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Frank Words
Strange New Worlds Issue 9 - Jun/Jul 1993

How to be a Sucker

or How to look and sound dumb and get on every dealer’s wish list

by Jane Frank
Director of Worlds of Wonder Gallery, Washington DC

To players in the centuries-old game of buying and selling, there are only two sides, and the rules are clear. ‘Sportsmanship’ is optional. Depending on the expert you consult, the goal is for both parties to come away equally satisfied with the outcome, or, equally dissatisfied. Success is defined as when both buyer and seller believe they have gotten the deal of a lifetime . . . or the buyer feels they have paid far too much (been "taken to the cleaners" is the phrase that pops into mind) while the seller is convinced the buyer has gotten away with murder!

In the arts and the businesses that surround them, competition is a fact of life. To suggest otherwise is naive. So dealers and collectors alike must stay on their toes to stay even in the game.

The gulf between collectors (*mainly buyers) and dealers (*mainly sellers) is not so wide or deep as many might choose to believe. Neither is it so trivial that either player can afford to leap into the chasm before checking their wits. (*‘Mainly’ because collectors sometimes sell part or all their collections to dealers and dealers sometimes buy items, including entire collections, from collectors.)

While there surely are almost as many uninformed dealers as there are collectors - a fact well worth keeping in mind if you are serious about collecting - it seems to me that there are far more collectors than dealers who prefer to stay uninformed. Why is that?

Far too frequently, I hear collectors voice their concern and dissatisfaction with their relationships with dealers. Yet they persist in the idea that there is some mystery to the process of buying and selling; a mystery that they are somehow constitutionally unfit to unravel.


You could say that nasty old monetary incentive drives dealers to learn more about ‘the game’ than collectors. But collectors also have that incentive, and can gain from knowing as much - and often more - than dealers. If knowledge is power, why not be armed? Or would you rather be a SUCKER?

Yes, I mean YOU. The collector who chooses to act and sound dumb has no excuse when a shrewd dealer responds by frying the little fishie for dinner. Strong words? Well, just like enthusiastic collectors with their ‘wish list’ of objects they dream of owning some day, dealers spend their free time fantasizing over the dream collectors who exist to make their profit- taking easier. If you want to get on a dealer’s wish list, it’s easy. Here’s how.

If you are buying:

ΠNever let knowledge interfere with your desire for acquisition. Buy blindly, without interest in the background or history of the item you are purchasing or interest in the field of collecting which that particular item might represent. Your Motto: Taste and Education are unrelated.

corollary (a): Be sure to talk about it. Disclose your ignorance.

corollary (b): Ask lots of stupid questions. (Example: "Is this kind rare?")

 Do not shop around. Never compare price. Be sure to act on impulse and buy from the first dealer you see. Don’t even think about asking for a better price. Respond eagerly and immediately to a dealer’s blandishments. (You know you always wanted one of these . . . go ahead, ‘treat yourself’)

Ž Never let facts get in the way of making a decision to purchase. The item may be damaged, abused, missing parts, discolored. Who cares? You like it! It may have a questionable, or even be missing, provenance (the history of the piece, how the dealer acquired it). The price may be more than you can afford. The dealer may be reticent to disclose negative information. Facts may be safely ignored in the face of your desire. Go ahead. Buy it anyway!

Always be driven to buy by a single motive. Exclude or ignore all others.

bulletPrice If it’s cheap enough, you tell yourself it doesn’t matter if you have fourteen of them. You can always use another one. It’s a bargain, right?
bulletAge The older the better, right?
bulletPerfection Mint condition is everything.
bulletDecor It matches your rug. ‘Nuff said.
bulletCompetition It doesn’t matter what you pay or get, so long as it is less than another collector. Preferably one you know, so you can brag.
bulletInvestment Potential’ Greed is another great reason to buy anything.
bulletCompletion You have every one in the set but this one. Every signature but hers/his. Every color but this one, etc. You have to ‘fill the hole’.
bulletMagpie Syndrome You can never have enough. This is sick, but who’s counting?
bulletLove Love is never having to say, "I’m sorry."

There are some time-honored expressions to use to convey the above thoughts. Dealers will know what the phrases mean when they hear them. And they are always listening closely to what you say. For example, you should never hide your feelings. Go crazy over the item. Show how eager you are to buy it, whatever it is. Best expressions to use:

bulletI love it!
bulletI have to have it!
bulletIsn’t it gorgeous!!! (beautiful, wonderful, large, rare, etc.)
bulletI’ve never seen another one like it!
bulletI thought things like this cost more!
bulletI’ve always wanted one like this!
bulletIt’s calling, "Take me home!"

Demonstrate how little you know:

bulletI don’t know what it is, but I know what I like.
bulletMy aunt (cousin, friend, etc.) used to have one of these whaddya callits.
bulletDon’t/do these come any bigger? (in different colors, etc.)
bulletI’ve never seen one like this, have you?
bulletHow come this one if $20 more (smaller, brighter) than that one?

Take a long time choosing. Indecision and ignorance go hand in hand. Ask lots of stupid questions and ask the dealer’s advice, i.e., "Should I buy It?" "Is this the rare kind?" "How much do these usually sell for?"

