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Original Message:   Sellers who don't know what they're selling
Hi Floor,

A long time ago, when I lived in Hong Kong, I had the good fortune to know the most respected antique dealer in the (then) colony, a man named Dunt King. He taught me a huge amount about Asian ceramics and gave me almost complete freedom to study his collection, pointing out the fine points and the flaws quite dispassionately. One day, in a moment of grateful sentimentality, I said to him: "You are the only trustworthy antique dealer in Hong Kong." He smiled, patted my hand, and said: "Thank you, but there is no such thing as a trustworthy antique dealer."

He didn't mean that all dealers are crooks, but he was reminding me that we all live in a constant state of tension between ignorance and knowledge. Even he would never know enough to be trustworthy. Even the experts make mistakes; they learn from them but in many cases they cover them up. And this is compounded ten-fold when people get into collecting primarily as an investment rather than for the love of what they are collecting. They make mistakes, as we all do; they then try to convince themselves that everything's okay; but when they finally admit that they have bought a fake they feel betrayed by the object rather than seeing it primarily as another useful step in a learning process. So, like the Vietnamese ceramics collector I talked about in a recent post, they try to cut their losses and offload the fake as being authentic, and somebody else ends up making the same mistake all over again.

I don't think there's anything new in all this, but the situation has grown to quite new proportions because of the internet and the media. When I check out the commercial online data services that record auction and sales prices, I find them in many cases impossibly contaminated by fakes. Yet these are the same services that auctioneers and dealers use to establish the authenticity of what they sell and to set their estimates.

I've no idea how any of this fits into these fake ancient beads, but I would guess that all the factors I've described might come into play in their being portrayed as something they're not.

Best,

Will

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