COMMENT: Damaging claims like this should be beyond question in their robustness, or they are just irresponsible, says Ivan Macquisten
Are 40% of all antiques on the UK
market fakes or forgeries? Of course not. Not if one is talking
about items sold by reputable dealers and auctioneers rather than,
say, some of the dodgier, anonymous types online or at car boot
Yet the 40% claim has been doing the
rounds in the media in recent weeks, thanks to a publicity campaign
surrounding UKTV Yesterday Channel's new series of Treasure
Check online now and around a dozen
reports refer to this "huge problem" of fakes, as set out in
The UK Fakes and Forgeries Report and confirmed by
Curtis Dowling, the presenter of Treasure Detectives, in various
This is news to ATG, which has been
reporting and analysing the market for more than 40
Such a potentially damaging claim for
the art and antiques industry concerning fakes and forgeries cannot
In our experience, the market is at
best extremely difficult to measure by its very nature. Firstly,
you have to define what an antique is. Secondly, you need to
understand the difference between fakes, forgeries and the many
items that have been modified without malicious intent. Thirdly,
you need to have some idea of just how big the market
The nearest anyone really gets to this
sort of scientific analysis of the market are the surveys conducted
by Dr Clare McAndrew for The European Fine Art Foundation, and even
they cannot be certain of their margin of error.
So what about The UK Fakes and
It sounds like an official government
publication. Put together by HMRC or the Treasury
From the article posted by the
Mail Online on September 2, the day before the
Treasure Detectives series started, it seems that the report is
actually the product of a poll of 2000 people for TV channel
Yesterday. The Mail explains that the poll "found that one
in four people spend £141 on antiques each year, but that hardly
any get them authenticated, meaning they stand a good chance of
It continues: "The UK Fakes and
Forgeries Report found that 68% of people who buy
antiques are 'worried' that they may be fake."
If the Mail report is
accurate, it would appear that the '40% of antiques are fake'
figure has been extrapolated from the finding that 43% of
people who buy antiques don't get them authenticated and
that 68% of people who buy antiques are 'worried' that they
may be fake.
Not really proof that 40% of antiques
are fake then.
The other authority for this bold
claim of '40% of antiques are fake' appears to be the decision that
half of the 16 items they had on the Treasure
Detectives series were fake: "which is a good indication
of what's going on in the market", the Mail reports Mr Dowling as
Is it? What proof is there of
Turn now to the August 28 interview
with Mr Dowling in Metro, which starts by quoting him as
saying: "I'm not an expert in fakes and forgeries - nobody
Next there is a bit of statistical
'slippage': "I'd say about 30 to 40% of the items floating around
on the international art market are fakes. It's a really big
problem," the Metro interview states.
So now we may be down to 30%, and we
appear to be dealing with the 'international' market, not just the
Nathan Rao in The
Express puts those "worried" that what they have bought
may be forgeries as high as 'almost 70%' in reporting the
He adds a number of other statistics
linked to how many people "splash out to decorate their homes", how
many would donate to a museum, and so on, but nothing on actual
proof of the level of fakes.
Express headline runs: Almost half of antiques
sold in UK are reported to be fakes.
(One ray of light: the Daily
Telegraph actually contacted ATG to canvass our views on
the claims and, after hearing what we had to say, promptly dropped
Despite all this, ATG has yet to see a
copy of The UK Fakes and Forgeries Report.
Why has the auctioneers', dealers' and
collectors' main newspaper not been alerted to this important piece
of research concerning the industry when there has been time to
draw it to the attention of the Mail, Express and
Metro and others?
When the articles appeared we
contacted the programme makers UKTV and requested a copy of the
report. We also contacted Mr Dowling's agent, who asked us to email
details which he said he would forward to Mr Dowling. We did
It took a while to receive a reply,
which eventually came from the TV company and consisted not of the
report but of the press release that had been sent out promoting
it. It makes interesting reading.
Firstly, it states that the findings
are a combination of a survey of more than 2000 British adults and
"expert opinion of Curtis Dowling, a world-renowned fakes and
The press release is headlined:
The nation's love of antiques has led to rise in the number of
fakes and forgeries.
Below the headline is a bullet point
list of the survey's findings. None actually supports the headline
One states: "Antiques experts warn the
boom in the industry has led to a rise in the number of forgeries"
while another states: "Over two-thirds of antiques buyers are now
concerned about getting conned by forgers." That's as close as it
What the release also reveals is that
the survey is actually titled The Yesterday UK Fakes and
Forgeries Report, which certainly has less of an official ring
I contacted the TV channel's press
office again. "Is there any chance of getting hold of a copy of the
report itself? I am interested in the stats side, how the 40% fakes
and forgeries figure was arrived at and how scientific the survey
is," I asked.
Came the reply: "I'm afraid we don't
release the survey data. The survey was completed by 2000 adults,
using a reputable survey company. The rest of the report was
comment and expertise of Curtis Dowling."
What about methodology? What
credibility can a report/survey have if those who commission it
refuse to publish it?
Does this also mean that the
journalists on the Mail, Express and
Metro had not seen the report before splashing its
As explained, I have not seen The
UK Fakes and Forgeries Report - not for the want of
trying - and if I ever do and find it to be a worthwhile and valid
study I will be only too happy to report it as such.
However, so far I have only seen it in
the form of a sensational press release to promote the new
Treasure Detectives series. In that respect it has
worked a treat.
The 40% fakes figure makes a great
headline, but there appears to have been no thought given to the
unwarranted damage this has the potential to inflict on an industry
that, in general, the UK should be proud of. An industry that has
provided Mr Dowling and Treasure Detectives with their
Don't get me wrong. There are fakes
and forgeries on the market and, in certain areas, they can be
quite a problem. But 40%? Such a strong claim needs far more
conclusive evidence than UKTV has provided so far to earn the
exposure it has had.
Newspaper headlines can be damaging,
but I am really writing this piece because of their far
longer-lasting legacy on the internet.
Now we have a slew of reports online
all pushing the 40% message. Even the swiftest glance at the
Mail, Express and Metro articles shows
that this claim is completely unsubstantiated, yet because of the
presence of those headlines on the internet this idea will stick in
the mind and will disseminate across what we used to call the
Information Superhighway like a virus - evidenced in the number of
online articles linking back to these reports that have already
This method of validating
unsubstantiated statistics has form. I have seen it used to attack
the legitimate trade in antiquities and at Government level in
devising legislation to tackle stolen art and antiques.
Count on it, in a year's time when the
issue of fakes and forgeries is raised again, that statistic will
have morphed into hard, authoritative, indisputable fact for the
news media - and possibly even Whitehall - to regurgitate,
reinforce and beat our industry over the head with once
This article, which will also be
posted online, will hopefully go some way towards diluting that