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Dealers, in spite of what has been said above, do not normally pay more than the true value of a piece. They sometimes pay less. And this brings up the question of `The Ring,' that mysterious organisation which is supposed to operate as a kind of secret service of the auction rooms and to work against the interests of the true collector.
As a matter of fact, `The Ring' need not concern the private collector overmuch. He can always, if he thinks an article worth more than the `Ring' agent is paying, bid on until he gets it, stopping at the price which he feels it to be genuinely worth. Still, he should know about it and be on his guard if he is certain it is working in his district.
Many people find `The Ring' difficult to understand, but its operations, illegal as they are, are perfectly simple. Several dealers come to an agreement together not to bid against each other for certain desirable objects since to do so would force up the final price which one of them must pay. One of their number acts as agent and thus secures the pieces at a fairly reasonable price, perhaps quite cheaply. The Combine subsequently retire in private and conduct their own personal auction at which one of them will over bid the others for whatever he specially wants. The difference between what he finally bids and the amount which was actually paid in the auction room may be considerable because the article may have been secured there cheaply as a result of the lack of competition among the dealers in `The Ring.' This difference is then divided equally among the members of the Combine. Everyone is happy by this arrangement since all have made a profit, whereas if they had bid against each other in the auction room only one could have been successful.
This explains why, for example, the pair of splendid overlay lustres which were knocked down to dealer X in one town may appear shortly afterwards in the window of dealer Y twenty miles away, and at a price far in excess of what was paid for them at the public auction.
Having said all this, it is only fair to add that the great majority of dealers are men (and women) of very high standards of personal probity, knowledge, skill and taste. They have to work hard in these days of difficult supply of antiques to make a living at all, and it must be remembered that the profession of antique dealer carries no pension with it. They must make a sufficient annual profit to put something by for their retirement years. Moreover, the public frequently treat them with exasperating prevarication, asking them to reserve articles and subsequently repudiating the agreement.
Generally speaking, a private collector who is just starting will do better through the services of a friendly dealer than he can ever hope to do on his own. The dealer already has the knowledge which the beginner cannot possibly have.
The dealer will save you from mistakes, will put you on guard against pitfalls, forgeries and reproductions, and will discuss with you prices and values. Good dealers are definitely not, like Oscar Wilde's cynic, `men who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.' On the contrary they can be an invaluable and indispensable aid.