are traditionally placed on the back burner when it comes to dealings in
the antiques and collectibles trade. The antiques and collectibles
field has no standard code of business practices and ethics. Each
person sets his own standards.
As more and more
individuals use the Internet to buy and sell antiques and collectibles,
ethical issues are being raised. I recently received an e-mail from
Bob Culver, editor of Night Light, the publication of The Miniature Lamp
Collectors Club, that read: “On the Internet, the transaction is
very public, open to all to see. Do we have any responsibility if
we see something amiss?" Recently, I observed a reproduction Atterbury
Log Cabin lamp offered as an original. I first saw this a few days
after the auction opened and already the bid had climbed to $200--a clear
sign that the buyer was thinking this was a period lamp.
“I e-mailed both
the seller and high bidder with the facts and how to tell repros from the
period example. Repros have an applied handle typical of Victorian
creamers, while period pieces have a molded-in handle. A side view
makes it easy to tell.
“The seller responded
with a bit of a nastygram saying essentially ‘Keep out of my business,’
but agreed to check out my facts. I suggested he call B&P Lamp
Supply, the maker of the repro. A day later, he closed the auction
early with a public note saying that the lamp was indeed not old and that
it was being withdrawn. No note to me, no note from the high bidder.
Had this been at a show, it is possible the transaction would have been
“Do we have a
responsibility to intercede in these cases? Is my responsibility
as an ‘expert’ in the field of mini-lamps any more than the average collector?
Or, should I be content to let it be buyer beware (caveat emptor).
“Frankly, I think
one of the unheralded benefits of on-line auctions is the public information
afforded. Countless auctions are updated as experts provide new information
to the seller. But if the seller ignores comments from experts, misinformation
I have had several
experiences similar to those of Don. Recently I checked out the jigsaw
puzzle offerings on several Internet auction sites. I found many
puzzles falsely described. An English advertising puzzle from the
1980s was listed as being from the 1930s. In many instances, puzzles
that were extremely common were listed as rare or scarce. Sellers
frequently had no clue as to the maker or correct title of the puzzles
they listed. Information about whether or not the puzzle was complete
was often missing.
In order to contact
a bidder or potential buyer, one has to register to bid on an Internet
site. After several days of just looking, I finally became so angry
about the amount of false information I was encountering that I registered.
I e-mailed several
sellers. I only received one reply. That individual thanked
me for my input, said he was going to add the information I provided to
his bid site, and did. The others simply ignored my e-mail.
I did not contact any bidders.
this article, Dana Morykan argued that I have an equal responsibility to
contact the bidders as well as the seller. If the seller is deceitful,
I am wrong to think he will mend the error of his ways and contact the
bidders. She made a good point. I have it under advisement.
involved in the determination of what does or does not make someone an
expert, I think everyone has an ethical obligation to point out to the
Internet seller and any potential buyers the undocumented listing of a
reproduction (exact copy), copycat (stylistic copy), or fantasy item (form,
shape, or pattern that did not exist historically). Misrepresenting
something is fraud. Hiding behind the “I did not know” excuse, it
not an excuse. The seller has an obligation to know what he is selling
and to properly represent it.
The key is to
avoid disparagement when noting problems with an object. While everyone
is entitled to his opinion, a person disparages an object when he has not
examined the object in question and/or does not have the expertise to substantiate
his claims. It is a common practice at catalog and country auctions
for a dealer to disparage a piece within the hearing of potential buyers
so that he discourages them from bidding and buys it cheaply himself.
In the case of
the Internet, it is impossible to physically examine the object.
As a result, there rests a strong burden of proof relative to substantiating
any assertion made. Don met this criteria when he provided detailed
information on how to differentiate the modern reproduction from the period
piece coupled with the name of the manufacturer of the example being offered
for sale. Hopefully, Don also listed in his e-mail his credentials,
i.e., his role as collector and member of The Miniature Lamp Collectors
Is it possible
to regulate the Internet? Many think the answer is no. Because
it is worldwide in scope, it is questionable if any government has the
authority and power to regulate the Internet.
When one reads
the rules and regulations of Internet antiques and collectibles auction
sites, one thing stands out very clearly. The sites themselves take
no responsibility for the goods sold on them. Any dispute is directly
between the buyer and seller.
Ebay’s User Agreement
reads: “3. eBay is Only a Venue. Our site acts as the venue
for sellers to conduct auctions and for bidders to bid on sellers’ auctions.
We are not involved in the actual transaction between buyers and sellers.
As a result, we have no control over the quality, safety or legality of
the items advertised, the truth or accuracy of the listings, the ability
of sellers to sell items or the ability of buyers to buy items...
Warranty. WE AND OUR SUPPLIERS PROVIDE THE EBAY WEBSITE AND OUR SERVICES
‘AS IS’ AND WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY OR CONDITION, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED.
WE AND OUR SUPPLIERS SPECIFICALLY DISCLAIM THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF TITLE,
MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NON-INFRINGEMENT.
Some states do not allow the disclaimer of implied warranties, so the foregoing
disclaimer may not apply to you. This warranty gives you specific
legal rights and you may also have other legal rights which vary from state
Since most sellers
require payment in advance, the seller is in the driver’s seat when a dispute
arises. They have the money. The buyers has the questionable
object. If the seller refuses to take it back because he disagrees
with a buyer’s assertion that the object is not as represented, what recourse
does the buyer have? The good news is that most sellers ship objects
to buyers via the United States Postal Service. Misrepresenting anything
shipped through the mail is a fraudulent act. Do not hesitate to
file a complaint with the Postal Service if the seller is intransigent.
While the antiques
and collectibles barrel contains its fair share of rotten apples, they
represent only a small minority of the whole. Since it is unlikely
that local, state, or national authorities will provide policing on the
Internet, the burden falls upon private individuals with a strong moral
and ethical conscience. In other words, if the antiques and collectibles
segment of the Internet is going to be policed, we must do it ourselves.
is certainly not the route to take if one wants to win a popularity contest.
I know. I am a regular recipient of nastygrams. I am delighted
to learn from Don that I am not the only one.
I grew up in
a time period when speaking out against injustice was considered an obligation.
It was the American way. I am not about to change. I suspect
I will find no end to the opportunities to put my principles to the test
as I surf around the Internet.
In all honesty,
I can use a little help. How about it?