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( Article orginally published May 1952 )
An Editorial Commentary for Collectors and Dealers
SOMEONE has said that the quickest way to rub a dealer the wrong way is to look at something in his stock and say, "My grandmother had one just like that." So what? The dealer doesn't care what your grandmother had, or what you have. He is concerned with selling his stock. Such comments annoy him. The triteness is a spark to the powder of his latent anger. One dealer went so far as to order a sign (which he never put up) reading, "I don't give a ........ what your grandmother had!"
It is all very well for dealers to be annoyed at the antics of certain of their customers. But at the same time they should realize that while on occasion "my grandmother had one" may be boasting, it is most generally a statement made in sorrow or regret .... that the individual didn't grab the object when it was in grandmother's possession and not considered worth having.
Within this simple observation lies the story of a little tragedy that has occurred in almost every family in the land. So common is it that it has appeared in the comic strips from time to time, the most recent being the King Features Syndicate's "They'll Do It Every Time" by Jimmy Hatlo. Cartoonist Hatlo pictures a family getting rid of all their old furniture by virtue of the prodding daughter who says, "Everybody is laughing at us and our old stuff." So she brings home a second-hand dealer to bid on the family possessions. He bids $22.00 for the lot and carts it off. Fifteen years later the same daughter, now in the chips and with a mink coat, is in an antiques shop buying back the family treasures, which now have fantastic price tags attached to them.
This has happened to you, to me, to all of us. One of our contributors who has written a number of books on antiques states that, as a young man of twenty-three, he sat on a bench under a pergola on his grandfather's property and saw one of the largest walnut tavern tables that was ever made sold out of the cellar for exactly one dollar. He is willing to give $1000 for that piece today, if he could find it.
Another contributor tells us how she had come to hate a pair of ugly portraits of great-grandfather and great-grandmother. She refused to sell them, but she burned them. Today she would give $1000 to undo her bonfire, for now she is just crazy about that kind of portrait, and realizes she could have owned a pair of family portraits had she not failed to recognize their possible future value.
Between 1890 and 1910. in one state alone, no less than a million pieces of so-called chalkware were thrown on city dumps. Why? They were just dirty, dusty, crude old junk. Today people are paying anywhere from $1 to $100 a pound for cast iron objects of the sort that junkmen, fifty years ago, bought for a few cents a hundred pounds as old iron . . . stoves, toys, broken pistols ... junk. The number of paintings and drawings that have been destroyed, and are still being destroyed every day, would shock us. But seldom do we put the shock in its proper place. Nine-tenths of the American people who fall heir to old things are not aware of values, nor aware of what is valuable and worth saving. More frequently they retain the worthless and destroy that which has value.
For all we know, over half the antiques collectors of today began collecting because they remembered old things that were in grandmother's home and which once, in their callow youth, they thought were outmoded, passe, and something to be ashamed of. Now they know their early education in antiquities was neglected.
What can we do about it? A few years ago a man wrote a book called "Treasures In Truck and Trash." He received scores of letters from dealers who said, "You are spoiling the antiques business. You are telling the people what is good and what is bad, and what some things are worth.'; But he received hundreds of letters from inheritors of old things who thanked him. Also, many of these inheritors of old things wanted the writer of the book to do their research for them, to evaluate sometimes as many as eight pages of listed material. They labored under the belief that because an author writes a book, he should write another chapter for them alone, in exchange for the courtesy of a three-cent stamp to cover the cost of a reply.
All of us need education. Even we who write this are no better than the rest. We admit that we count the day lost on which we do not learn something new about antiques. And almost no day passes when we are not asked some questions about antiques that we cannot answer. What can we, the commonsense and down-to-earth collectors, do about this? It would seem that the establishment of classes in antiques appreciation and recognition should be a part of the curriculum of every Adult Education Program and every Parent Teacher Association from coast to coast. Every student should eventually be coaxed into becoming a teacher of other groups. We should know how to do research, how to use a bibliography, how to be self-reliant in respect of appraisal, understanding, and recognition of the things that now are and will be American antiques.