The man who makes fake antique Windsor chairs

"Wesley Swanson" is a carpenter who makes replica Windsor chairs and puts them through an aging process. He then sells them as authentic antiques, fetching thousands of dollars. His defense is airtight: “Well, it’s buyer beware. I don’t have to reveal this. I don’t have to label it as such because that’s the buyer’s business to know that.”

From Lisa Hix's article at Collectors Weekly:

When he’s building a chair, he takes a long time and does everything very carefully. He takes perfectly green wood, and he has a way of aging it so that it’s out-of-round as if it’s aged a hundred years. He has a way of rusting up hardware. He’ll buy scraps and parts from people, or he’ll find an old piece of furniture, like another chair. And he can use the wood, nails, or hardware in the new piece that he’s making to make it look real.

But he has made an old-looking Windsor chair of 100 percent new wood. He’s developed techniques for aging paints with blow dryers and things that. It’s hard to spot the fake aging process in wood unless you X-ray it. It’s hard to tell it’s been done to the paint unless you put the chair through chemical analysis.

In the Hot Seat: Is Your Antique Windsor a Fake?


  1. This is why I collect vintage vacuum tube computer hardware. No one’s out there making fakes of that stuff.

    (Except Tom Jennings, but he makes “obsolete forgeries” of stuff that never existed, and they often have an Arduino hiding in the guts.)

  2. My feeling is: who cares if a beautiful antique is a fake?

    If it’s beautiful enough that I would love to have it in my living room, I don’t care if it’s authentically 200 years old or just looks that way. Clearly the person is a great craftsman, and great craftsmanship should be respected.

    1. If you paid me for an authentic Van Gogh, you would not be happy to find out I sold you a replica Van Gogh, no matter how wonderful the replica was.

      1. I think a perfectly-rendered Van Gogh would be just as beautiful as the original.

        Obviously Van Gogh should have the credit of creating the original, but what exactly would it mean if, say, it turned out that many of the beautiful Van Gogh’s that currently hang in museums turned out to be fakes? Would all the people that looked at them and took inspiration from them and were uplifted by them suddenly find that the emotions that they had felt were actually fake?

        1. We know the answer already. It happened with Vermeer. Follow the Van Meegeren link above. Also the first part of this book is helpful:

          Or you could just go straight to Benjamin’s appropriately famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

          It is interesting to think about, how much the “aura” or mystique contributes to value.

        2. He should just stamp “c’est ne pas une Windsor” in UV ink somewhere on the chair…  Will add a bit of truthiness and an artistic defense.

        3. Fraud is fraud. He is inflating his profits by misrepresenting the product’s origins.

          But you are arguing something else: value. While I agree with some of your thoughts, you and I don’t control the value of things other people want to buy. If someone chooses to pay an outrageous amount for an original instead of a cheaper copy, that is their right.

          And that is just how the world works. Why do people pay to stand in line for hours, just to get a glimpse of the original Mona Lisa, when they can view it online forever, or print their own for free? Its interesting to think about, but it doesn’t remove guilt from fake chair guy.

    2.  I think it’s the fact that he’s ascribing a history that never existed, which is fraud.

      Value comes from artistry, history, and rarity. When he passes these fakes off as real, he’s profiting from a history that never existed, as well as a rarity that lessens with every piece he produces, effectively killing profit margins across the board.

      He needs to simply be proud to be a great craftsman, and let that be his selling point.

    3. His skill should be respected but he shouldn’t try to justify his fraud in presenting it with a false history.  He knows that is where the value mainly comes from and he is deliberately falsifying it.

      If he were honest and passed them off as high quality replicas he’d probably still be able to sell them for a healthy profit with no harm done.

    4. “My feeling is: who cares if a beautiful antique is a fake?”
      Obviously, Wesley Swanson cares.  If he didn’t care, he would label his work as hand-crafted reproductions.  But he doesn’t do that.  He passes his work off as “restored antiques”, knowing that the false advertising will command a higher price from people who feel that they are not just buying a stylish piece of furniture, but a bit of history as well.

      1. There’s a vast body of Victorian era reproductions of Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, etc. furnishings and artworks. Which are quite valuable and desirable, but not as much as an actual 16th Century court cupboard.

  3. I’d like his chairs a whole lot more if he created new replicas and just avoided the fraud portion of his production process. And while yes, it is on the collector to judge a fake, how does that make what he’s done any less honest or justify duping customers?

  4. Guitars have this problem too.. if you got eyes on an instrument that doesn’t have a documented history, you’re taking a huge risk.

