Published: October 6, 2020
NEW YORK CITY – A darling of the 2015 Winter Antiques Show, a piece of decorated furniture identified as a circa 1876 Civil War memorial secretary shown by Connecticut folk art dealer Allan Katz, was revealed in 2018 as a furniture forgery. In a February 26 article in Maine Antique Digest (MAD), the deceptive desk is described as “one of the best folk art fakes of all time,” having slipped through the connoisseurship radar of the show’s vetters, fellow dealers, museum curators, as well as the trade and general press [See Antiques and The Arts Weekly, March 6, 2018].
The deception was documented in side-by-side photos MAD published in its article, one showing an unadorned secretary in the corner of the household of Massachusetts antiques dealer Harold Gordon, who reportedly sold it to Katz, and another showing the same piece in the same corner after it had been painstakingly embellished with folky applications of bone inlays, lettering, finials, clock with dial and even a carved eagle perched on its top. The photos were not fake news, but the secretary, which was acquired by the Wadsworth Atheneum, certainly was.
The legal trail left by the desk and its craftsman has been long, but on September 29, Gordon, 71, having been charged with fraud, was sentenced in federal court to five years of probation and ordered to repay the $84,500 he was reportedly paid by antiques dealer Katz for the doctored case piece. As reported by the Hartford Courant, US District Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer said Gordon destroyed the credibility of authorities and institutions in the art world and that he would have sent him to prison were it not for health problems, including multiple strokes, cardiovascular disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Gordon in 2018 told MAD that he transformed the plain writing desk into the “Bingham Family Civil War Memorial Secretary” and created a backstory of how it was a gift given to a Civil War veteran in honor of his brother who was killed at the Battle of Antietam because he needed money.
MAD reported that Katz had priced the altered piece at $375,000 at the 2015 show. An appraisal commissioned by the US Attorney’s office values the piece at $2,500.
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