I get lots of requests for fee consultation from people who find my website on the internet. Even though I charge for research time and the resulting consultations, if someone asks about an item, and I’m not required to do anything more than a quick look in my books for a particular artist, or to see if I can identify a specific painting, I freely give my opinions and consultation. However, the free consultation I give is intended for people who are not looking to make a buck on my free consultation, nor is it intended for someone who will ignore my consultation and try to sell some 20th century reproduction or fake as “antique”. This weekend I got several emails with quite a few photos from someone I’d never heard from before. One silhouette that she asked me to identify is definitely 20th century and I told her so. She lamented about how she’d been burned buying on ebay and she was going to stop buying there. I sympathized with her that I have also been burned on ebay in the past and, even though I look at the listings on ebay, I seldom buy there anymore unless it is from a seller that I know well.
So, imagine my irritation this morning when I was looking at new ebay listings of silhouettes and find the silhouette that I had identified as 20th century. She had it listed as “Antique”, noted the pencil inscription on the back says “Nancy M. Phipps Later Mrs. Drake after sil. cut in 1820 in collection of Eliz. E. Morse”. Nothing in the listing identifies the silhouette as 20th century. Nothing discloses the fact that she knows it was not cut in 1820–or anytime during the 19th century. The average buyer does not know that “after” means it was not cut from life, but cut by looking at a silhouette of Nancy M. Drake. Even the inscription is doubtful because this silhouette is based on the stylings of a 1930s artist and it is doubtful that it was taken “after” any 1820s silhouette. This nondisclosure is meant to lead people to believe this is an antique silhouette. “Antique” has a legal definition requiring an item to be more than 100 years old to be called an “antique”. The regulations defining the US duty laws give the word “antique” its meaning and there is no dancing around that meaning. The fact that this ebay seller has neglected to tell what she knows in the listing is legally defined as fraud. Nondisclosure is fraud–period. I emailed her telling her how insulted I was that she had solicited and recieved free consultation from me and had still knowingly listed the silhouette as “antique”. She emailed back saying that she had not misidentified the silhouette but she would change the title to say “Vintage”. She did change the title but she did not disclose anything else in the listing–her nondisclosure is still fraud. These are the kind of thing that make too many people believe that the antique industry is full of scammers. This is exactly the kind of thing that I have spent my career trying to combat through education and free consultation. What are your thoughts on this kind of behavior?
Comment from Tricia: Peggy, that really takes a lot of nerve to try to mislead when the person knows the truth. I am glad you told her what you thought. I think you can also report misleading items on eBay.You have been so kind to help me identify several silhouettes in my personal collection. I would never dream of asking your advice for a profit. It was a great pleasure to me to discuss my silhouettes with someone who actually knew what they are talking about and enjoys silhouettes, too, I do not know of anyone with as much knowledge or expertise as you on this subject or anyone who shares my love of them the way you do.
From Peggy: Tricia, thanks for your comment and your complements. In the past, I have reported such things to ebay. Once I found a listing on ebay of an Edouart that I had recently sold. I contacted my client to make sure that he still had the silhouette in his possession. Once I had made certain of that, I contacted ebay to tell them that the seller had an item listed that he/she did not own. I traced everything that seller had up for sale to other websites and provided ebay with all of those links. Ebay told me that there was nothing they could do about the fraudulent listings. This particular seller would only take checks and had set up the ebay account long enough to have sold and gotten feedback for 30-something items–all cheap things. A week later, all of the auctions ended with big prices. About 2 weeks after that, buyers started leaving bad feedback that they had never received the item they bought and paid for or that they had received something cheap and totally different than what they paid for. Ebay terminated the seller’s account after that–but by then the creeps had gotten away with everyone’s money. I don’t know why ebay won’t regulate what is being sold on their site, but they really don’t. Buyers really have to beware of the people they are buying from. I’ve said it a thousand times–you have to really know who you are buying from. Sad but true! I’ve gotten burned in the past too!