We were young, Artie and I, and we were new. The cast iron fire engine looked old to us. It had rust in some
spots, and missing paint, so we were sort of sure it wasn't new. It just looked as if it had survived someone's childhood in
remarkably good condition. Artie looked up at the dealer and asked, "Is this a reproduction?" The dealer,
a man who looked to be about seventy, and who was selling at a small Pennsylvania flea market out of
the back of his pickup truck, looked Artie right in the eye and said, "No, this is an old toy. This is no fake."
And that's how we came to own our first unmarked reproduction cast iron toy.
All over America (and the rest of the world too, I'll bet), dealers are looking into the eyes of their inexperienced customers
and telling them the brand new objects they are holding are bona fide antiques. Most of
these dealers are knowingly lying. Paper labels have been removed, incised marks filed off,
porcelain marks painted over. Objects have been artificially "aged" by burial in the yard, wetting down,
scraping along the driveway--you name it. And, although it is infuriating and depressing that these people apparently have no
consciences, that's not the worst part. The worst part is that most dealers who engage in this fraudulent
and, indeed, criminal practice, don't realize that they're cutting their own throats.
I'm not about to deliver a sermon, a talk about how, as human beings, we ought to treat each
other well. No, my point here is that people who sell unmarked reproductions (and, inasmuch as virtually
all collectors have occasion to sell their "mistakes", this practice is not exclusively a
"dealer thing") are too short-sighted to realize that they're destroying their own market. If you have any doubt
about the accuracy of what I'm describing, just look at the markets in cast iron toys, Native American
squash blossom jewelry or lithographed tin advertising signs.
When cheaply made Asian imports of cast iron objects first appeared on the market, sales
were brisk. Inexperienced buyers believed the lies of dealers who simply peeled off the paper
labels required by U.S. Customs, and they bought. After a while, more experienced collectors, and honest
dealers too, began to alert the public to what was happening. After that, nearly all cast iron toys and banks
were viewed as suspect. The repros were not as finely made or well-finished, and the dimensions were off, because the
old toys were used to make molds for the copies. Experienced folks could tell the difference, but the
average customer really couldn't. The result? Everyone stopped buying cast iron toys and banks. They
were all afraid of being taken. So, all the unscrupulous dealers got what they deserved--a garage full of
reproduction toys and banks, little frying pans with Mammys on them and miniatures they couldn't sell.
Most people, myself included, felt justice had been done. What we all failed to grasp though, was that,
along with all the con artists, honest dealers were hurt as well. What about the seller who invested
thousands in beautiful old cast iron mechanical banks? Or the one who spent years acquiring a sizable l
inventory of antique cast iron cars and trucks? They were also hurt, and they didn't deserve it. Honest,
hardworking dealers saw the value of their merchandise drop like a rock off a cliff. And collectors who had lovingly
assembled lifelong collections of antique toys over a lifetime watched the value of their collections disappear, as demand for
their items in the market decreased.
Nowadays, anyone who wants to sell an authentic Navajo squash blossom necklace will either have to
find a very serious and knowledgeable collector of Native American jewelry, or accept a fraction of its value
in payment. And the market in tin advertising signs, Nippon porcelains, mechanical banks and Staffordshire pottery figurines are
all severly damaged, because of the greed or shortsightedness of people who are in the market for the fast buck.
Before we know it, they will have killed off the antiques and collectibles market entirely. I urge you, if
you are thinking of giving in to temptation by trying to sell the reproduction you mistakenly bought, and to do it
without informing your buyer that it is not old, not to bite the hand that feeds you. Let's preserve our market
and our integrity. Don't stop thinking about
Your comments, as always, are welcome. If you have something to say, write to me.
If you like, I'll subscribe you to a free short weekly email newsletter that will help you end the week with a chuckle. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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