When You Are Wrong

Collector Chats

June 7, 2019

I think that almost all collectors have a bit of an ego streak in them. It comes from studying a subject so deeply that you soon begin to think that you know more than anyone. It manifests itself when you are in a shop or at an antiques mall, and you spot an item and second-guess the seller about what it really is.
Now, no one is an expert on everything, and often with a generalist dealer, a knowledgeable collector can identify a treasure. I suspect that we have all been there. Conversely, however, I think that all of us have also at some point or another second-guessed a dealer and found we were wrong. This happened to me yesterday. We were out looking for Indian beadwork. We stumbled upon a shop that was part bead source for Indians and part trading post. Such places are often found in Indian country, and they are where beaders come to get new materials and often trade finished work. The finished work for sale is of varying quality and usually reflects the styles of the tribes in that immediate area.
So, I walked in and soon spotted a bandolier bag hanging on the wall. Such bags were thought to have been copied by Great Lakes tribes from military bandolier bags used by French, English and American soldiers. This example (dating from the last few years) had a white ground with crosses and flags. It was a lovely bag, and I really wanted it for my collection.
So, I got it down from the wall where it had hung for awhile. It was pretty dusty, but with a quick blow, the colors started to pop. I was sure that I knew what the piece was. It had to be northern Cheyenne. The palette seemed right, and we were only about 200 miles from their reservation. I asked, as I often do, where did it come from. The clerk told me that it was Sioux.
I could not believe that it was Sioux, as that would have meant that it came from two states over. No way! It had to be Cheyenne, and arrogant cuss that I am, I told her so. She smiled and said that I could be right. The bag was already sold in my mind, and so I parted with the credit card, and it came home with me.
All the way home, which was some hours away, I debated with myself about the bag. Was I right or just arrogant? So, when I got home, scarcely had we unpacked the car when I started to pull books off the shelf. My first book showed a vest with a white ground, flags and crosses, and it was Sioux. About six books later, I realized that I was absolutely wrong, and the bag was Sioux.
The lesson in all of this remains one for all of us. Never presume to know everything, and never automatically assume that you know more than the dealer when it comes to an antique.

Peter Seibert, a native Pennsylvanian, grew up in the antiques business and remains closely tied to auction houses, collectors, and dealers. Professionally, he has served as a museum director and public historian in Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wyoming. He holds a Master of Arts in American Studies from Penn State and has authored two books and numerous articles on decorative arts, interior design, and history.
Peter Seibert

Peter Seibert

Peter Seibert, a native Pennsylvanian, grew up in the antiques business and remains closely tied to auction houses, collectors, and dealers. Professionally, he has served as museum director and public historian in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Virginia. He holds an M.A. in American Studies from Penn State and has authored two books and numerous articles on decorative arts, interior design, and history.

 

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