So much for the New York Times being an elitist paper, as Steven Kurutz writes of buying antiques on 1st Dib for an article in last Thursday’s Home section.  The writer reveals his ignorance of values with the excuse of having a beer budget.  Excuse me, but good luck finding a Picasso on Craig’s List.  Understanding how a marketplace works would be a good start and having a site where dealers post prices is a lot better than auctions, where you have to be duped into finding where the price to buy starts.

I find that articles like Kurutz’s have a negative point of view about pricing for these objects.  The fact that he must acknowledge 1st Dibs is an admission of his lack of resources to find these “expensive” items.  The public in general feeds off this public humiliation of dealers and their pricing, but what are the alternative sources that he offers; eBay, Craig’s List, VandM?  Sorry, but Mid-century is already cheap, available, and been recycled to death.  He should be able to do better with a very predictable “in” period of decorating.

Let us see what Mr. Kurutz can do about finding good 17th, 18th, and 19th Century items cheaply, and where.  Perhaps this assignment is a bit more difficult and the market more sophisticated for his amateur skills.  Buying good fine and decorative arts is not a game for someone lacking knowledge and a passion.  There are differences in every originally designed and created object that cannot be defined only by a price.  The pleasure of ownership is measured by rarity and a perceived value that is affordable.  Not everyone can buy a Mercedes, but a lot more appreciate its status and comforts.  That 3 bedroom coop with a terrace on Park Avenue won’t come cheap.  

With all these items, the sticker price is what someone posts as an offering selling price.  You negotiate for a car or home, what is so different about fine and decorative arts?   The public’s fear of pricing is exacerbated by articles like what Mr. Kurutz has written.  Yet he fails to take aim at the other great resource for merchandise, the auctions.  Maybe he should experience the thrill of trying to buy a good piece in that venue.  Maybe he will experience a good buy, only to be saddled with a hefty buyer’s premium.

Finally the future for my industry won’t hinge on getting the best possible deal or buying cheaper than on 1st Dibs.  The need for a public not to fear owning these items is the tendency I wish to see.  Understanding and appreciation of the object is the paramount goal of any industry’s ability to succeed.  Apple has done that brilliantly.  Dumbing down to cheaper considerations is a formula for never attaining a higher goal.  Perhaps Mr. Kurutz had it right when he said “If you don’t mind wiping out your 401(k), you might be able to furnish one room, maybe two.” I can think of no better place to put part of my retirement funds and enjoy the benefits, long term!

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