Saturday 3 November 2012

Should one ALWAYS tell the truth?

One of the problems of my having been an antique dealer (even briefly) is that people are always asking advice, or wanting to show me their prized possessions. 

The Art Deco terracotta greyhound, above is very similar to one bought by a friend, many years ago, at a prestigious antiques fair here in France. He was extremely proud of it, and even more so because he'd managed to buy it for just a few hundred quid.

At once I could see its problems. The terracotta was coming off as powder on my hands, and there was also a thin film of cement dust in all the crevices. I turned it over and scratched very gently into the base; underneath the red of the clay, it was white.

When I informed my friend that is was a plaster copy, painted with a thin film of liquid clay, he refused to believe me, went berserk, and we've never spoken since. 

On another occasion, a female friend wanted to show me a small antique Oak mirror that she'd bought. It had a chunky frame which concealed a secret bible hiding compartment in the back.

"How old do you think it is?" she asked. 

"About two weeks?" I replied. 

"It's actually seventeenth century" she assured me; looking rather smug.

"They didn't have fibreglass in the seventeenth century" I replied; whilst pointing to the proof.

Again, several hundred quid had been forked-out, and her face turned to an ashen grey.

Quite recently I was at her house, and I saw her pointing out the same mirror to another guest, saying "It's seventeenth century, you know!" She had simply refused to accept the truth; I think I might have done the same, it was very convincing!


  1. What is the problem with admiting you've been fooled by a dishonest seller? They're out there everywhere and they're clever. Lots of people are fooled by them especially those who are honest themselves. I don't understand people who want to live this type of lie. They will only be shown up as foolish in the end - even if it only by someone who inherits this piece of forgery and who will then laugh at how someone pulled the wool over the eyes of poor old Mum!

    1. The woman who bought the mirror went back to the shop and complained. The dealer said "Are you crazy?... If it'd been the real thing, it would have cost thousands, not hundreds!"

      She left it at that!

  2. It's a no-win situation, if you didn't point out the plastic then no doubt you'd be ridiculed later as not knowing your onions.

    Past careers are a pain - people still slip me a wad a cash and a surveillance mugshot of someone who must be removed from office, even though I haven't fired a shot in years.

  3. I was put in a very difficult situation by a dealer who had got me restore a huge stone lion which he had sold to an American opening a new outlet in NYC. He had told the US dealer that it was 17th century, and when he turned up to collect it, he asked how old I thought it was. When I told him about 10 - 15 years, he actually went white. It was to be the centrepiece for his new Manhattan shop, and was going to be photographed for the cover of an national glossy mag. I still got paid.

    1. Woops!

      Strangely, in the two cases above, I still feel slightly guilty.

  4. They asked for your expertise, and you gave it to them. Your 'job' is to tell them the truth of it, their 'job' is to process the information in whatever way they see fit. Sadly, both these instances ended up with the buyer going quite bonkers. Not your issue. Keep on telling the truth.

  5. Hysterical stories. Once the moola is paid truth no longer matters. My son and I are both auction hounds but we go the opposite way. We buy what we think is crap and are surprised when we get maybe $5 for a $1 purchase. A great ebay hobby for us both.

  6. As long as when they are fibbing they don't draw your name into it as having confirmed the antiquity of their possessions. Yes...ALWAYS tell the truth unless some woman asks you if her jeans make her butt look fat. Then, Lie like you never lied before.

  7. Shame on both those people. If i ask you to lend me your expertise and don't like the answer, then that's on me--next time, i should take you along shopping with me so you can tell me before i've paid for something.

    My maternal grandmother had a great eye for antiques. She would tell me if something were worth the purchase price or trash. I never regretted buying anything she assured me was a good value. Most of the items i still have and use. And, i think that's the key. If it's something you really love and will be happy having, and if it's a price you don't mind paying, then fine. But, if you want it only because it's antique, caveat emptor!

  8. People should not ask if they don't want the truth. You have nothing to feel guilty about. But you know what else is wrong with that greyhound statue? The chest should be much deeper and the waist narrower.

  9. I had a friend who made first rate reproduction furniture...always introducing an anachronism to make it clear that it was reproduction.
    We were on a visit to Bruges when he saw 'his' Flemish dresser, made for a society matron in his area, on sale as genuine.
    We went in, he found the anachronism, pointed it out and the dealer called him an ignorant Englishman who knew nothing about Flemish style.
    He refused further commissions from the lady who was supposedly furnishing her manor house...and found himself blackballed in the area.

  10. We've been asked for our opinion on a number of occasions and have had to delicately suggest that all is not well with a purchase! Mind you, the same thing has happened to us with a Chinese figurine, sold as original but at the price we paid, who are they kidding. It's a lovely repro and we enjoy it without having to worry that someone might knock it off the shelf.


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