From The Trenches
"There's no easy way to say this"
A friend recently initiated a darkly humorous conversation about intros that bode ill. She remarked, "I always say that nothing that begins with ‘You'd better come in' ever ends well."
I responded that another universally foreboding beginning is "We have to talk."
She added this instantaneous buzzkiller to the list of intros no one wants to hear: "I don't mean anything by this, but ..."
Others soon chimed in with their not-so-favorite ill-favored starters.
"There's no easy way to say this."
"It's not what you think."
"I can explain everything."
"I know this looks bad."
"I'm going to say this as gently as I can."
"Don't take this the wrong way."
"I'm only going to say this for your own good."
And my personal favorite: "Please promise not to get mad." In the history of mankind, no good news has ever followed that one.
It struck me that there are few collectors who haven't heard at least some of these. Not because they were about to be forced into a sit-down with a significant other or their teenager was about to tell them what just happened with three Budweisers, a street lamp, and the family Chevy.
No, it was because they'd purchased a piece and then asked an authority's opinion on it.
And in the authority's considered opinion, the piece had all the authenticity, integrity, and historical relevance of a Happy Meal toy with "Made in Taiwan" stamped on the bottom.
By the same token, I venture that there is nearly no one who has been in the collecting field for any length of time who hasn't been in the unlovely position of wondering how to gently say to a hopeful and about to be unhappy collector that their piece is to collectibles what an 8:00 am dental appointment on a sleeting Monday morning is to the universe. No one wants either.
For most --- kind souls, every one --- delivering the bad news does not come easily. For some, it doesn't come at all. They'll hem and haw and then pass the hapless person to someone else. I once watched a fellow at a show get bounced from dealer to dealer because no one wanted to voice what they all knew. And I don't blame them a whit. The guy was big and blustery, the piece was bad, and no one could conceive of a way in which the scenario ended well.
It didn't. The last dealer in the line glanced at it, laughed, and said, "You're kidding, right?" Which, come to think of it, might be added to the above list of inauspicious beginnings. The collector, incensed, called the dealer's paternity into question and stormed off.
We're no strangers here to similar situations. The questions arrive by phone and by e-mail, often beginning with "So-and-so said I should ask you people." Sometimes it's of the Mounted Yankee Slayers ilk; sometimes the piece's questionable aspects are far less blatant.
Occasionally it goes like this: "They said you were the ones who would know about this."
"Well, there's no easy way to say this [see list above]. I'm afraid it's a modern fantasy piece."
"Yeah? Well, what do you know, anyway!?"
On the other hand, there are many very reasonable people out there who take the news with equanimity. I have a small collection of fakes and fantasies that good-humored people gave me when they got the bad news. One enclosed a note that echoed comedian Henny Youngman: "Take my artifact. Please."
This is not by way of saying that we are in the business of authenticating artifacts when people send us inquiries and photos. We'd get nothing else done, and everyone's best bet is to contact an authority in that specific area or to take it to a show and ask around.
My point is, rather, that anyone doing the asking should be prepared for the answer to be something other than "This is only the second authentic geshinglefloof I've seen in 40 years. You can retire on this!" It usually doesn't go anything remotely like that, and the number of authorities who have mildly said, as someone stomped away in a snit, "Well, you asked" is --- well, all of them.
In short: Please promise not to get mad.
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