One of my all time heroes is Winston Churchill. If you don’t know much more about him than he was the British Primer Minster during the Second World War, then I highly recommend reading the book “Churchill: Wanted Dead or Alive” by Celia Sandys. What does this have to do with sports memorabilia? Allow me a little time on this one.
For that group of individuals that knows of Churchill by way of his life as Prime Minster, you will recall that he was ardently opposed to the concept of appeasement as it related to Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia. An oversimplification of the concept is nothing more than if you find someone to be bothersome, just give them something so they will go away. It has been suggested to me that having MEARS “just check the block” and “send your items with your supporting work to another outside source” to have them “confirm your findings,” will somehow magically make this issue and headache for us go away.
And what about Celia Sandys? She wrote a wonderful book, well researched with primary sources including interviews of those that knew Churchill during his experiences in the Boer War. And yes, Winston Churchill was her grandfather. Was she biased in her opinion? Likely so as we all have personal biases, especially the closer the issue comes to home. But she was content to let the public evaluate the body of her work against the backdrop of her cited research, free to decide if the book was love fest or a reputable and scholarly effort.
Don’t worry, I’m getting to my point (s). Since I know of a few lawyers who are also frequent readers, I will offer up another worthwhile book that they may be familiar with, “The History of American Law” by Lawrence M. Friedman. While it is certainly not the light reading that Sandys’ effort is, it has none the less been a guide to me as the Policy Director at MEARS. In Chapter 8, The Law of Corporations (p 392), there is a simple sentence that has shaped my efforts and opinions with respect to how MEARS should be run…That being “ The corporation should have a free hand to conduct its business; but be ruggedly honest in its internal affairs.”
OK, enough of me pretending to be a well read book reviewer for the New York Times. First point, as long as I am at MEARS I will not make any decision or a recommendation for one that is grounded in the concept of appeasement. There are a great many reasons to do something, but in my book, appeasement is not one of them. This is not the same as being uncompromising. If an idea or notion makes sense given the goals and vision of the organization, then it has merit. MEARS did not appease auction houses by amending or modifying our opinions, policies and procedures, even though it affected our bottom line. We certainly are not going to change what we do in order just to make things easier on ourselves. If this were our corporate culture, we might as well go back to age old industry standard of a few lines of text on a page only describing the item, talk of it coming from an impeccable source, and call it day.
What I would like you to consider is the idea that MEARS “send your items with our supporting work to another outside source” to have them “confirm our findings. Folks, in all honesty, this is what I feel we have been doing all along. Who is this outside 3rd party source? In my mind it has always been and remains the collector.
Just an in Sandys’ book in which she goes to great length to inform her readers of where she went, what she saw, and who she talked to in order to paint the picture of her Grandfather, we have worked to that same end. By way of our polices and procedures that includes a worksheet, published grading criteria, educational content on our site, and archived and retrievable information and data about the items we have evaluated, we are saying… “Don’t just take our word for it, see it and evaluate it for yourself.” And who is that we expect to do this and serve as the final arbiter of the body of this work…the collector as they ultimately have the greatest interest and position of prominence and power in the entire equation. They decide if they agree with what we have offered for their consideration. They decide whether the work is considered credible and worth spending both their time and money on.
The environment is not what it was 10 or even 5 years ago. Information and its ready availability has been a great leveler of the playing field. Hillerich and Bradsby production information is no longer shrouded in the secrecy that the Manhattan Project once was. If you took the time to gather decades of auction house catalogs in order to build data bases for evaluation and comparative/trend analysis then you know what I mean. The phrase of the masses appears now to be “do your own homework.” Given what we do and the manner in which we do it, we have made this process much easier to those truly willing to invest the time.
When issues come up with respect to the accuracy or completeness of our work, these matters are brought to our attention by, you guessed it, collectors. Collector’s who either now own the item or have seen it and the supporting opinion in some form of another (Remember, something we provide). Nothing is more embarrassing than to have a collector point out errors with respect to inconsistencies between an item and our grading scale or questioning how something could have been overlooked or not known. All of this is after we have made our findings known in a public manner. Talk about brutally candid 3rd party evaluation, but this is the way it should be.
While collaboration and consultation is a good thing, ultimately it is the person offering the opinion who must possess the courage of his convictions to openly state what he thinks an item is or is not and SHOW why. The more information provided that enables the collector (the ultimate 3rd party) to make an informed decision the better. This system has worked well for both collectors and MEARS because we remain approachable and accountable, as individuals and as a collective entity. We openly share information and method’s for evaluation with the general public in order for them to both learn and gauge the level of knowledge and expertise of our organization. In essence, we are enabling the true 3rd party to double check our work.
To those of you are still thinking that “why not just spend a few bucks and send the item to Taube, Grey Flannel, Mastro’s or anyone else,” please know this is not a matter of spending or saving a few bucks. If this was the case we would not have spent tens of thousands of dollars on reference material, research, and exemplars necessary to the job in the manner it needs to be done. In addition, we do not consider what we do to be a rubber stamp that we expect anyone and everyone to accept. Although the item in question may be as dear to someone at MEARS as Sandys’ grandfather was to her, we have both opted to do what we feel is a credible job and let the reading public serve as the final arbiter. I other words as in the Friedman text, “ The corporation should have a free hand to conduct its business; but be ruggedly honest in its internal affairs.”
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions and comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line DaveGrob1@aol.com