. Discarded motor oil and grease have always been a favorite ager for flint items, it original use being to cover up damage or rechipping. By soaking in the sub­stance, some dirt and grime will pen­etrate loose hinge fractures, providing the look of antiquity. Some have been tossed into a wood fire to bake on the coating. Southeastern agers have a ready made supply of materials, the most popular is the loblolly pine nee­dles which are renewed on the forest floor each spring and fall. Being high­ly acid, a few months buried with the pine needles imparts an unusual stain on rock. Not limited to the south, the use of decaying animal flesh and lime produces a deposit that resembles burial deposit. Modern fertilizers also react with stone and other items quickly.

Often flint collectors look for minute deposits of ferric oxide on surfaces which are a direct result of the object being buried for long peri­ods of time in the soil. In order to sat­isfy the requirements of buyers, agers will rub the surfaces with mild steel or coarse steel wool, which when oxi­dized will turn to rust overnight. Some will remove carefully such spots from real artifacts then with a weak solution of elmer’s glue, then redeposit the substance on new items. Old English furniture polish rubbed in and torched with a flame leaves a non removable coating. On new work, thrusting in a bucket of sand removes many loose flakes. Speed polishing with a belt sander works wonders to make a new piece look old and worn. Various acid and lime baths do their part to give a whitish haze over many parts of new flints.Even horse liniment rubbed into the surface gives age. Knowledge is power and don’t forget it!

“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.