Knowledge is Power

Terzameron Day 12
April 1, 2020

Ben Miller



Lord Castlerosse, on being criticized for always arriving late to work, quipped, “But think how early I go!”


We’re all working odd hours these days, but in the antiques trade, that comes with the territory. I’d been with Shrubsole for just a few weeks when my phone rang one evening around 7pm. Tim asked, ominously: “What are you doing tonight?”


What I would be doing that night, I was surprised to learn, was driving down state highways for hours through moonlit woods, enjoying a physical freedom that I’d kill for now.


You see, Tim had caught wind of an estate sale which would include a rare and valuable piece of silver. This was not an auction. It was a tag sale, a sort of antiques huckster’s Black Friday, with sticker prices set haphazardly by a local auctioneer. And while the sale was at 9am (“Oh, are there two nine o’clocks in the day?”), the manager would open the doors to prospective buyers in the order in which we’d arrived. And I was not to allow anyone else to snap up that piece before I could get to it.


I blasted the radio to stop my eyes from drooping, slept for three hours at a roadside motel, and navigated to a remote Victorian house, arriving about 3am. That was early enough to be a promising #4 on the list–I just had to hope #1, #2, and #3 didn’t get to the piece before I did. At the opening bell, I sprinted through the halls, finding and buying (for cash, of course) the coveted object. A successful trip, I thought! And it was, regarding the silver, anyway. But later that day, I got a call from one of the pickers I’d met at the sale.


“Ben,” he said, “did you happen to notice that mahogany sideboard in the dining room?” The whole morning was a blur, frankly, but I did have a vague recollection of a nice looking sideboard. The price, I remembered, was $850. The picker continued: “Another dealer came in and bought it. Turns out it’s Duncan Phyfe. Mint condition!”


And I’d walked right by it.


It’s been five years, and I’ve learned a few things since then, about silver, and other fine objects. But what I learned that morning was that in the world of collecting, knowledge is power. Another dealer knew something I didn’t and made a fortune in twenty minutes.


Or, as Will Rogers put it (around the same time that Castlerosse was quipping), “You know everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.”

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