Cribbed from Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’, ‘cheap is cheap’ quotes the character Gil’s would be mother-in-law, an erstwhile interior designer, when Gil is taken aback by the multi thousand euro price for a pair of teak deck chairs at the Paris flea market. I was taken aback, too, at the ask price for something that, assuming they were actually period, should sell for maybe $500 each. But the point is made, that very often designer and collector haunts absolutely gouge their punters- whether locals or auslanders. That said, this propensity for gouging that seemed so long established a feature of dealers in the favorite venues has become something of an anachronism by the time Woody made the film in 2011. Still, the point is well made- some people will pay an inordinate price to be able to say that an item was purchased at the Paris flea market, or in the Cotswolds, or on the Via del Babuino. Not too many anymore, though, as the Cotswold dealers have become as scarce as hen’s teeth, and the Paris fleas sell items that so betoken a flea market that that becomes the overarching feature, decidedly detracting from what was formerly a good talking point.
Certainly the internet has become the great equalizer, with punters able to with very little effort see what an item should really sell for and as my few loyal blogophiles will have noted in my last blog, the panoply of items ostensibly similar has brought the asking price of everything down.
And down in every respect, including quality. In this regard, I think about a mass market retailer whose stores, website and catalogs have proliferated mightily in the last couple of years, with a fair old amount of their material offered as period in style. With a vaguely distressed look and soft furnishings covered in off-white linen and secured with darkened upholstery tacks, one might, if one’s vision were bad, think they were in fact making a purchase of a flea market item, distressed in finish as one would expect furnishings would achieve in the fullness of time. Not so long ago, we received one of their catalogs, which was, I was surprised to find, about as thick as the Manhattan white pages. Although artfully produced, what caught my eye immediately were the (cheap) prices for literally everything and, given the production quality of the catalog, those prices seemed to represent extraordinary value. I saw, for instance, a period appearing chair at a price fractionally the price of what we could produce a similar chair in our own workshop, which we need to do from time to time when a customer requires us to augment, say a set of 8 dining chairs when they may require a set of 12. In looking at referenced catalog, I thought, well, perhaps chairs from this catalog merchant might serve us as blanks.
That was my thought, until I had the opportunity to inspect chairs, and indeed all the merchandise, at the retail outlet, which, consonant with the catalog, was artfully arranged. The merchandise, though, was, to use a technical term, complete crap. Poor quality timber, poorly finished, and the joinery so badly done that we’d be unable to use anything even as a blank. Clearly, not quality, but temptingly cheap and appealing to those, and they are legion, who haven’t seen quality and are consequently hooked by ‘looks like but isn’t’ and reeled in by price. Well, as has been said before, cheap is cheap…