Harold M. Smith, Auctioneer
Harold M. Smith
Smith Auction Company

Serving the tri-state area since 1982
Auction & Private Purchase Options
DE NJ PA Auctioneers
Annette T. Smith, Auctioneer
Annette T. Smith


Misrepresentation and fraud abound...

This isn't your run of the mill "your guess is as good as ours" conjecture concerning the authenticity of an item. It's a downright effort to convince potential buyers that a specific auction item is better than it really is, usually by claiming that it's totally authentic when it's actually restored or that it's partially restored when it's actually a reproduction, pure and simple.

There are some amazingly, talented tricksters out there. When a piece of furniture or painting is doctored appropriately, it takes a true expert to determine fraud and sometimes even then, the investigation fails.

Pooling -- conspiring to pay much less than an object's worth...

This is something else to be wary of. Pooling occurs when a group of people, usually upper-end buyers, or even antique dealers or other professionals, conspire ahead of time to obtain a specific object for much less than it's worth. They elect one of their cohorts to bid on the object. Without bidding against him, the price of the desired item stays low. Afterward, they hold their own "auction" with each other, silently bidding to determine the ultimate owner.

Clever, yes. But only if you don't get caught. And conspirators do at many, many auctions. Get caught, that is.

About 12 years ago, more than 60 professionals were questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation concerning alleged pooling activities. Conviction could mean federal fines and, possibly, federal time.

Don't say it couldn't happen here; it did. Just a few years ago. Right in our own back 40, all up and down and around Chester County.

Most of the accused fought the charges; but several were indicted anyway, one of the lesser offenders even did a brief stint in the Chester County jail. The fines ranged from $3500 to $50,000 plus mandatory completion of what the law considered an appropriate number of community service hours. These guys weren't real happy campers, especially since they weren't even playing with the big boys. They were the big boys.

Some auctioneers also practice what's known as "running the bids"...

This means that they pretend to have an absentee bid or a phone bid or even an on-site bid from a person who doesn't actually exist. This drives the price up, benefiting both the auction house and the consignor and maneuvering the innocent buyer into paying much more than is necessary.

Of course, this can get a bit tricky. That's because the potential buyer could always quit bidding in midstream, thus leaving the auction with a phantom payee.

Occasionally, consignors attend the auction and bid on their own items if they don't feel the stuff is going high enough. That's bidding, not buying. They dont' want their property back. It's just their method of running the bid in order to get more money.

While this isn't actually against the law in Pennsylvania, it's frowned upon in the respectable houses. "Reserves" and "buy backs" (both of which have a fee attached) are the approved ways for a consignor to guarantee a specific sale price or else have his items returned to him.

Nor are the bidders themselves a Pearl Pureheart class: shoplifting during previews is common; bum checks are rampant; leaving the auction early with someone else's booty in hand happens consistently; and covertly slipping a valuable item into a box of junk (then buying the box for about $2) is far from unusual.

O.K., so there's some gloom 'n doom along the road to Camelot. Not to be discouraged. There are also reputable auction houses around and still treasures enough for all of us. Not that autographed letters from George to Martha surface so much any more, but for specialty collectors; people wishing to decorate, replace appliances or furnish homes on a shoestring; antique lovers; and those looking for a few items to resell eslewhere; pick your auction and have it at!

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