How to be a Sucker
or How to look and sound dumb and get on every dealers wish list
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 dealers wish list, its easy. Heres how.
If you are buying:
Never 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.
Do not shop around. Never compare price. Be sure to act on impulse and buy from the first dealer you see. Dont even think about asking for a better price. Respond eagerly and immediately to a dealers blandishments. (You know you always wanted one of these . . . go ahead, treat yourself)
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.
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:
Demonstrate how little you know:
Take a long time choosing. Indecision and ignorance go hand in hand. Ask lots of stupid questions and ask the dealers advice, i.e., "Should I buy It?" "Is this the rare kind?" "How much do these usually sell for?"
If you are selling:
Never 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.
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.
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 dealers 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 didnt 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:
Ask the dealers advice. "Do you think I should sell it at that price?" "Is that really all theyre worth?" "How much do these usually sell for?"
It is absolutely worth a collectors 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 objects 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.)
Articles by Jane Frank written for Strange New Worlds: