A Set of 6 Parisian Painted
Stamped: A. CRIAERD JME
Advice to Collectors
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
Contradictory as it may seem, both of these points of view are based on truth, but it is chance in each case which proves the deciding factor. At a sale which arouses little public interest one can, at times, buy very cheaply, but to do so one must know the merchandise.
Some are impelled to buy things at auction merely because the competition thrills them and not because they have any need or even a desire to possess such an article. They are stimulated into action through the competitive atmosphere of a sale. It would appear as though these irresponsible bidders were a boon to the auctioneers but this is not always the case. With the same spontaneity which made them buy the piece in the first place, they decide that they do not want it at all and refuse to pay for or pick it up. The smaller auction houses protect themselves from such indecision by demanding deposits or setting up credit before a sale, so as to avoid the purchaser reneging.
At auction everything is sold "as is." In other words, in whatever condition one my find. If there are hidden repairs in porcelains or any other serious or insignificant defects which come to light after the sale, one has no redress. This holds true for furniture as well, which sometimes collapses when it is moved to its destination. Frequently the upholstery fabric is all that holds some pieces together and once the material is removed it becomes very clear that nothing can be done without taking the piece all apart and re-doweling, re-gluing, and re-upholstering it. This is an opportune moment to have strong corner blocks made for chairs and canapés. These are a great help in holding antique seat-furniture steady and in no way prejudices the authenticity or value of a piece.
As a rule, auction houses catalogue things to the best of their knowledge and according to what the consignors tell them, but they assume no responsibility should the attribution prove incorrect. However, if they state that an article is silver or gold for instance, then one may be certain that it is, since these materials can be tested. Items described in a catalogue as dating from a specific period are generally only in the style of that time unless the appropriate century is mentioned in the description.
In America, sales are often successfully held on the estate of a deceased owner, but even then the best pieces, if they are really important, are brought to the auction galleries in the city. Furnishings of a house, its carpets, curtains and other appointments look much better in the setting for which they were made than in an untidy heap at an auction house, which has no space or time to waste on showing them advantageously. In America, estate sales on the premises often have nothing of great value offered, though they are sometimes peppered with pieces belonging to auctioneers and dealers.
In Europe antiques are frequently "planted" in private houses to which the unsuspecting are taken to see the property of a recently bereaved and needy widow, or an impoverished nobleman. If a sale results, the space formerly occupied by the commode, table, or buffet which the dune acquired will quickly be filled with another piece of suitable size to give an impression of having been there for many years.
In retail shops people almost always expect to be allowed to try furniture, pictures and art objects at home, often remarking that they wish to see if they can "live with them." If purchased at auction they seem to have no such problem and go ahead with a confidence conspicuously lacking on other occasions.
When buying in Europe they do the same! A good exercise for a would-be collector is to learn to visualize things in the settings in which he hopes to place them.