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Avoid Fakes with Proper Receipts for Antiques and Collectibles

Updated on April 19, 2011
Early 20th C. Louis XV Bronze Mounted Bureau Plat
Early 20th C. Louis XV Bronze Mounted Bureau Plat | Source

People routinely spend hundreds, thousands or even more on antique and collectibles with seemingly less thought than choosing paper or plastic.

Responding to consumer safety concerns, for example, strictly enforced regulations require $15 toasters at Walmart be tested and certified by Underwriters Laboratories to meet specific minimum standards. Yet collectors buy $3000 Windsor chairs and $8000 KPM porcelains with the click of a computer mouse or in shops where price tags are attached with yarn.

As more antiques and collectibles are bought over the internet without an in-person inspection it’s more important than ever for buyers understand and preserve their legal rights. This begins by knowing what questions to ask before an online auction ends and what to include in written receipts if buying face-to-face.

All pre-sale communications and written receipts should include:

1. A clear statement of the approximate date or era of creation

2. Brief physical description

3. The time period of guarantee

4. What are the procedures for making a return

By far the most essential is a clear statement of the date or era of creation. In the late 1990s, for example, dishonest sellers happily included “Galle cameo glass” on receipts for fake Galle. Legally, since the vase were cameo glass and signed Galle at the factory, numerous lawsuits were dismissed because receipts did not include the date or era of manufacture. Similarly, “Tiffany vase,” “carnival glass bowl,” and “Lincoln campaign ribbon” are not statements of age.

Brief physical descriptions are required to link the original communication or receipt to the object being sold. Unless the description is reasonably accurate, the seller could deny the object is the same piece discussed or described in the original emails or written receipt. “Gold iridescent Tiffany vase” is too vague. “Gold iridescent 12” Tiffany vase with pie crimped top and pulled leaf decoration” is quite precise.

For expensive items, the time period of the guarantee and the procedures buyers must follow to obtain relief should be clearly spelled out. Does the buyer’s right to question the authenticity expire in a set time or is it unlimited? Who is qualified to decide if an item is authentic and who selects that person: the buyer or seller? Will the buyer receive credit or cash if an item is returned?

Receipts and emails concerning antiques and collectibles don’t have to be like cell phone contracts to preserve your rights. Include the basic points above and you’ll be well served.

By Mark Chervenka for Ruby Lane


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