Every once in a while, you come across a company that treats you well, even though they don’t really know you that well. Samuel T. Freeman and Co. of Philadelphia are just such a company. This is their two hundredth year in operation and I suspect that they have lasted so long because they are customer friendly.

I went down to Philadelphia to view the Freemans sale a week ago Sunday and returned thinking that I would arrange phone bids on several lots. I was less interested in purchasing the items that I was in listening in on the sale. If the lots went cheaply, I would bid.

As it was, I found that one of the lots I was bidding on was going incredibly cheaply so I bid and bought it for a ridiculously low price. However, when I got the bill, I found that I had bid on the wrong lot. Because I had specified just what I was bidding on, Freeman’s accepted the mistake as their error. I am very thankful and I appreciate their customer friendly attitude.

How future societies will view the last half of the twentieth century and the first quarter of the twenty-first, if we aren’ blown to bits first, will be ripe fodder for contemporary artists. I can already see the sculpture (it probably already exists) of world leaders with their heads in the sand. Or perhaps a group of spiritual chaps, choose whatever religion you wish for this piece of art, trying to drown out others with their words as the waters of global warming rise to drown them.

No, I don’t believe in an afterlife. I was reading an editorial about how atheists have, by default, become the most tolerant of beings on this planet. I am not sure its true, but I am dead certain that the fundamentalists of all religions would rather talk and walk their own game than listen to anyone else’s. This would make a good painting as well.

Politics are another ripe field for art. I will never forget the photograph of the heads of the tobacco companies being sworn in to tell the whole truth about tobacco. Senate subcommittees are like a breed of animal which is good for photo ops and that is it. The baseball players talking about sterroids certainly learned that to their chagrin.

Moral outrage, not religious based but humanity based, has ceased to have any sway in our society. We are lied to continuously and we are asked to continue to listen to lies in the belief that they may come true. When I was a kid, my parents saw through that tactic when I tried it on them as self defense. Artists, the contemporary ones who are so good at mirroring our lives, need to step up and do something. Please, however, make it really good, well crafted stuff so that it won’t accidentally be mistaken for junk. We don’t need any more of that.

Whose experience counts the most? This is a pertinent question given the reaction to the pair of commodes that I wrote about yesterday. Is it the restorer, the auction house expert, an art consultant or the dealer?

I strongly believe that the dealer, an owner who has invested his money in furniture year in and year out, is the one with the most relevant experience. But then some dealers have terrible taste and have never really grown with their knowledge. Auction houses always want to sell what they have and urge buyers to bid in the sale of the moment. I don’t think their opinions are entirely unbiased. And agents want their clients to believe that they know enough to make informed decisions which is not enough. I once heard an agent say to a client that if she wanted the rarest of the rare, then they would just have to go find it. They are probably still looking, that is if they are still speaking. Restorers are very good judges of quality as a rule. But would I trust a restorer to be able to tell how old a piece of wood is? Would I trust a restorer to tell me that his logic is the only explanation? In a word, no.

Experience for those who have truly earned it is always hard won. It takes it out of you, but it can create a unique knowledge.

A pair of commodes sold in London for ninety-five thousand pounds the other day. Given their rarity, it is an odd price in the eyes of the antiques trade which feels that they should either have been four to five hundred thousand or, if they were 19th century, a good deal less.

The commodes raised questions that could not be answered from the point of view of a workshop like Thomas Chippendale’s, or for that matter, by any sophisticated London shop of the 1750’s. The inconsistencies in construction, none of which condemned the piece entirely but which did cast shades, not absolute, doubt on the pair, were sufficient for two people in particular to question the authenticiy of the pair. The two individuals, both experienced and with excellent credentials, one a restorer and the other an auction house expert, were leery enough about the commodes to forestall bidding by dealers who felt that such a negative slant might harm their prospects of selling the pieces. Whether they knew it or not, they affected the bidding.

The question that begs to be asked is how did these two individuals earn such a valuable position in the antiques trade without being dealers? I know of instances where the auction house expert has incorrectly rated furniture. That is not to say that I or anyone in this business is infallible, but isn’t that the point? Further, does a lukewarm opinion of goods at a rival business guarantee an unbiased opinion?

The one thing that I have learned in the English furniture business is that there is no such thing as altruism. There are people with agendas who will say negative things for their impact. I am not saying this is the case here because I did not examine the commodes and may agree wholeheartedly with the rumored judgment. But I will say that people who speak honestly are seldom given credit for it and/or they are roundly condemned for their naivete. The consequence is that one has to invariably suspect any opinion, no matter who voices it. In the end, honesty is a variable commodity and that is a great pity.

The inventory of M. Turpin Antiques was sold at Christies several weeks ago and the net result was over five million pounds. Dick Turpin had an exceptional eye and what went up for sale represents a fraction of the great things he handled over the years. I am sorry that it went up for sale at auction, but if antiques are liquid, it is an unreserved auction that makes them so.

Several dealers suggested to me that Dick would have been appalled that his goods sold under the hammer. I am not so certain of that fact. Dick liked to be known to be clever and this final sale of his goods shows him to have been just that and maybe a little bit more.

Dealers make money when they don’t pay rent by owning their premises and when they continue to buy antiques. Dick, I think, owned his mews houses and he never stopped buying. And because he had a good eye and good instincts, he bought very well. His sale at Christies was only a reminder of how good those instincts and that eye were.

I often wonder why anyone walking into any store, antiques or otherwise, should be secure that they are getting value for money. Prices are completely arbitrary and are based on demand alone. This particular factor can make antique galleries look expensive because some items will wait for years for buyers.

Antique dealers at the top end of the market MUST know their goods. They must be able to understand and articulate what it is they are selling from every point of view. How else can you factor prices? Demand is not instantaneous and hinges on esoteric factors such as connoisseurship and collecting and how a piece will fit where it is intended.

This takes us back to client insecurity at determining value for money. I wish that I were a salesman because it would then be a question of making a sale, but I always want to try and educate my clients which more often than not is an uphill battle that is frequently lost. I strongly recommend that anyone who considers walking into a high end antique shop first come to grips with the fact that there is both no demand and an extraordinary demand for our product. That should explain value in a nutshell. As for insecurity, I couldn’t possibly explain that.