Question: At a flea market recently, I bought several kitchen-type pieces--examples of what I thought were Early American folk art. I was going to wrap them for Christmas gifts. But a friend, who is more of an expert on the subject than I am, said the pieces were fakes and probably had been made in the last year or so. How can the public protect itself from getting ripped off?--M.T.
Answer: With gift-giving time fast approaching, we're getting more inquiries like this. Finding a collectible in a holiday package has become popular. But, in the area of folk art, you have to be careful. Fakes and reproductions abound.
It's not an easy task picking the authentic from that which looks authentic. You've got to do your homework, and that means reading up on the subject. Methods of construction, artistic design and what materials were used by Early American craftsmen will give you some of the background you need to distinguish a fake from an original.
Additionally, you should know how an object was used in another era. This knowledge will provide you with the ability to look for wear signs that won't appear on recently manufactured items.
Determining the age of collectible folk art is never easy. A wooden weather vane, for example, can age in a few years and look authentically old to a novice. But an experienced collector will study the texture of the wood to see if there is shrinkage caused by age.
Additionally, screws and nails should be studied for clues to age. Unevenly shaped hand-forged nails, for example, would more likely be a product of the 18th Century, rather than the 19th.
Pointers like these cover a wide variety of folk-art collectibles--from baskets to kitchenware. Indeed, folk art involves handmade items from every period of American history. Because you can't be an expert on everything, it's better to specialize in a particular field so that you won't be fooled again.
Pipe guru Rick Hacker of Beverly Hills has written another book on his favorite subject, "The Christmas Pipe" (Autumngold Publishing, 142 pp., illustrated: $24.95). The book, sporting a bright-red hardback cover with gold lettering, is available through pipe stores or directly from Hacker (P.O. Box 634, Beverly Hills, Calif. 90213).
The author wrote us that the work marks "the first time a book on this subject matter has ever been published."
The book, Hacker said, "not only covers the historic background and tradition of special pipes for Christmas but lists virtually every Christmas commemorative pipe available to collectors today." Included are the years each pipe was made, quantity and original selling prices.
Paperweight collectors will be interested in a new book from Lawrence H. Selman of Santa Cruz, who is considered by many collectors to be a leading expert on the subject. "Collectors' Paperweights--Price Guide and Catalogue" (L.H. Selman Ltd., 200 pp., illustrated: $15) is available through antique stores and bookstores or can be ordered directly from Selman (761 Chestnut St., Santa Cruz, Calif. 95060).
Paperweights and related objects are described and illustrated in full color, as well as a history of the subject and a pricing guide. Selman, whose firm sells antique and contemporary paperweights, also produces a newsletter, Paperweight News.
"Since the early 1950s, interest in collecting paperweights has re-emerged, especially in America, and today is growing dramatically," Selman said. "It is the beauty of the individual pieces which attracts people to purchase their first paperweights. But it is the emerging interest in collecting and the long-term investment potential of quality paperweights which captures their imaginations for becoming lifelong enthusiasts."
Our mention of a publication on tips for book collectors, which we saw in a Santa Fe, N.M., bookstore, brought a response from Dwight A. Myers, executive director of the New Mexico Book League (8632 Horacio Place N.E., Albuquerque, N.M. 87111). "We are a collective, of sorts, of book lovers here in the Southwest (authors, small publishers, booksellers, librarians and other odds-'n'-ends folk) who want to do anything we can to promote books and reading in general." The group produces a newsletter, Book Talk, five times a year; subscription rate is $5.
Ronald L. Soble cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about collectibles. Do not telephone. Write to Your Collectibles, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.