I recently watched a series of You Tube interviews between SCD’s Chris Nerat and Sports Memorabilia Authenticator Lou Lampson. I was very surprised by Mr. Lampson’s comments about not being to take as much time as he would like or that people don’t like to pay you when you reject an item. You can see these for yourself at:
I would suggest that Mr. Lampson may not understand the difference between Power and Leverage.
Power: ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something
Leverage: ability to act or to influence people, events, decisions; to exert power or influence on.
If you go back to the pre-MEARS days, both the auction house and the authenticator had power…they both had the ability to act or accomplish something, but it was the auction house who leveraged their power (pay for services) to get the authenticator to perform a task. This position of leverage was given away as the balance of power was and remains out of line. There are too many auction houses and not enough people doing authentications, let alone quality authentications. The leverage was always with the authenticator, just never applied until now.
What has happened, and not by accident, is that MEARS is in a much stronger position of leverage because of the increased disparity in the quality of work and level of confidence that comes with it when viewed against the same small population of authenticators. Collectors can go to any number of auction houses or venues, but how many of them have MEARS? Only REA and those auction houses that either get previously graded product or items consigned by Dave and Troy.
MEARS does not do on site work at shows and even with the REA account, we do the bulk of the work at the home office. Why? Because we can’t do the work in the manner it should be done without the proper references and equipment. Our fee schedule is the highest in the industry, yet our retail submissions remain strong. As far as people not wanting to pay for an item that they feel is not what they thought they were buying, well this may be true in the short run, but with growing frequency we are finding a number of high end collectors who are sending in items they have “had a hunch there were problems with it, but wanted to see if we were just a rubber stamp.”
The result in these cases has been for these same people to want more of their items looked at as opposed to fewer….and yes, the price for the work is always the same as that is what they are paying for…not an answer they will necessarily like.
I would suggest, by a matter of volume, Mr. Lampson does more work for the auction house segment of this industry than any other single person/organization. This is the same dynamic that was in play for us during the time of SCDA and the early stages of MEARS. Mr. Lampson has the option of doing what we did in exercising our power to leverage a better position for our organization and the collector…and no the auction houses do not like it. This however has not stopped them from trying to get items evaluated by MEARS, even with our higher prices.
From a purely selfish business perspective, it remains in our financial best interest for Mr. Lampson to continue what he is doing for a couple of reasons.
1. We still see a number of items, especially those priced over say $5000, after an auction that collectors still have doubts about. These are usually items, by their nature where the submission costs are higher. Thus MEARS continues to do less work by volume and still make money. Also doing fewer items allows for more focus on each, thus helping quality control.
2. Some collectors, for reasons that are their own, may pause on buying items at auction because they have doubts. This presents buying opportunities. This is something I will address in a future article.
With these two issues aside, I do wish Mr. Lampson would rethink the idea’s of not being able to take as much time as he would like and not worry about auction houses not liking to be told no. We have done this and it has worked for us and along the way… placed MEARS in a stronger position of leverage to effect positive change in this industry.
I do not know what Mr. Lampson’s fee schedule is, but I suspect it is still in line with the “day-rate” SCD and MEARS were operating under back in the day. There have also not been any new individuals or organizations entering the authentication segment of the industry to service auction houses. MASTRO’s elected to create their own organization overseen by John Taube to handle their own work, but by and large the market remains unchanged.
This means the balance of power and leverage remains in Mr. Lampson’s favor…For the record, I have never worked directly with Lou and have only met him once, at a Ft. Washington, PA show roughly five years ago. I don’t have his contact information. As such, I would offer this bit of advice to him in this forum/medium… If you don’t like having to be rushed, then don’t be rushed. If you are worried that by telling an auction house no because they will no longer want to use your services, then that may be the case…but by doing work that collectors feel is credible, you are still likely to see that product post-auction anyway.
In my mind, the 800lb Gorilla in the room in this entire discussion, is why would Mr. Lampson or anyone else continue to work under such pressure for such little compensation? What we don’t know is if Mr. Lampson or anyone else offering opinions in support of auction house work is also a consigner of their own items. Is Mr. Lampson seen by the auction houses that retain him as also a source of product? I know this was the case with Dave Bushing for any number of years. The money has always been better buying and selling than it has been offering opinions. Since the inception of MEARS, Dave and Troy have always listed their own items that went to auction. Dave Bushing has recently decided to forgo doing evaluations all together and concentrate his efforts on buying, selling, and writing.
In a nut shell, my advice to Mr. Lampson, and I realize it may not be welcome, is exercise the leverage you have in this industry and do things the way you feel they should be done…you may be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions and comments on this article, please feel to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com.
NOTE: The views expressed in this article are those of the author. This is an editorial piece and may or may not reflect the opinions of others working at or with MEARS.