Everybody makes mistakes, everybody has those days….” If you’ve had a pre-teen around the house the last few years you’ve heard Miley Cyrus blurting out that line from the radio or TV. It’s one of those songs that gets stuck in your head whether you want it to or not. Maybe because it rings true to so many of us.
I may have mentioned once or twice that I’m an appraiser. I’m supposed to know things about antiques. I’m supposed to be like guys on The Antiques Roadshow and have a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of old things, their construction, their history and, most importantly, their values. I know you’ll be very surprised, but neither TV appraisers nor I know everything. (Gee, I hope my children aren’t reading this… I’ve worked so hard at convincing them that I do.)
Recently, we had a table in my store that was not what I represented it to be. I was wr..wr..wrong about its age and so I had priced it too high. It is still a lovely table and in the “better” of the “good, better, best” range of reproduction pieces. There is no mark or label, but I don’t think it was made to fool anyone into thinking it was old… but I fell anyway. I had stars in my eyes. I wanted it to be what I wanted it to be. My mind failed to acknowledge the signs that it was not 200 years old, though it is a good representation of the period. Though handmade with old methods, it lacked the subtle signs of aging. (Wish I could say the same for myself!) Now, my first response was to sneak it out of the store in the dark of night. I could go right out the back door and toss it into the river with no one the wiser. Then I realized that I would need to explain to the consigner and my business partner why it was gone and no money had changed hands. Not even Beaufort bugs could have taken care of wood that fast. Short of putting myself in the river, I had to admit I had made a mistake.
I decided to share my story openly because we all make mistakes. Mine will make me a better appraiser and dealer as soon as I get that darn crow swallowed. I will be more careful not to make snap judgments in the future. Maybe I needed to be made a little more humble. I can also be even more compassionate with clients who have made similar mistakes in the future. I don’t even remember how many knowledgeable collectors I’ve spoken with over the years who have made exciting purchases only to find later that they have been fooled. Some by themselves, like me, and some by less than honest or knowledgeable dealers or auction firms. I’ve also had clients who have inherited things that they feel are worth more than they really are based on information from a magazine article or TV show. People see things similar to theirs and don’t gather enough information to get past the obvious similarities. In the early days of The Antqiues Roadshow I had someone bring me a piece of Asian sculpture. It looked just like a fabulous piece they had seen valued for five figures the week before. It was “just like the one on TV,” she declared with excitement. It took me a full 5 minutes to figure out how to nicely say that I was sure the one on TV didn’t have a sticker that said “Made in China” on the bottom. Poor lady.
The saddest thing that many of us are experiencing these days is that items that were purchased or valued as recently as six years ago are not worth what they once were. Only the very high end and rare objects have really retained their value. Well, there is the boom on Chinese antiques, but the problem is not getting them sold at excitingly high prices but in getting the bills settled. There are also items that are popular one year and collect dust on the auction floor another. A great example is china. All of us who bought it new paid a lot for it. Just try replacing a plate or cup and saucer and you will still be shocked at the sticker. The same set will go at auction, yes all 120 pieces including a large meat platter, for less than $200.
The lesson for this week is simple. Be careful to stay objective when assessing an item. The old adage “if it’s almost to good to be true it probably isn’t” is a very handy one to keep in mind. Buy what is valuable to you primarily. Consider values to others as a nice asset, but unless you also enjoy speculating in risky stocks, it is unwise to buy something just because you think someone else will pay more for it later.
If you have made a mistake, call me and I’ll commiserate with you. You’re not the only one to have been fooled by a lovely leg or graceful arm.
Libby Holloway is a Certified Appraiser of antiques and residential contents. She is a member of the International Society of Appraisers where she is currently serving as Secretary of the Board of Directors. She is also a partner at Antiques and Such in Beaufort, SC. Libby can be contacted at www.LibbyHollowayAppraisals.com