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Museums where you can touch...

A few weeks ago, I was having our monthly coffee and schmooz with Don Olson, dealer in fine American antiques and folk art. These sessions generally devolve to the state of the antiques market and social media (how do we use it to reach younger generations, or perhaps just how do we use it).

In the course of our conversation. I mentioned that as a novice collector living in New York City I used to spend Saturdays roaming through Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Doyle examining the lots in the upcoming auctions. These were the days (way) before internet images of the lots were available, and catalogs were still produced on glossy paper.

For me it was a wonderful education. Many pieces were museum quality, and most would satisfy all but the pickiest collector. I could touch the pieces, look at them from every angle, compare them to other lots, and ask the staff questions. I learned how to tell an authentic porcelain piece by its feel, and I got to understand the wood grain and finish on furniture. But even if the lots weren’t up to that standard, the ability to see and feel was still a valuable education.

That’s when Don commented that auction houses were really museums where you could touch the displays.

Dealers and auction houses have a fraught relationship. Both are seeking to acquire the best collections and to sell to the same universe of collectors. For those trying to learn, though, auction houses are unique in their ability to present the objects firsthand.

No matter how good an online image is, it is still two-dimensional, its colors can never capture the nuances of the colors in real life, and it can’t give you the tactile understanding and pleasure its subject offers.

So I always stress to my clients go to as many museums as you can to learn, but also go to the auction houses where you may be able to learn as much or more.

R.J. Ruble

Ericsson Street Antiques

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