Most 'Tribal Experts' - whether African or Oceanic, will tell you that, there is no substitute for authenticating tribal pieces, other than picking the piece up and looking at it from all angles. One looks at the 'form' of the piece, the 'style' and the method of 'carving' enacted on the item. By holding it, one can also feel the weight, see the 'patina' and also establish with some certainty where one would reasonable expect to see evidence of 'wear' or 'tribal use'. It may be in some cases, that one can even smell the wood or the evidence of ritual sacrifices and tribal offerings during ceremonies in years past. I in particular take pride in my expertise of gauging age based on the deterioration of wooden artefacts, in particular with reference to 'age crack patterns' and insect infestations. Obviously, a lot of the time, it depends where the item was stored since its creation, and what 'elements' it has likely been exposed to. With my unique experience of visiting countless tribes across West and Central Africa, I have a good knowledge of the village practices, rituals and also the climate and types of trees used by carvers, as well as the tools and materials they would have had available to them all those decades ago. Some of my colleagues have greater expertise in certain tribes or objects, but between us, we have a collective expertise in a myriad of pieces from many African countries!
Having said that... We do also conduct random tests on pieces if we have doubts, or just want further confirmation of the age of the piece. Often, with regard to 'Private Collections' we offer, we will test 1 or more pieces for the collection, normally using 'Spectroscopy' (which is our preferred method), but also on occasion (with much older pieces) carbon dating. Some examples of certificates belonging to pieces we are now selling are available to view below)
Note - ALL certificates of authenticity or spectroscopy results available, will be supplied to any relevant buyers of our pieces. And, on occasion, we will conduct tests on a piece before delivery of the item to the customer.
With regard to 'copies' - most can be spotted very easily. Copies invariably have at least 1 or 2 inherent flaws! Normally, the wood used was just not available to carvers in the villages in bygone years. Often, the carver of a copy is not from the same tribe as the object, and therefore some subtle discrepancies are inherent. Sometimes, more modern tools are used in the carving than would have been available to the master carvers of the time. Where it gets complicated, is the 'embellishments' used to adorn masks and figures...
Please note - Although we all collect and sell 'Oceanic Art', we do not profess to be 'experts' in the area. We are 'informed collectors' rather than aficionados in Oceanic Art!
For Oceanic art authentication, we would always defer to Oceanic tribal experts we would trust, such as -
Julian Flak - Galerie Flak, Paris (Oceanic Expert)
Lance Entwistle - Entwistle Gallery, Paris & London (Superb Tribal Expert!!)
Chris Boylan - Chris Boylan Oceanic Art, Sydney (Melanasia & PNG Expert)