Authenticating trains and toy soldiers can become very important for collectors, especially when branching into vintage and antique items. As mentioned in an earlier article, counterfeiting and cloning has become big business. More and more overseas companies are taking advantage of their governments' lax laws regarding cloning valuable collectibles and devices for Western markets. So, the question that needs to be answered is, “How to I authenticate a collectible to make sure it's really what it is claimed to be?”
Here are some authenticators to look for, before you purchase a collectible toy soldier or train piece. As with anything, if you're not sure, find an expert or just walk away. If you decide to just gamble, remember the rule you hear all the time in the gaming world: Never play with more than you can afford.
1.Look for manufacturer's marks. These can be things like trademarks, labels, serial numbers, etc., but there can be other things, too. Certain collectibles become known for a particular flaw, such as tool marks such as slight damage in a press or small flaws in a mold. Remember that labels, manufacturer trade marks, etc. can be counterfeited and often are on expensive items, whereas tool marks and flaws are often ignored by counterfeiters.
2.The quality of finish is another important indicator. Vintage pieces were painstakingly made and often of higher quality upon examination than copies. A really good example right now is in the area of cast iron toys. Because the casting sand used in the original molds was usually finer, the finished product had finer, clearer detail, more defined lines and smoother surfaces. A rough finish is a warning, at least to investigate further.
3.Make sure of the dimensions. There are honest manufacturers who make replicas of certain items, but they are sometimes sold by cheaters as the real thing. These manufacturers often change the dimensions slightly to be recognized beside the real thing as a replica.
4.Make sure the colors are correct. There are many factors that make up paint color, and it can be difficult to match the color of a vintage toy soldier or model train. Did you know that paint often dries a totally different shade from when it is wet? That's one reason some counterfeiters have trouble creating a good match. Be aware that with expensive items (Rolex watches are a good example), counterfeiters will go to any expense necessary, so again, this list is neither complete nor a guaranty of authenticity, but merely a guideline. When in doubt, bring in an expert.
5.Along with the colors, look for flaws in the paintwork and lettering, especially on older items. Modern painting equipment simply does a far better job than what could be done even a few years ago. If the paint and lettering is too perfect, the chances are that you're looking at a fake. Furthermore, decals tended to become brittle, yellow or fade and paint tended to crack, craze or fade.
6.As mentioned above, watch for characteristic flaws that should be there. Manufacturers generally would not stop a run because of a tiny defect in their tooling that caused a minor flaw or two in their product. Therefore, every toy train or soldier in a particular run, for example, should have the same flaw. These are usually recorded in the various available books, guides and online information available for collectors. Counterfeits are often just too good to be true. Even if they attempt to create authenticity by reproducing the flaw, they often do a poor job of it.
7.Make sure the materials in the item are correct for its age. Bakelite used to be common but died out when plastics became cheap and common. If an item that is supposed to be from the 1920s has plastic, rather than Bakelite in it, it's a fake. The presence of styrofoam and other cheap materials in “vintage” or “antique” items is another giveaway. They are recent inventions. Wiring is way superior, today, than it was even as recently as the 1960s. If a vintage toy train locomotive has modern wiring, it's definitely not in original condition and may be a fake. Alloys have also changed a lot for the better since WWII. It may be harder to spot with the untrained eye, so get a professional to look if you have any doubts.
8.Anything and everything suffers wear and tear over time. Since counterfeiters are aware of this fact, they will often make an attempt to “age” an item. There are many ways to do this, including scratching, sanding, the application of weak acids or heat, and more. Your greatest weapon to defend yourself from getting fooled by these processes, apart from bringing in a professional, is to educate yourself. Learn how the natural aging process works, and how to recognize a natural process, versus a process that has been produced artificially in a few minutes or hours.
Once again, these are tips to help you authenticate collectible items such as toy soldier and trains, for yourself. It is by no means a complete list, and it is also a fact that counterfeiting and cloning, especially for more valuable collectibles, is becoming more sophisticated and less expensive with modern technology. In the end, nothing beats thorough knowledge or what you are looking at.