Antiques dealers should understand that their interests are not only with the public, but with themselves to survive. They should also know that the interests of auctioneers are in direct conflict with how dealers operate. Public auctioneers are allowed to operate with blatant conflicts of interest along with a secret reserve deception. The Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly is quite experienced at this and more, as a testament to their conviction of collusion back in the 1980s.
As I was reading the Antiques and The Arts Weekly (The Newtown Bee) there was an article on a group of dealers, auctioneers, show managers, a trade publication, and a collector, among others in the industry looking to form an antiques trade association. Perhaps the group should have also included a museum representative, conservation specialist, professional appraiser, etc, etc, etc. There are plenty of qualifying parties for their mission to “promote collecting of antiques in the United States”.
However, who is this trade organization to represent and how should it articulate its goals. To promote collecting is a noble goal but dealers who are totally fragmented within the antiques industry need their own independent collective voice. Museums have their advocate organizations and certainly the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly know how to weigh in on questions of public policy and government positions on their methods of operating. It is interesting to note that they were prepared for the New York legislature’s debate concerning auction operations or even seeking their comments on the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Where are dealers being represented in these issues?
Most successful trade association are run by professionals who understand who they represent and how best to articulate and implement their goals. Dealers need more than just an organization to promote collecting. Antiques dealers are essentially a small business model, with issues of capital, labor, operating costs, competition, and technology. There are hundreds of industries with small business trade associations. From your local dry cleaner, restaurant, hardware store (if it is not already a Home Depot), or car dealer, the interests of these small businesses are represented and advocated by their organizational trade association.
Unfortunately, the antiques trade has plenty of experience with organizations that give lip service to representing dealers. There is no lack of vying dealer organizations to promote who is more exclusive at representing a certain “strata” of dealer; the pecking order is usually on display at certain socially initiated antiques shows. It is all superfluous to what a trade organization should to be doing. Then again, dealers are their own worst enemy to organize beyond class and connoisseurship. Their needs have become more apparent and necessary in order to gain public confidence and control their auction adversaries who have taken market share by unfair means.