Three Essential Qualities to look for in a dealer—signs that you’re in right hands. Look for these elements to help build a working relationship with a reputable and accomplished dealer.
INTEGRITY is the most important. A good dealer is honest, and has strong moral principals. Dealers with integrity listen and respond directly to your questions. They generously share information about their pieces, They point out the specifics, like the edge treatment on a piece of glass or how a cabinet is mortared together. Dealers will educate you so you can appreciate and understand the quality of the item you are considering.
KNOWLEDGE. The best dealers are also scholars. They keep a substantial library of books, magazines and catalogs from the period as well as contemporary texts. These publications provide the basis of true documentation. Dealers continue their education lifelong. Their knowledge is sought by appraisers, auction houses and museums. Good dealers must keep current with the ongoing information about our respective fields. They keep abreast of period manufacturing methods, re-issues or copies, the differences between an in-period copy and the original. When they specialize in something they get so familiar with a designer and his or her output that they recognize the “hand” of the maker. Having that sense of comfort with a designer or a company’s output allows them to spot when something does not fit and to try to understand why. Some of the best dealers have been around a long time. They are passionate about learning. Beware of those who seem to have one of everything. In depth knowledge of everything is pretty rare or impossible to attain.
TASTE. Really great dealers have a cultivated vision built on integrity and knowledge. They curate a collection that is a reflection of their refined eye. They are always passionately talking shop. They make friends with other aesthetes like themselves. Despite the obvious competition between dealers..good dealers..dealer/scholars, are often collegial with other dealers who share their passion. A few years back I ran into Mark McDonald by chance on a street in Rome. By the time we had finished chatting, I had given Mark the address of a good Roman dealer and he had sent me to the Palazzo Massimo to view two intensely beautiful Hellenistic Bronzes. This kind of generosity is typical of dealers. We immerse ourselves in the beauty all around us. We are constantly exposing ourselves to the best in visual culture. Years ago, prior to 1979 when she passed away, one of the earliest dealers in Shaker furniture, Lucy Vine Clerk of Malden Bridge New York, told me that she often went shopping in New York City. I found it striking that a country dealer would shop in New York City. But I have never forgotten that she told me that before shopping, she would take a walk in the American Wing of the Met. for an hour or so..just to sharpen her eye. The exposure made it easier for her to recognize the best and leave everything else behind.