Newcomers: Scram!!!

by Judith Katz-Schwartz

Dateline: 4/8/99

The desperate man wrote to me begging for help. He wasn't like the others, who usually ask me to do all the work for them. Most people write and say something like, "I have this toy and it has a bear who drinks milk. What is its history, manufacturer and value?"

It's not easy to feel like helping a person who can't even be bothered to look at the mark on an item, to measure it, to describe it thoroughly, and to do his own research. And, it really boils my potato that lots of people who would never think of writing to an attorney or doctor they didn't know to ask for a diagnosis without being seen, don't hesitate to ask an appraiser to give them a completely free appraisal of some object upon which she's never laid eyes. But this man wasn't asking for a free appraisal, so he got my attention.

"I'm a beginner", he said. "I was left some items, and decided to try selling them. I surfed the Internet, looking for items like mine and couldn't find anything that was an exact duplicate. I bought books on the appropriate subjects and tried to find my items in the books. I have learned", he said, "that on the newsgroups, they don't like it if you ask the value of something."

That last statement arrested me. My own experience on rec.antiques is that most people are quite helpful, and that requests for help usually receive multiple replies from list members. There is some understandable impatience (See paragraph above) with individuals who do not post enough information upon which group members can go. Granted, every group has at least one curmudgeon; some have hordes of them. But what made life so difficult for the man who wrote to me? What exactly are the problems beginners face in the collecting world?

If You Don't Know, I'm Not Going To Tell You!
Some experienced antiquers are very impatient with newcomers. This stems either from the sense that "I paid my dues, so now you have to pay yours", or from some sort of enjoyment derived from feeling superior to one who is less knowledgeable than oneself. I see a lot of this on the Internet, and I don't know why. The greater the number of educated enthusiasts, the more upward pressure is exerted on the market as we all compete for the best items, and the better it is for everyone.

You Didn't Dot Your 'Is'" So Go To The Back Of The Line
Really, I think some people crouch behind the couch, flamethrowers poised to mow down anyone who doesn't color exactly within the lines on the first try. Sometimes a novice stumbles into a chat room or a newsgroup without reading the unbelievably long and boring FAQs, and makes an inquiry that's off-topic or inappropriate. Let's be honest. The only appropriate response is a private email gently urging the poster to read the guidelines or to stick to the topic, along with an offer to help answer the question personally. What sometimes appear instead are twenty flaming missives, gleefuly condemning the writer to eternal hell for daring to take a giant umbrella step without first being told that "Simon Sez". Lighten up, you guys!

There's One Born Every Minute, And, Apparently You're Mine
When an inexperienced person makes it suddenly obvious that it would be easy to take advantage of why do some people actually do it? Can you really tell yourself that you behaved properly after you've offered someone $20 for a $600 item, and he took it because he trusted you? Can you look yourself in the mirror and say ,"I acted today in a way that made me proud of myself?" Or doesn't that matter to you? Does it help the collecting community when a beginner leaves with that awful taste in his mouth that comes from having been made to feel foolish by a con artist, that sinking feeling that happens when he realizes he's been taken? Or don't we care? Think about it, and let me hear your thoughts.

Your comments, as always, are welcome. If you have something to say, write to me.
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1999 Judith Katz-Schwartz. All rights reserved.