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Fake Railroad China: L&N "Spongeware" Pitcher
In Summer, 2005, a questionable piece of railroad china surfaced in an internet auction. The piece was a "spongeware" pitcher about 7 1/4" tall and 5 1/2" wide at the base. Its color was base white with an irregular blue pattern that appeared to be made by dabbing blue color with a natural sponge (hence the name). On the bottom of the pitcher was the backstamp "Louisville & Nashville Railroad" followed by "Old Reliable" in quotes on the second line. The latter was interpreted by the seller as the manufacturer. The exterior was described as perfect, but the interior had considerable crazing (cracking of the glaze). The seller represented the piece as dating from the late 19th or early 20th Century and likely off a private car. Final auction price was well over three hundred dollars.
Unfortunately this L&N pitcher appears to be a recent fantasy piece. "Fantasy" railroad china is china that does not resemble anything actually used by the railroads, hence it cannot literally be considered a reproduction. Rather, it is china that simply has a railroad marking applied to it as if -- in a parallel universe -- it saw railroad use. See more on fantasy china. This particular piece was covered by Doug McIntyre, noted railroad china author, in a supplement to his book The Official Guide to Dining Car China. Doug generously provided the following comments:
"I saw the first ones in late 1994 at the Gaithersburg show.
There were two there and I received calls on two others within the
next few months. Based on information from others, approximately 10
of them turned up over the next several months. I found it odd that
no one had heard of such a piece, then 10 -- that I can account for
-- appeared in a matter of a few months.
I believe the pitchers themselves are newly made, as I have seen
ones identical in dimension in shops which sell them as "replicas" of
old pitchers. The plain pitchers I have seen are plain white, and the
L&N ones are created by applying both the spongeware effect and
the L&N markings (both in the same cobalt blue color) and then
firing them in a decorating kiln. Decorating kilns fire at lower temperature
than normal kilns used to harden base glazes and, as such, allow the
decoration applied over the glaze to fuse and become part of the finish
while not effecting the original base glaze. Decoration so applied
can be felt as a separate layer as the decoration melts and fuses but
does not melt the glaze below. I can't imagine many of these pitchers
were made as this is the first one [on the internet] I have seen or
heard of in many years.
"Old Reliable" is the nickname of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad." [End of Doug's comments]
At the risk of repeating advice given elsewhere on our website, this L&N pitcher episode illustrates some key points that collectors use in detecting fakes:
Thanks to Doug McIntyre for his comments!