Two, not so well dressed, middle-aged men had presented an East African tribal mask to the Antiques Roadshow expert on antiques. It was made of wood and metal. It looked frightening and like a genuine antique. The antiques expert was at first quite excited by this find which he considered to be very rare. He was particularly interested in how these two men had come by such a rare antique. At first they led him to believe that it was a serendipitous find in an antiques store in France. It was soon obvious that these two men were not likely to know much about French antiques or indeed any kind of antiques as their answers were bordering on idiotic and contradictory. The antiques expert became curious and the suspicious. He examined the ‘rare’ antique mask again. This time he paid particular attention to the inside of the mask. He put down his magnifying glass slowly and eyed the two men seriously.
‘So where did you actually get this mask’, he glaringly questioned them.
There was silence for a pregnant moment as the suspense now became the focus of everyone’s attention.
The heavier of the two men dressed in a green hoody broke the silence.
‘Well actually we bid online for this antique.’
‘So its discovery among French antiques in an antiques store is just an embellished story to get you on The Antiques Roadshow’, suggested the antiques expert in an annoyed voice.
The men remained silent.
‘let’s have the full story now please, correction, the full true story’.
The men now looked at each other and both began to talk together.The story emerged in fits and starts. They were sitting in their local pub and The Antiques Roadshow was on the television. They hatched a plan to find some interesting antique that would get them on the show. They often bought fishing tackle on eBay and decided to begin their search there.
Every evening they borrowed a laptop and sat at the pub counter searching for that allusive antique that would get them on The Antiques Roadshow. One evening they found the antique mask which had just been listed for five pounds. They read the description which said it was a thirteen hundred year old antique. They searched online and found that such an antique was worth thousands of pounds. They were no longer curious but greedy. They placed a bid and the price went up, they kept bidding until they were the leading bidder at a hundred and five pounds. Every day they watched as they were outbid until the last day. They placed a final bid of two thousand pounds seconds before the bidding closed and they won the antique for nineteen hundred and fifty-one pounds. They had to borrow from their families to pay for it through a payment channel. They were confident that getting to show their fantastic antique on The Antiques Roadshow would push up the price even more when they sold the antique.
Silence descended on the set of The Antiques Roadshow.
‘A fantastic story no doubt’, began the antiques expert.
‘If you had been a bit more curious and looked for a bit more information then you could have saved yourselves a lot of money’.
The expert went on to explain that this was a classic eBay sale of a supposedly genuine antique which in fact was a fraud. He invited the men to look closely at the inside of the mask where the staining had not been rubbed thoroughly into all the crevices.
‘The white little strips you see is actually freshly carved wood which has not been stained’, he paused to let the significance sink in.
‘This mask is at most a couple of years old, it is a complete fake, I am sorry gentlemen but what you have here is a piece of firewood’.
The lessons from this true story are obvious. The lesson that is not so obvious is that greed is never factored into decisions particularly when buying antiques. It is a base characteristic which unknowingly distorts some of our decisions. Many people see owning an antique as akin to owning a future pot of gold. That may be true if you own a genuine antique and not a piece of firewood. Greed does not come after the purchase but before and during the purchase and it will blind you to taking your time and seeking more information. The unscrupulous seller will pitch to engage the greed factor in everyone and like our two fishermen friends he will always land a big one.
Tom, my eighty-eight year old friend, often tells me that one of the great lessons of life that he has learned is, ‘There is enough for the needy but not enough for the greedy’. Greed can turn a piece of firewood into an antique if you let it. So next time stop and ask yourself the question,
‘What part is greed playing in this decision’? Many will walk on wiser and richer.