How goes the old Wall Street aphorism- bulls and bears get rich, but pigs get slaughtered. Sage, perhaps, but financial sagacity is not my strong suit. Nor that of plenty of other people, particularly in the fine art and antiques trade, with this last year or two cluttered with disbursal sales of former dealers. It’s been an interesting experience, Keith and I chatting with those of long tenure in the trade, discussing how items used to be passed from dealer to dealer, with some kind of mark-up each time it traded hands, until it reached an eventual buyer. The new transparency in the marketplace for art and antiques brought about by information technology is, to my way of thinking, not entirely a bad thing. Mind you, price shopping in the art world is pretty tough, as the price differential between a good object and a similar though superior object is measured exponentially.
But, of course, quality and pricing make for good talking points with clients. I hope my colleagues in the trade agree with me, that discussion about the merits of a piece of furniture or artwork ultimately assist the client to make the right decision and the dealer that assists in that process has established a relationship, and not just accomplished a spot sale. We’ve found generally that sales these days are accompanied by lots of discussion, including plenty of specific questions about our stock, about the trade generally, and the nature of connoisseurship. Although times being the way they are, my venal self would like to jump ahead to closing the sale, but the process of bonding through long discussion has had, for me at least, the beneficial effect of keeping me on my mettle. Discussion, research and explanation assist not just the development of connoisseurship in my clients, but significantly improves my own, and ultimately makes me a better dealer.