We were flying to Missouri to inspect a noted inventory of antiques and collectibles. The owners (husband and wife) wanted to discuss us selling this entire collection at auction, live and online, at our secondary auction facility in Lancaster, Ohio.
Once on the ground in Missouri, we met our prospective clients. We enjoyed some dinner and then proceeded to their home stocked with these aforementioned items.
As I walked from room to room … to room, both the husband and wife showed me paintings, pottery pieces, glassware, silver, furniture, statuary, and so forth. For each item, a typical remark was something along the lines of “Now this piece is particularly rare …”
“Particularity rare?” I thought not. I had seen (and sold at auction) many identical like-kind pieces numerous times. In fact, we had some better examples of most of their inventory in an auction upcoming in Columbus, Ohio in about two weeks.
What I was witnessing was supply sophism [sof-iz-uhm] (or one that does such: sophist). This was 2003 and there was no way these folks could be so uninformed (as in supply naivete [nah-eev-vuh-tey].)
That Roseville vase he described as “one of a kind,” was actually one of maybe 500,000. He knew that, and I knew that — but he wanted me to think his property was more valuable than it actually was so I would … realize more for it.
As most all auctioneers know, you can’t make something more valuable by wishing it to be more valuable — or as a seller by trying to deceive an auctioneer in regard to supply, rarity, and/or scarcity. Most supply sophists tell themselves their property is rare — and rare means valuable.
Interestingly, supply sophism was heightened once the Internet was available. Why? Because supply naivete was nearly impossible unless people just refused to know. All that was left besides not knowing how rare something was — was trying to deceive someone into thinking it was rare — and therefore more valuable.
I talked in a previous blog about scarcity (lack of supply) being a key component in determining value: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/auctioneers-and-d-u-s-t/.
Since 2003, I have encountered less and less supply sophism. I suspect this is because I am more well-known and respected as an auctioneer after 30+ years, and a supply sophism practitioner considers me a difficult target, as would be any experienced auctioneer.
However, newer auctioneers are often victims. Just the other day I heard an fairly new auctioneer note that he had a very rare 6-drawer Singer treadle sewing machine (as he had been assured by his client) and yet it only demanded $40. The $40 is about right, as these are not rare at all.
When an auctioneer hears, “This is rare, and therefore valuable” basically the possible answers are of course “Yes,” or “No.” If no, chances are these days either the premise is unfounded or the person making that proclamation is a supply sophist.
Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School and Faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University.