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Antique Dealers Shouldn’t Be Snobbish
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Antique Dealers Shouldn’t Be Snobbish

I once heard the antique business described as a “wonderfully useless” profession.

The more I considered that statement the better I liked it. In a way it is an antidote to some of the self-importance of the antique and art trade.

Antique dealers, whether we like it, or not, differ little from any other product merchant, with three exceptions.

First, what we sell, however beautiful, is fundamentally unnecessary. Second, we sell almost exclusively to the rich, or near rich. Third, a comprehensive knowledge, built up over a long period, is generally necessary to buy or sell expensive antiques.

Many antique dealers are terrible snobs. I have attended international antique shows; where the dealers stare grandly into the middle distance from the enclosures of their booths. These are people who ultimately confuse themselves with their clients, who believe that by having sold a Georgian silver cup to Princess Diana somehow makes them a member of the Royal Family.

Despite all the P.R. that the antiques trade is open to everyone… it isn’t. Good things are usually expensive, and if you don’t have a certain amount of money you aren’t going to be able to buy fine antiques, unless you make terrific sacrifices, or buy in an obscure field, or have the time, patience and knowledge to ferret out pieces in remote and undiscovered areas.

The problem of money extends to dealers as well. A dealer without substantial financial resources, combined with good knowledge (including perhaps, a comprehensive course on antiques!), and dedication, is not able to carry a high quality stock. Without a large and high quality stock it is impossible to attract a knowledgeable and well-heeled clientele. Therefore the antique business strongly favors long established businesses with good client lists built up over the years.

The third factor I mentioned earlier in the article is specialized knowledge. Antique dealers will spend a lifetime learning a subject which is immensely complex and which relies often on subjective opinions as well as objective facts.

Take the question of taste. Despite the unending argument on “good” versus “bad” taste, few people can actually define the term: In France and England, most people simply decide what they like (good taste) and what they don’t (bad taste) and then try to build some consensus to reaffirm that view.

In each country, however, the consensus will be somewhat different, depending on whether you are an Anglophile or a Francophile.

Good taste also is confused with popular taste. The risk with popular taste is that it can become narrow and restrictive. What looks great this year, looks numb next year.

Perhaps that is where the antique dealer gets beyond the issue of taste, and focuses on the issues of artistic merit, authenticity and dating.

I will leave you with the thought that in a business that is more art then science, the price of being a knowledgeable dealer or collector is knowing that much of what you see is not nearly so grand, or important, or genuine as the owner is inclined to believe.


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