SUCH is their desirability that Dame Barbara Cartland, never a lady to shy away from excess, once commandeered her chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce to rural Fife for one of her customary shopping binges.

Now the reputation of one of Scotland's most loved pottery brands is at risk. Long cherished by royalty and celebrities, the Wemyss Ware name is now being undermined by an influx of fake copies from the Far East.

Scottish collectors and antique specialists are warning that confidence in the esteemed crockery, which next year celebrates its 125th anniversary, is waning. Some buyers have paid as much as GBP1300 for counterfeit designs, while auction houses have also fallen foul of copies.

Such is the extent of the problem that dealers say the value of some Wemyss designs has fallen by half, with buyers becoming increasingly distrustful and reticent.

The hand-painted pottery, first created in Kirkcaldy in 1882, is one of the most soughtafter names in the antiques world, regularly appearing at Sotheby's sales, with some figures reaching as much as GBP20,000.

However, famous Wemyss pink pigs are being manufactured en masse in Thailand. Sold wholesale, they are arriving in the UK by the box-load and frequently appear on eBay, the on-line auction site.

Dorothy Wang, who has run Newburgh Antiques in Fife for the past 15 years, said the problem was not exclusive to the internet. She knows of people who have paid as much as GBP1300 for fake Wemyss productions from respected dealers, who were themselves duped.

She said: "You can tell them apart by the weight (the fakes are heavier), but online buyers wouldn't know. The fakes are damaging the value of the originals now. "I find myself having to convince people what I'm selling is genuine. Sometimes, people come in with fakes asking me what they're worth, and it's so difficult to tell them they've been fooled."

Roland Arkell, deputy editor of the Antiques Trade Gazette, said the industry was aware of the problem, and advised people that the fake designs were longer and had unusual trademarks.

"Most auction houses can spot the fakes even though some people have paid a few hundred pounds for them, " he added.

Jacqui Harvey, who runs a Scottish antique and pottery shop called Grannie Used To Have One, in Longhaven, near Peterhead, said confidence in the pinkWemyss pigs has been severely undermined due to the extent of fake copies. "I've noticed them circulating more and more, " she said. "They're always pink and all of them look the same with the Robert Heron 'RH' mark.

"I can't buy or sell the pigs any more in Scotland. They've killed the collectors' market. No-one will take them, especially customers who have been conned so many times.

"Novices are still caught out by them. Most dealers in Scotland can spot the counterfeits, but they're being sold in England and the US, and are put on eBay constantly."

Griselda Hill, owner of a pottery in Ceres, Cupar, which owns the Wemyss trademark and continues to produce its pottery, said the fake market was a frustration, but little could be done to prevent it.

She said: "I've known of these pigs and it's one of those things. It's a problem, but I don't quite know how we'd be able to stop it. Like the fake Gucci bags and football shirts, it's very difficult to stop.

"I suppose because the value of the originals is so high, the Wemyss pigs have become an attractive piece for counterfeiters to start imitating."

The Ceramics and Allied Trades Union said counterfeiting and backstamping was a "major problem" in Asia.

eBay did not respond to an inquiry about fake pottery being sold through its site.

Royal appeal *Wemyss Ware has enjoyed a succession of high-profile customers over the years, from members of the royal family to celebrities.

*The late Queen Mother was one of the firm's most popular customers, and is said to have amassed one of the largest private collections of the pottery. Both the Queen and the Prince of Wales are also known to enjoy collecting.

*Elton John, not known for his lack of extravagance, set a new world record for the brightly coloured pottery four years ago, when, at a Sotheby's auction, he paid GBP34,800 apiece for two sleeping piglet figures.