If you are selling:

ΠNever let knowledge interfere with your desire to sell. Sell blindly. Do not check current market prices for the items you are selling. Do not compare the price, condition, rarity of items you wish to sell to similar articles on the market. If you have inherited the collection, this is easy to do. Your Motto: Profit and Education are unrelated.

corollary (a): Make stupid comments. Disclose your ignorance.

corollary (b): Get it over with as fast as possible (money talks).

 Never shop around to see if you can get a better price. Be sure to sell to the first dealer who makes you an offer. Be persuaded by immediate payment of cast.

Ž Wait until you have to sell, then sell to the first person coming anywhere near your asking price. Be sure to drop your price as soon as you meet some resistance. Heck, you can drop your price during the transaction even if you meet no resistance.

 Respond well to dealer’s threats, overt or subtle. For example: "This offer is good today only. Tomorrow I may not want to buy it." "There are tons of these on the market right now. (Too bad you didn’t come in to sell this last week/month/year)." "I can buy these cheaper." "These kind are a dime a dozen." "No one collects these anymore."

Again, there are some time-honored expressions used to convey the above thoughts. And dealers are always listening closely to what you say. They will know when you are about to give in, break down, and sell out at their price.

As when buying, never hide your feelings. Show how eager you are to sell and how little you know. Show them how weak and spineless you can be! Best expressions to use:

bulletI hate it. I’ve never liked it.
bulletI have to sell it. I need the money.
bulletIsn’t it ugly?!! (worn, damaged, etc.) Be the first to point out all flaws.
bulletI don’t need it anymore. This is a double.
bulletI thought it might be worth something. What do you think?
bulletMy mother gave it to me, so I really don’t care how much I get. Or, I’m selling this for my father.
bulletHow come you’re only offering me $XX? Isn’t this one as good as that one?
bulletAre you sure that’s all it’s worth?
bulletI want $XX for it. Is that OK? Too much?

Ask the dealer’s advice. "Do you think I should sell it at that price?" "Is that really all they’re worth?" "How much do these usually sell for?"

Getting Smart:

It is absolutely worth a collector’s time to understand some of the differences in outlook, philosophy, and approach that each side brings to a buying and selling situation. These differences chiefly have to do with how ‘value’ is defined and treated.

There is a whole lot of difference between what something is ‘worth’ and what it can be bought and sold for. COLLECTORS tend to be concerned with what an item is worth. Worth is a hazy, fuzzy, philosophical concept that cannot be pinned down, cannot be readily assigned a market value, and varies greatly depending on the collector, the personal meaning of the collection to the collector, and from collector to collector.

DEALERS are concerned with what an item can be bought or sold for. Pure and simple. For them, ‘worth’ is not a hazy or fuzzy concept, but something that can be readily determined. It is solely dependent on market value. That, and only that, defines the object’s worth.

There is nothing mystical about the former process, or nefarious about the latter. One is psychological and sociological and very much influenced by passion; the other is sociological and anthropological and very much influenced by logic. Where they connect, the sociological aspect, or ‘how humans interact with humans,’ is where you have ample opportunity to look and sound dumb.

So get smart! Start by taking the time to ask probing, intelligent questions based on information. Do not take everything a dealer says at face value. Compare. Study. Read. Look. And keep looking. Become an expert. Then buy what you love. l

(Jane Frank has been a science fiction collector for over twenty years. Along with her husband Howard, their collection has been featured in newspaper articles and Smithsonian Institution tours and has been displayed in traveling exhibitions. Jane currently directs Worlds of Wonder gallery. Worlds of Wonder has available the works of more than twenty-five of science fiction's leading artists.)

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Articles by Jane Frank written for Strange New Worlds:

bulletHow to be a Sucker - why you paid too much, and how to avoid doing it again
bulletNegotiating the Rocky Waters of Collecting - learn how to bargain for price with dealers
bulletPossession Obsession - The Case Against Hoarding - are you building a collection or just a pack rat?
bulletTake the Diagnostic Test: Are You a Pack Rat?
bulletIs It Advertising or Is it Art? - You know what you like, but do you know what to call it? N.C. Wyeth and Rockwell were once scorned as "commercial" illustrators, but now their art is highly collectible.
bulletCollectibles as Gifts - the do's and dont's of giving collectibles
bulletHow to display your science fiction collectibles

Fantasy and Science Fiction Art Books by Jane Frank:
bulletThe Frank CollectionA legendary SF&F art collection, containing the largest assortment of fantastic art in the world — includes the most celebrated names in the field: Earl Bergey, John Berkey, Chesley Bonestell, Margaret Brundage, Frank Frazetta, H.R. Giger, Frank R. Paul, J.K. Potter, Boris Vallejo, and many others. 112 pages (all in color). Hardcover.
bulletThe Art of Richard Powers"I think Richard Powers was one of the most original artists to enter the science fiction field, which he shook up considerably ... I am happy to see this collection of Richard Powers's outstanding work." — Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Hardcover, 128 pages (all in color)
bulletGreat Fantasy Art Themes from the Frank Collect 128 pages (all in color), hardcover. Available in May, 2003. Order now and save.


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