Blue Heron in flight

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Tales of the trade

I started buying art and antiques in 1975 and have had an operational gallery for the last twenty eight or so years. I could literally write a book about the great stories and people in the art and decorative arts business. Maybe I will someday.

But curiously, the losses and tragic tales seem to have more visceral bang then the achievements that my peers and I have had. Face it, nobody wants to hear anyone crow about their victories.

So I will share a brief story of woe of my own this afternoon. It was about twenty years ago, perhaps a bit longer. The great picker Dale Blackwelder called me from the Bustamante Show in Pasadena and said that he had a great Oscar Bach set for sale, I think the price was 12k.

I was sick in bed with the flu, really feeling horrible but I sucked it up and got the van and drove four hours back and forth from Fallbrook and bought the set.

There were five or six pieces but a few of them were very unusual and I personally had never seen them before.

I sent pictures to my comrade John Fillmore in New Mexico and he called an "expert" in New York to advise me on the set. "No dice," the expert said. He told us that the Bach pieces are always signed (mine weren't) and that the Segar Studios period output was essentially worthless.

I sighed. We antique dealers are used to swinging for the fences and sometimes we strike out. I would take my whipping and move on.

I knew of a prominent Bach collector in Virginia who had a museum devoted to the artist, his name in unimportant for purposes of the story. I called the late collector and sent him pictures. "How much do you want for this set?"

At that point I just wanted to recoup and I said "12k." "Done," he said. The next morning to my amazement, a man in a white jumpsuit and a rented cargo van was waiting at my door. His curator. He had flown all night from Virginia. He payed me and scooted.

But the funny part comes next. He then called the expert in New York and told him that he had just killed on some rube in California. He said that he had never seen this particular mirror before and that it was worth over 100k on its own.

The expert didn't say anything to him about having already seen the set. He did have enough sense of humor to call John who told me. We all had a good laugh.

Is there a moral of the story? I can't think of one right off, rather than thinking about Ronald Reagan's dictum, "trust but verify." Do your own homework. Not a tragedy, no one got hurt, I was alive to embark on more conquests and sales, successes and failures.

What a funny business.


Finest said...

Mind plays tricks...just to corrrect the record...a Tiffany lamp dealer called ME from the Busty show and said Dale had the set, two armchairs, mirror and console...$8k.
I call Robert and he drives up and pays, filling up his van, with no space to unload back in Fallbrook. Meanwhile the 'expert' in NY says that it has to be signed, from what he learned making a few calls. Robert then sells to the Bach collector for 10K making us each 1K. Two weeks later the 'expert' tells me there was a collector in their new gallery in NY, and all he could talk about were these yahoos from the left coast selling him a Bach set for a tenth of what he would have paid, having only seen it in book form. The 'expert' did not mention if he told the collector that he was one of the yahoos.

Information Please...

Blue Heron said...

I stand corrected.