Why I Loved Winterthur's “Treasures on Trial” Exhibit

A local history fanatic recaps an afternoon spent among fakes, frauds and forgeries.


Iwill shamelessly admit that I am a total history nerd. I can go down a rabbit hole on the internet about the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and lose an hour out of my day, easily. And don’t even get me started on the Mercury 7 astronauts. I love Americana. I love getting lost in the past. I love hallmarks of these times, whether it be fashion, art, furniture or even advertising.

The Brandywine Valley is home to many historical gems, including several of the du Pont family’s stomping grounds and bucolic estates: Hagley, Longwood Gardens, Nemours Mansion and, my personal favorite, Winterthur.

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Winterthur is perhaps best known for the Point-to-Point steeplechase race it hosts every May. It also houses one of the most well-known collections of decorative arts (mostly furniture and fine art) in America. Winterthur has played host to many famed exhibitions—think: the “Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens” and “Costumes of Downton Abbey”—and when I heard about “Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes,” I couldn’t wait to check it out.

On a recent afternoon, I convinced my husband to tag along while I learned about fakes, frauds and forgeries at the exhibit. I was itching to see an Hermès Birkin bag and Chanel suit in the flesh—and also curious to see if I’d be able to detect any fakes.

Can you tell which Chanel suit is real?//Photos courtesy of Liz Farrell

Tucked away on the second floor of the main galleries at Winterthur, “Treasures on Trial” is itself a treasure. We spent 90 minutes captivated by the tales of those who were bold enough to fake and forge (there is a difference!) Mark Rothko paintings and wine labels, and to try passing off phony Tiffany Studios lamps as the real deal. (Fun fact: The fake Birkin bag featured in the exhibit was so well duplicated that even the caretakers at Hermès’s legendary spa couldn’t detect signs of foul play.)

The exhibit wasn’t all just about ogling the goods themselves, though. We also learned how scientists detect fakes and forgeries, and about the impact counterfeit goods have on the luxury market. (Spoiler alert: It isn’t pretty.)

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Our only regret? When the tour ended, we were due to pick up our kids from their grandparents’ house. Otherwise, we would’ve stayed to enjoy a beer at the nearby Visitor Center Café!

What: “Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes”
When: On display through Jan. 7, 2018 (call or check website to confirm hours)
Where: Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library
How much: $20 (includes house tour, if you wish)

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