I’m sure you have all been in situations where you felt you saw the big picture and everyone else around you only saw things through a small filter. I have felt this way about this hobby/industry for almost two years. The issue for me is that there are no codified professional standards for auction houses and those offering opinions on items for compensation. Two years ago at the National, this was a topic of conversation amongst some of the larger corporate business entities in the hobby. Being naïve, I thought that all this problem needed was for someone to layout a framework or charter for a National Association that to work to this end. I went back to my hotel room and literally stayed up all night to get something out that these folks could take back, digest, and comment on.
At first the concept was met with great verbal support. I was told to send the document out for comment and the group would meet again in the fall at the Ft. Washington PA show to go over it. To make a long story short, the comments never came and the meeting never happened. I decided to take a different tact and work to effect the environment I could control, namely the policies that MEARS would operate under. I am very proud of what we have done as an organization with respect to showing the larger hobby/industry that there is value in working along these lines. In talking about this with Michael O’Keeffe of the NY Daily News, he asked me why I felt that the larger hobby/industry had not embraced the things that would benefit everyone in long run with respect to building and maintaining confidence among collectors. The only thing I could think was a combination of apathy and a strong case of “we’ve never done it that way” syndrome.
What I am proposing is a National Association of Sports Memorabilia that would include dealers, auction houses, and those offering opinions on items for compensation (authenticators). The idea is simple; to belong to this association the organization or individual would have to agree to abide to set of conditions designed to benefit the consumer. The blinding flash of the obvious is that without this segment of the population, you have no industry.
In retrospect, the plan may have been a bit ambitious as it would really require a separate body to over see and enforce the rules and conditions set out. The best case is that it would be filled with knowledgeable and respected members of the community who where without ties to any particular organization. I suspect the thought of lost revenue would be a deciding factor for a person not accepting any such position.
The thing that really got me, is that I couldn’t even get folks to comment on what they thought where or where not acceptable standards of conduct or business practices. My hope is that there are a least a few of you out there who are at least willing to provide some sort of feedback on at least what you expect to see out of those offering opinions as well as those running auction houses. I think you will find, that MEARS has gone well above many of what I would call minimum standards as outlined below.
Standards of Conduct Statement
For consideration and for inclusion within the National Association of Sports Memorabilia , I agree to adhere to the Standards of Conduct and Ethical Business practices contained within this letter. I further understand that failure to comply can result in my expulsion from the ASSOCIATION. Any such expulsion will be for a period of not less than three years. Reinstatement is not automatic and is subject to the determination of the Board of Directors. In the case of organizations being removed from membership in the ASSOCIATION, this revocation and timelines apply to all members of that organization for the proscribed period of time.
I hereby agree specifically, that if I am an authenticator:
1. In the course of private transactions, I will not write letters of authentication for
my own items through my organization or those of my associates and then mask the sale through a third party.
2. In cases where I consign an item for auction, if the auction house has retained me or my organization for the purposes of authentication, full disclosure that I have a financial interest in the item(s) will be made on the authentication certificate; and that the individual(s) winning the lot will have 30 days from the time of receipt to return the item if they feel a conflict of interest exists and it has materially affected the objectivity and accuracy of the authentication process.
3. I will provide full disclosure on the source of information used to determine the objective statement regarding authenticity.
4. I will not authenticate items that are outside of my judged area of expertise, as determined by the collective body of experts at the ASSOCIATION if my expertise is called into question.
5. I consent to have this signed statement of ethical conduct made available to the hobby at large upon request.
6. If I have a difference of opinion with another authenticator or authentication service, I will inform that individual or organization of the factual basis. I will not malign opinions, individuals, or organizations in an attempt to show my work in a more positive light.
7. If doing work for an auction house, I agree to never set a price structure that is tied to the final sale price of the item.
I hereby agree specifically, that if I am an auction house:
1. I will ensure that all items are accurately described with respect to use, wear, alterations and provenance.
2. I will not malign items that are run by other auction houses. If we have passed on an item that is run by another auction house and are asked about that item by a prospective bidder, I agree to provide both the bidder and the other auction house with the same information as it pertains to basis factual basis for our decision. I will ensure that I articulate the difference between what I think and what I know to be true.
3. I will openly disclose those lots in cases where we both own the lot and have performed the evaluation on it.
4. I agree not to bid on items that we have consigned and that no lots will be “bid up by the auction house.”
I welcome any and all feedback you might have. If you think this concept is dead on arrival, I would appreciate hearing your reasons as well.
I can be reached at:
LTC MEARS Auth, LLC
14218 Roland Court
Woodbridge, VA 22193
Until then, I will just have to content myself with chasing windmills.