My last blog engendered a flurry of responders, mostly from colleagues, eager to chime in about the positive merits of the trade versus the salerooms. Well, yes, but a fair old amount of the recent criticism of the salesrooms, and the consequent glee at difficulty it is perceived they are now experiencing, has quite a bit to do with a nostalgia for the good old days.
Was a time, of course, when the salesrooms were the trade only province, a resource for goods bought at wholesale that could then be marked up and retailed to the general public. Unless the trade includes an inordinate number who took their cue from Rip van Winkle, such has not been the case for years. With the promotion of so called ‘interiors’ sales, a term adopted by a huge number of venues, very many salesrooms have sought to basically imitate what might be an online antiques mall, with a mixture of period and vintage material, of varying quality (by which I mean nothing of very good quality) that might be useful for the shopping designer or householder. I suspect that what has made this less successful, at least for the large salesroom that continues to offer this sales format, the proliferation of online platforms makes waiting for an auction a non-essential- the sales platforms are available all day, every day.
And, with items competitively priced, or they should be, with dealers, one would presume, comparing similar items to determine the going rate. But dealers don’t always and, in fact, frequently don’t. Admittedly, for those of us in particular thrall with our own stock in trade, our own inventory can always seem of better quality, and consequently deserving to command a higher price than that of other dealers.
But what sort of premium in pricing is appropriate? I’ve always said our primary criteria are quality, condition, and rarity, but these too often are entirely subjective terms, and, unfortunately, difficult for the prospective buyer to assess certainly when buying online. When in doubt, of course, purchase from a member of the accredited trade who should be able to justify, if such is the case, why their stock might be more expensive, because presumably of better inherent quality, than that of another dealer, or that of a salesroom.
Or possibly not. I remember vividly the first time, and I have subsequently heard the same dealer repeat this many times, that his material was expensive because of how much he had to pay to acquire it. In dealer parlance, ‘putz’ is the term for a dealer with this type of pricing strategy. Although this gentleman’s runaway ego drives him to announce to prospective buyers how expensive is his acquisition cost, it is surprising the numbers of dealers who, although less vocal, function in the same way. Rather than knowledgeably considering what is a reasonable selling price for the piece prior to acquisition and making the wholesale purchase fit accordingly, items are acquired for an inordinately high price, marked up and offered for sale. Under circumstances where a dealer seeks to justify a sky high price by telling me how much he had paid, my thought generally is the more fool he.
And ultimately, this is how the salesroom, as well as online platforms, have certainly provided a benefit to antiques and artwork buyers, whether seasoned or novice, whether collector or interior designer, with the existence now of a pricing transparency that diminishes the prolixity and fearsomeness of dealing with even the most vaunted members of the trade. Will a buyer get a good deal buying from these online resources? Perhaps, but certainly not guaranteed. What is increasingly likely, though, is that an astute member of the accredited trade will, times being the way they are, will have done their homework and offer items similar to those of their colleagues at a similar price point.