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buyer beware: deception in the antiques trade

A very interesting article in today's New York Times explores the apparently shadowy world of antique dealers and restorers. Apparently this reputation-destroying article is the result of a bit of a war of attrition among big-name antiques business insiders:

Michael Smith, a prominent decorator in Los Angeles, was staggered when a friend called from London in early April with the news: John Hobbs, a London antiques dealer known for superb English and Continental furniture, stratospheric prices and wealthy American clients, had been accused by his longtime restorer of selling fakes.

Mr. Smith said he was panicked at the thought that two very expensive mahogany chests of drawers he acquired for a California financier in September — described on the invoice as a fine pair of English commodes, circa 1830 — might not be worth anything close to what he had paid.

His fears might have been justified. Detailed workshop records and photographs provided by Dennis Buggins, Mr. Hobbs’s restorer for 21 years, indicate that Mr. Smith’s commodes were designed and fabricated between 2004 and 2006, using materials plundered from several old wardrobes and a linen press. The cost, Mr. Buggins said, was about $55,000. The asking price was 365,000 pounds ($736,000 at the time), a retail markup of more than 1,000 percent, although Mr. Smith managed to pay $450,000.