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Deals And Deception

By Hannah Reich Berman

Somewhere in the great state of New York, a family is doing a hora, or a jig, or whatever! Last month a story appeared in the newspaper about a couple (address unidentified) that had bought a singularly unimpressive-looking bowl at a garage sale. They paid $3 for it. Never having seen this bowl up close and personal, I offer this somewhat less-than-glowing description based solely on the picture that appeared in the New York Post. But I offer no apology for the description, as pictures do not lie and that is my opinion of what I saw.

When the purchase was made six years ago, neither the buyers nor the sellers thought much about it. After the bowl arrived in the home of its new owners, it was placed on a mantel, where it sat for several years. Recently, the new owners became curious about the origins of the bowl. No explanation was given for this late-blooming curiosity, so it is possible that they were curious all along but just too busy to investigate.

Maybe, as it so often does, life got in the way. Perhaps they were busy raising children and going to work every day. Or possibly they were retirees who took frequent vacations and alternately spent quality time with grown children and grandchildren. As very little is known about the people involved, I am only speculating. But let’s face it—they must have been doing something for the past six years.

It is not known who, or what, lit a firecracker under them, so one can only hazard a guess as to why the couple recently began consulting experts. But they did. And their consultations led them to Sotheby’s, where they were informed that the bowl was worth somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter-million dollars. Not a bad deal for a bowl for which they paid $3! But the deal got even sweeter, because before they negotiated a sale with that august institution, a London-based art dealer made a much larger offer. After bidding against several others, he came out the winner when he plunked down $2.25 million dollars. Now that is what I call the real deal!

Stories like this are not totally unknown, but any public interest generated around such tales normally centers on the person or persons selling to the dealer, which is oftentimes many years after the unsuspecting people first acquired the piece. Given the fact that these (now) millionaires bought the bowl a relatively short time ago, one may assume that the people who sold it to them are still alive and well. Let me rephrase; hopefully they are alive, but it’s doubtful that they’re feeling very well at the moment!

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a person interested in museums, art, or collector’s items. Lest my readers misunderstand, let me explain that this does not render me totally uncultured. I adore music and appreciate architecture. But that’s where it ends. I do, however, have a sincere interest in people, which is why I find stories such as these fascinating.

Clearly, the London art dealer is delighted to have this bowl in his possession, but it’s unlikely that he is as delighted as the new millionaires are right now. But does anyone wonder about the hapless individuals who held that garage sale in 2007? Had it been a tag sale, things could have turned out differently. Tag sales often involve a third party, since people who hold tag sales often hire an expert (of sorts) to come in to appraise and tag all items before the sale. Talk about lousy luck! My hope is that the people who parted with that bowl for $3 do not read the New York Post and therefore did not see the picture or hear anything about it.

I like to speculate and to create scenarios in my mind, so it would be nice to think that maybe, shortly after the garage sale, these people sold their home and relocated to an area where the Post is unavailable and the news about their long-forgotten bowl might have escaped them. Hong Kong or maybe Australia seem like nice places to live! But even at that distance, this scenario that my mind has created presumes that they are not computer-savvy and never saw anything about it on the Internet. One can only hope! I know I hope so.

There is a reasonable explanation for why I hope those people don’t know what they missed out on. I once had a similar experience. It did not involve anything remotely close to the amount of money involved in the above story. But money is money, after all, and who likes to lose it? Unfortunately, my experience was in reverse. I once paid a decorator $250 for a beautiful bowl. A truly exquisite piece, for many years it brought me a great deal of pleasure whenever I looked at it. Hubby thought it was an insane price, but I convinced him that it was well worth the money. He had to agree that it was indeed a beautiful piece, so he sighed and said no more about it.

Less than a year later, I saw the exact same bowl in Marshall’s for $24.99! My decorator was long gone by then, and what would I have said to her even if I had been able to locate her? I have no idea what she paid for the bowl, and there is a good chance that she herself might have been duped. It no longer matters, but for years after that I was grateful that Hubby, to the best of my knowledge, never stepped foot in Marshall’s. And even if, for any reason, he did, he wouldn’t be looking in the home-furnishings section.

The saddest part of the story was that, while I couldn’t say so, I hated the bowl after that. I could never look at it without feeling a griszuring in my gut. I now knew that it was worth no more than $25, but I could never bring myself to give it away. What would I have told Hubby? But the fates were kind to me—after a fashion. Arnie, my wonderful husband, never knew how thrilled I was when my cleaning girl accidentally dropped it one day while dusting it. Never has anyone been so happy to sweep up shards and splinters of glass and dump them into the trash. The most difficult thing was pretending that I was upset about it!

It wasn’t an easy decision, but after some internal debate I decided not to share the details with Hubby. Not only did I never tell him the truth about the value of the bowl, but when he complimented me on my stoicism in the face of having lost something that I loved so much, I smiled sweetly and accepted the compliment. That’s the way it is. v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.

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Posted by on April 12, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.