Friday, July 20, 2007

Mob Mentality

I'm torn. I suppose I've always been torn, kind of a Libra thing I suppose weighing one against the other, striving for some sort of balance. Maybe I'm not torn, just unbalanced.

I like to see things in groups. Not necessarily arranged just so, but randomly heaped so that it might be pleasing to the eye. (But not "desperately random, like the elaborations of a bad liar").

We always have groups of stuff just kicking around, people come over and touch them, play with them and put them back and I usually don't have to reconfigure them into a more decorative grouping, they fall that way naturally, organically. In the shop I always tried to have multiples of some things just sort of piled on a shelf for the sculptural effect.

There's an old retail maxim that states: pile 'em high, watch 'em buy.
But in the world of antiques, where one of the things we sell is rarity, it's hard to convince a customer of an item's exclusivity when there's a huge honkin' pile of them just sitting

Maybe that's why I always resisted calling myself an antique dealer. I just sold stuff that I liked and hoped other people would too. I was also troubled by the word "antique", too many definitions of what it means. If you ask around you'll get a number of answers to the "what's an antique" question, the most common being something that's over 100 years old.

The magic number.

If it's ninety-nine it's just, well, you know, collectible. So just how did we arrive at this century rule? Here's what I heard, and I believe it. In the mid 1930s the US tariff code was being modified and the government needed clear guidelines to exempt antique imports. The leading dealers, galleries, museums of the day were polled and the overwhelming response to the question of what constitutes an antique was... something created prior to the industrial revolution.

Makes sense.

So the government in its wisdom says the Industrial Revolution happened about hundred years ago, didn't it (remember, this is all taking place in the 1930s), therefore an antique is something that must be over 100 years old.

And remember this is a government bureaucrat talking tax exemption here. And really tax collectors, customs officers and insurance agents are the only ones who should be getting their knickers in a knot over the definition of antique.

But I digress.

The torn part is I also like to showcase single items, and I really do mean showcase. Present a single item, in a showcase, all by its lonesome.
Something that deserves a little focussed attention because it might otherwise be missed just sitting on shelf with the rest of the goods for sale. Things look special under glass, with good lighting even when they're not. You could pick a pebble off the street and display it and people would gather 'round the case and stare. Some might question your sanity and hope you'd be denied a permit to carry a concealed firearm, but others would say "cool, I never thought of it that way before."

Of course I'm not speaking of my own personal pebble here; well, more of a stone than pebble, really. And it is special, and really smooth, and it calms me to rub it, and feel its coolness in my palm, and I stop hearing the voices for a while...

I was at an antique show in Palm Beach a few years ago, the really tony Palm Beach International Art and Antique Show. This is the kind of show where you can ask the price of something and the response could easily be "Ah... that would be one point five. Lovely isn't it". I also overheard a dealer and potential customer negotiating (arguing) over who was going to pay the sales tax on a $200,000.00 purchase. I think the dealer caved on that one. Anyway, there was a spectacular necklace on display in a showcase that had seemingly been constructed solely for that piece. It was lit (lighted?) perfectly and the display team had mounted the necklace so that it appeared to float in the center of the case as if worn on an invisible neck. The effect was stunning, and so was the necklace for that matter. I'm not sure but I think the dealer was Fred Leighton, a major player in the world of shiny trinkets.

So here's a piece that's dynamite on its own, would sell just as quickly in the main case with the other jewelry, and yet ol' Fred goes to the trouble and expense of spotlighting it. Now that's marketing!

It was simply a great piece and it deserved the attention. And all great pieces whether they're cut and faceted rocks or smooth and shiny stones deserve to be singled out.

They can stand on their own.

And so I'm torn. I like things in groups, in colorful, untidy, little gatherings and I also like the spotlight on the pieces that might be ignored. All your eye needs is a little help to guide it in the right direction.

Hey! Look at me!

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