Honest Mistakes and Audacious Lies
As I stated in my blog post of July 11, 2016, we are not antique dealers. Yes, we acquire antiques and objects from Europe, Canada and the Americas, but unlike many antique dealers we rarely offer any claims of an object’s pedigree.
If a guest in either of our Found Objects locations wants the story behind an object, we tell him or her where we acquired it and what we think it is.
Once in a while we’ll pass along the story that the dealer we purchased it from offered us. But even this can lead to trouble.
A case in point: we offered for sale a set of three primitive folk art rag dolls in our Vermont location. On the tag we repeated what the dealer had told us about the dolls: “Early 20th Century Dolls made by Nancy Henderson in North Carolina.” The dolls, professionally framed and mounted behind glass, were priced $260 for all three.
A dealer came in and purchased them from us, intending to resell. A few days after he bought them, he called to inform us that a fellow dealer, who also happened to make reproduction folk art dolls and was apparently an expert on the topic, had declared these dolls to be recent, high quality reproductions. We graciously informed him that we had not warranted the dolls as anything more than folk art dolls – and the price certainly didn’t reflect rare treasures -- but because we included information on the tags without provenance, we were embarrassed.
What were we to do? I know the dealer thought he was getting a deal because he thought the folk art dolls were worth far more than we were selling them for. He believed they must be very valuable. His doll-expert friend had dashed his hopes of making a killing so he wanted his money back.
It is customary in antique and vintage shops that once you buy an item you own it and there are no returns or refunds. The Latin term, caveat emptor --buyer beware-- applies here. The Found Objects receipt states: “Vintage and antique items are sold ‘as is’ and are not refundable.”
BUT, because of our error we allowed him to return the dolls for a refund rather than store credit. The dolls, incidentally, are back on the sales floor, their tags no longer listing their alleged age. We don’t know if the dealer’s doll-making friend was correct or not in her assessment of these folk art pieces. For all we know, they could be authentic after all. But we’re not in a position to say either way. We’ll leave that to the experts – or proto-experts. We don’t want to ever, knowingly, misrepresent anything to anyone. It’s bad business and bad karma.
Which brings me to the real life fable of the Hobbs brothers. My sense is you haven’t heard this deliciously nasty tale of greed and avarice, because few of us find ourselves in this rarified world of uber-expensive antiques.
The Hobbs brothers, John and Carlton, were royalty among international antique dealers. John, in London, and Carlton, in New York City, sold exquisitely rare antiques in the five- and six-figure range. High-end interior designers such as Bunny Williams and Peter Marino enlisted the brothers to acquire investment-quality antiques for their clients, which included the likes of Oscar de la Renta, Valentino and David H. Koch.
However, evidence began to mount that the two brothers had been using a furniture restorer named Dennis Buggins to fabricate “period antiques” convincing enough to even fool the experts at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
Please see the New York Times links below to see how this drama came together and collapsed like an Ikea bookcase. Besides being deliciously dishy, the tale provides an object lesson in how difficult it is – even for experts -- to say what truly is and isn’t an antique, especially when it comes to period antiques.
My advice to everyone is caveat emptor, regardless of the dollar amount you spend, what you’re buying, and where you’re getting it from.