As a Skinner appraiser, I see all different kinds of people come through the door, lugging furniture, carrying paintings, or holding boxes of heirlooms, looking hopeful, perhaps nervous, or maybe even overconfident. I find that many fit into three groups: The Dreamers, The Realists, and The Skeptics, and many come thanks to the recent proliferation of auction- and antiques-related television shows.
Have you seen Pawn Stars or witnessed the road trip adventures taken by the American Pickers? Of course you know the pioneering British program Antiques Roadshow and its American counterpart.
These shows are wonderful for the antiques business. They’ve taught people to cast an eye toward the things in their houses that have always just been there, or that their grandmother was always telling them to stay away from when they were kids. They’ve also empowered a group of people to scour yard sales, tired old group shops, and country auctions in search of the proverbial diamond in the rough, or at least something like the one they saw on TV. On the flip side, they’ve given others some very strange ideas about the value of their antiques. And the Dreamer has the wildest expectations of them all.
“Mine is just like…” launching into flowery phrases like “delicacy of line,” “precision craftsmanship,” and/or “tour de force.”
The Dreamer opens up a three-ring binder or accordion file full of at best marginally applicable information: catalogue pages, pricelists, MAD clippings, p4a.com printouts, and expert letters that, though they contain no concrete information, are interpreted by the dreamer as de facto authentication.
For example, if the expert letter says “I’ve never seen a table with drop leaves that shape,” the Dreamer will interpret it as “this table is fantastically rare and therefore incredibly valuable.” If there is evidence that does not support the Dreamer’s theory, he will choose to downplay it, clumsily argue against it, or outright ignore it.
The Dreamer is nothing if not creative in his arguments. If an expert’s letter reads “the circular saw marks on the underside of the top indicate early 20th century cabinetmaking,” the Dreamer may take it to mean that his table’s cabinetmaker must have received power tools from the future, or possibly simply invented the circular saw in 1790 and kept it secret.
The Dreamer almost always brings a sidekick, usually one who’s been fully educated about the object’s perceived potential. Although not the “keeper of the binder,” the sidekick will help steel the Dreamer’s resolve. This fast and furious onslaught of questionable information disorients most appraisers immediately, and counter-arguments to such obscure or outdated research are difficult to construct.
If things even get as far as a consignment, the result is nearly exclusively disappointment. Sometimes a Dreamer’s consignment will end with the dreaded phrase “I would have just kept it for that price.” Occasionally, the Dreamer is actually right and his/her object sells well, to which his reaction is invariably, “I told you so.”
Are you a Dreamer? Tips for you…
Leave the three-ring binder at home and trust the appraiser. I know it’s tough, but it’s the appraiser’s job to know your object and tell you the truth. If you still feel you’re going to be disappointed, then seek a second opinion or wait to consign.
Stay tuned next week for the Dreamer’s more practical cousin, The Realist…