    Never thought to apply that to chairs.. I guess it’s good advice for any antique if authenticity is important.

  5. At what point does something become an antique? It’s a loose definition. He’s certainly attempting to make something that looks older than it is, but there’s nothing wrong with that unless he lies about its actual age when asked point-blank.

    1. Good point! If it has been artificially antiqued, is it an antique chair, or merely and antiqued chair? 

      And if an antique chair is just a chair antiqued by chemical process over a long time, how is that significantly different from a chair antiqued by chemical processes over a short time? 

  6. So based on his logic buyers should be expert chemists and subject all their purchases to x-ray analysis?

  7. On the one hand, if you’re genuinely willing to pay 100 times more for the exact same chair solely because you believe it to be old, there’s something wrong with you. (Yes, this applies to your $100 million Van Goghs and whatnot as well. Valuing art more for having been touched by a famous person than for its aesthetic worth utterly devalues art as a concept.)

    On the other hand, this guy is lying to people to trick them out of money, and that’s shitty and unethical regardless of how silly those people are.

    There’s not really any good guys in this one, are there?

    1.  I think Van Gogh is valued so highly because of history (he was an odd and intense fellow who created a stir wherever he went) and rarity. The price is driven up because the desire of enough people to own one is so intense.

      1. And the point stands – valuing a Van Gogh for it’s history is pretty much explicitly devaluing the piece as a work of art. It’s like people who own homes primarily as an “investment”, ruining neighborhoods in the process. It’s perverse.

        So yeah, I’m gonna have to agree with “no good guys here”.

        1. Somehow, I feel like I fell prey to the edit-ninja.

          Nonetheless, I will concede this point and chalk it up to reading posts while drowsy.

        2. Aren’t most houses intended to be investments? Maybe I haven’t experienced this ruined neighbourhood phenomenon you describe. Are these houses badly maintained? Wouldn’t those be poor investments?

          1. Aren’t most houses intended to be investments?

            As far as I know, houses have always been intended for people to live in.

            Are these houses badly maintained? Wouldn’t those be poor investments?

            People bought multiple properties with minimal, zero or negative equity in order to flip them to make money. When the market crashed, their greed left them with nothing but enormous amounts of debt, which they just walked away from. So, no, the properties weren’t maintained because the property investment industry was mostly a Ponzi scheme.

          2. Most, built nowadays? Probably. In good neighbourhoods? No. Those houses were intended to be homes

            People who invest in houses don’t invest for the neighborhood. They invest for the house itself and the views out the window. Yes, this may lead to them pushing for ordinances to make the neighbors conform to their investment ideal. Yes, carefully manicuring a sense of aesthetics and enforced behaviour on their neighbors is good investment. 
            This is not something that helps a neighbourhood. If anything, it’s strongly anti-neighbourhood. Trying to control your neighbours with the force of law as step basically one is a fertile breeding ground for distrust and resentment, especially since such enforcement is usually anonymous. It tears neighbourhoods apart.

            And after all, those who are interested in the neighbourhoods want their house values to stay low, not high. Why would someone who actually cares about the neighbourhood want HIGH property values? That’s just a way to make themselves and their neighbours worse off, isn’t it? The only actual side effect is higher taxes, if you’re actually using the house as a home.

    2. There’s not really any good guys in this one, are there?

      Anyone who appreciates something for its historical value is a bad guy? Intriguing.

      1. Well, they are certainly LESS bad than the guy blatantly committing fraud.

        (Actually, is it worse to blatantly commit fraud or subtly commit fraud?)

  8. So his defense against outright fraud is “buyer beware”? Head-desk is obvious in this one, yes?

  9. So some yuppie without complete knowledge of the product purchases said product at an agreed price, and is completely pleased with the esthetics of the product.  I see no problem with making a buck off some arse willing to pay $5k for a chair that looks well worn.
    What about all of the limited edition anythings out there that are produced by the thousands?  What about the suckers who paid $100 for a beanie baby?  How many special edition dale earnhadt plates have been made?  
    Follow a fad and be had.

    1.  Never mind that there exist consumer protection laws which proscribe sellers of merchandise from misrepresenting the merchandise.

  10. This is easy – misrepresentation is a form of fraud. If you have to hand wave about “Well I didn’t TECHNICALLY lie, and caveat emptor and so forth” then you are misrepresenting your product. People who are honest about what they make don’t need to use such weasel words.

