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The prosecution follows a sting operation involving trading standards officers, the police and TV’s Antiques Roadshow expert Alastair Dickenson.

Shindler, 59, pleaded guilty at Chester Crown Court to selling counterfeit silver snuff boxes and having other silverware and tortoiseshell plated goods which contravened the trades description act, and on August 2 he was sentenced to six months in prison.

The investigation began two years ago and Shindler’s long established shop, Watergate Antiques, has since closed.

The court heard that a trading standards officer bought a silver snuff box from the shop, in Watergate Street, on September 17, 1998, for £80. It was described as Georgian, dating from 1805, but it bore only four of the five standard hallmarks and the date letter was for 1802-3.

“These were simple mistakes which should have been immediately obvious to an antiques dealer,” said Peter Moss, prosecuting.

Trading standards officers returned to the shop eight days later and bought a second snuff box which was identical to the first, suggesting a job lot of fakes. Furthermore, a collector bought another of the boxes in January 1999 and, noticing the hallmark error, contacted Cheshire Trading Standards.

Officers raided the shop on February 25, 1999, accompanied by police and Alastair Dickenson, acting as an independent expert witness. They discovered a bag containing a further 16 identical snuff boxes, plus several unmarked or mis-marked silver plated dishes and eight fake tortoiseshell plated items including a cigar box and trinket.

The goods were checked by the Goldsmiths’ Company’s antique plate committee and the Assay Office who found the metal met a .925 purity standard but was of an unusual composition not compatible with the professed date and origin.

Michael Wolfe, defending, said Shindler, of Mossley Hill, Liverpool, had originally bought 51 snuff boxes in 1994 from a fellow dealer, whom he had known for several years, and hadn’t checked each individual item but took his friend’s word for it that they were genuine.

However, Judge Elgan Edwards said that even without checking the hallmarks, the defendant should have realised something was wrong when he was offered so many 1805 snuff boxes.

“This was a serious offence in which you deceived the public while running a well-respected business in Chester,” he said.

Shindler was also ordered to pay £12,363 costs and the fake goods were forfeited.

After the case a spokesman for the Goldsmith’s Company told the Antiques Trade Gazette: “We are understandably very pleased by this successful prosecution, which showed strong co-operation between the police, Cheshire Trading Standards office and ourselves.”

Have you bought a fake?

Paul Johnson, superintendent assayist at the Goldsmiths’ Company, told the Antiques Trade Gazette: “The silver was made with an alloy including about five per cent cadmium, which was not purposefully used in silver until about 1910, and certainly not in any great quantity.”

The boxes are of standard size and the surfaces appear to be engine turned, although closer examination shows this to be done crudely by hand. Most contain a waxy snuff residue to give an impression of age and use. They appear to be hallmarked for London, with the G for 1802 and a Duty mark, but no maker’s mark. Several boxes also carried 1/4in high numerical stamps on either the box or lid.