Reminiscences - Part XXVIII
by Michael Rogers
As I remember, it started out with reams of paper pouring out of our fax machine, over 150 sheets. The cover letter asked for an offer based upon the images of the family China collection. I could tell there was real potential here.
For a whole lot of reasons, I’m not a fan of making an offer based upon fax or photocopy images. Often pertinent detail is missing to make an informed decision. Authenticity and condition are difficult to determine without seeing the material in person. A photo is so much better than a blurred image. I’ve never been one for pitching a "what if" high price and dealing with the disappointment later. Not fair to the buyer, not fair to the seller.
In the way the pages were annotated, it seemed clear the collection was assembled in China before the 1970’s. Of no concern was whether the stamps were hinged; what mattered was how they were affixed to the page. Yesterday I was soaking Shanghai large dragons where someone thought gluing them to card was a good idea. Seeing a fax isn’t going to disclose how stamps are mounted or their condition.
I had business up north so made arrangements to see the owner on the way back from New York. I sensed he wanted a valuation before I arrived as a test of my sincerity but there was no way I was going to pitch in the dark. That I had the ability to examine his collection in person surely would bring greater understanding; this would realize a precise evaluation. The appraisal was free and he was under no obligation.
Thank goodness I didn’t price his collection beforehand. The entire collection had been buried in the ground during the huge Cultural Revolution so everything was lightly toned which didn’t show up in the faxes. As it turned out, bundles of covers weren’t faxed because the owner did not know what was important to convey.
The album pages were described with Chinese characters. The collector laid out his stamps in story-book fashion, telling a fascinating tale. Though the son wasn’t a collector, I conveyed to him how his father told a story through his stamps. Turning the pages, were mint stamps, then cancellations highlighted by pertinent maps, then varieties, with enlarged drawings to show the details. While there weren’t any rare stamps, the sum total of many unusual stamps plus the presentation would enable the toned stamps sell easier. The covers were intriguing. I knew I could convey my pleasure to collectors down the road.
As I turned the pages, the owner allowed that the only reason he was selling the collection was that it was time for a new car and he had his eye on a brand new Lexus. When he told me what the model he wanted cost, let’s say I had "sticker shock." :)
I pondered how to handle this as I couldn’t pay his price but didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I believe in the mantra "How to do business without being negative." So I looked at the fireplace mantle and took another tack. There were photos of his children, so I reached into my wallet for my Kyle’s photos and steered conversation that way. For a long while, we chatted about children and other wonderful things. Finally, he looked at me, the connection made, saying "Michael, what do you think you’re doing?" "Negotiating," I said. He grinned, saying "You know, for a Caucasian guy, you’re real smart. :) I’d be happy with a Honda." So I reached into my briefcase for the paperwork and paid him.
Afterwards he gave me his father’s handwritten account of burying the collection during the Cultural Revolution. In those tumultuous times, intellectuals were cast out of the cities and their possessions ransacked. The family carefully wrapped their valuables, placing the stamp collection in a tin box, then secretly burying them. Fascinating reading. And yes, I will share it in print one day
This article is edited differently from the magazine version.
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