    I have a good friend who makes Windsor chairs in the traditional manner, using authentic hand tools and period correct finishing techniques and aging processes. They are works of art, and take upwards of 80 hours to complete. He doesn’t represent them as antiques, but instead sells to people who have a set of 3 antiques and want a newly made match to fill out the set. They know it is not old, but the newly made piece still “fits” with the set because of it’s finishing, appearance, and the time honored craft that went into it.

    And they are willing to pay handsomely for work like that. It is imbued with honesty and craftsmanship, and hence fetches a high price. No need to fuck with people.

    1. This is so true. I love our older antiques and would probably pay well to have one refurbished, or to have a missing piece added so that the set is usable. There’s plenty of money to be made in restoration. 

      The desire to *trick* people to me has to be purely for personal satisfaction. The truth is very old furniture just isn’t *that* valuable compared to other things. You can buy Tudor chests for a lower price than you would spend on a lousy car. The chest will probably last longer and require less money to keep up.

  11. Am I the only one happy to see a well done scam? It’s not like he’s hurting people. He’s defrauding people who can afford to pay thousands of dollars for an old chair. People like that do not need protection, especially not from the scourge of overly new chairs. I hope he takes lots of money from lots of idiots and then I hope those idiots find out they’ve been fooled and then feel bad about wasting their money because spending thousands on an old chair is wasting money so that’s the feeling they deserve.

    1. Well made things are not a silly affectation – sure it is mostly something enjoyed by wealthy people, but I would far rather people by an expensive piece of well made furniture that supports a regional craftsperson and will last 100 years, than buy something made in a poisonous factory in China that will last 2 years.

      I find it interesting that when faced with a post about cheap disposable crap being sold people will rail on about “disposable culture”, and then the second someone posts something about paying a lot for well-made things people rail on about “wasting money” on a chair.

      1. You want people to support artisans by paying a lot of money for well made things. His buyers are paying a lot of money for a well made thing, and I’m happy about that. Do we even have a disagreement?

      2. I have to point out that it isn’t necessarily the same voice making those two complaints just because you read it in the same place.

    2. I hope that you feel the same way when you find out that that’s not sour cream in your burrito.

  12. I never understand why these people would try to pass off the work, potentially getting sued over and over again, when people would probably pay 1k for a really well made hand carved reproduction chair anyway?

  13. It’s out and out fraud.  I am surprised there is even a debate about it.
    Patrick may be happy to see a well done scam because the scam “doesn’t hurt anyone”  Unless of course he’s the one that was scammed.

    1. Except, I can’t get scammed by counterfeits because I don’t fetishize brands or provenance. If what he were selling were somehow not actually a chair, then I’d see the problem. As it is, people are paying too much for a chair only to find out, to their horror, it’s new.

  14. Aside from the pretty plain fact that explicitly misrepresenting the nature or condition of an item up for sale must be illegal in most jurisdictions (and the original article seems to skirt that issue–does “Wesley Swanson” say his chairs are authentic?), there’s the matter of letting inauthentic items into the pool of items known to be historically authentic, or authentic but with documented alterations or restorations. Museums care about such things because their concerns go beyong aesthetic qualities to include how things were constructed and of what materials. Similarly, an instrument restorer who would like to return a guitar or violin to its historically correct condition needs an exemplar on which to base the work. (I have a friend who does this, and part of his expertise is rooted in working on actual old instruments and understanding exactly how and of what they were built.)

    This might seem like a philosophical tweaky-point to those who only see a free-will commercial  transaction (with maybe scorn for those willing to pay for authenticity like the cherry on top), but fake antiques, fake documents, fake paintings, and fake poems make it even harder to recover the past than do the ordinary operations of moth and rust. Of course, if you don’t give a rat’s ass about history, that’s not a problem. But if it matters which paintings Vermeer or van Gogh actually painted or which lines Emily Dickinson actually wrote, then fakery is a kind of pollution.

  15. The first time he says that stuff to a judge he will find out it doesn’t pass the sniff test. Until then he has a point. 

    I bet a real authority on antiques would not be fooled, not even for a second.

  16. This just makes me want to take a furniture building class. Less for the profiting from forgery angle, more for the “appropriately aged haunted house decor” angle.

  17. Too bad “Wesley” doesn’t believe in himself and his craft well enough to sell the pieces under his own name.

    He takes solace in the fact that he can “beat” the customer into paying high antique prices for fakes, but I can guarantee you that, as a skilled craftsman, he is DEEPLY pissed off that he can’t command the same high prices for work under his own signature ( as testified to by so many art forgers who couldn’t make it under their own name)

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