> I was a faithful client for many years.
> Upon talking to "someone".......the promised Apfelbaum was not
> available........I was told that they really prefer to deal with
> collectors and do not like dealers due to the high rate of returns.
> Now Dahhh.....what does that tell me.
I don't know? What DOES it tell you.
I find that comment very interesting. Our experience is that while
collectors are an important segment of the auction buying public, MOST
lots at the public sales we attend are bought by dealers. I would
estimate that as much as 60%-70% of the dollar volume goes to dealers.
Without dealer bids, a public auction could not survive.
While we often hear complaints from auctioneers about "picky" collectors
(including some of our clients), the most common complaints are about
dealers who are both critical and demanding when it comes to condition.
They are buying lots to sell to their customers. They bid based on the
description. When the lot comes in and they find it is "not as
described" they have no qualms about returning it.
Believe it or not, many collectors we've met over the years have told us
they have NEVER returned an item which was not as described.
When it comes to condition dealers, as a group, are more knowledgeable
and more realistic than are many collectors.
> A good friend of mine has also had bad experiences. He is a collector
> and bids on the higher priced items that he cannot obtain from local
> dealers. The items that he often won from apfelbaums were often with
> Minor damage, or included faults that were not described.
> The positive side to all of this is, that if you do not like the
> items you can send them back.
For obvious reasons I must preface my remarks by stating that while this
thread deals with Apfelbaum, my comments are general in scope and could
apply to ANY firm with a LIBERAL return policy. (And some elements are
especially applicable to the new flood of on-line auctions, too.)
The major public auction firms (Siegel, Shreve, Ivy, Schiff, Manning,
etc.) will rarely hassle any bidder over a "justified" return. If a
describer has made a mistake or a lot has been damaged during viewing,
then it is a matter of personal pride for an auctioneer to accept the
return and express his/her regrets for the error/inconvenience.
Unfortunately, many returns are not "justified." Bidding at auction is
not the same as an approval service, but there are people out there act
as if it was. They buy several lots and return the ones they don't
When a lot is sold in a public auction, the price is determined by the
competition. Many times, the lot returned to an auction firm is
perfectly fine. From a consignor's point of view, this SUCKS. You
thought the item was sold. It was accurately described and now you are
being told it was returned. There was another person willing to buy it
at one advance under the price the successful bidder paid, but that
opportunity has now been lost. The auction firm has a fiduciary
responsibility to protect the consignor's interests, and so most return
policies are, in fact, very strict. They are strict for many valid
Now, consider this scenario:
A firm which owns most or even all of the material it offers, doesn't
have to be as concerned about consignors as other firms which own a
lower percentage of material in their sales.
Management knows that if an item is described accurately and all the
faults are mentioned, the lot will bring only a small percentage of
catalog. (Let's say 3%-10% of cat.) If, on the other hand, those
"minor" faults and defects which might not be spotted by less
sophisticated buyers are NOT mentioned, then the lot will bring a much
higher percentage of catalog. (Say 30% to as high as 100%, depending on
the country, issue, etc.)
Now, do the math. The price differential between what accurately and
inaccurately described material brings is enormous. So, every
misdescribed lot which sells and is NOT returned is a HUGE gain for the
seller. But, you may ask, how can a firm get away with this? It's
easy. All they need is a liberal return policy. It gives the
appearance of honesty and fair dealing.
The people who attend the sale and view the lots don't bid on the
clinkers because they put their money on the better items. The lots
with undescribed problems almost always go to mail bidders. And,
unfortunately, many of those mail bidders have an unjustified trust in
the firm they've been doing business with for many years. They bid with
confidence in part BECAUSE the firm has a liberal return policy. A
trusting person thinks "They would never have that kind of policy if
they were making lots of mistakes. It would cost them too much money
when all the stamps are returned."
Well, there's an old saying which goes, "If you throw enough ***
against the wall, some of it will stick." Most of those lots never get
returned. Of course the firm will take lots back. They have all the
descriptions in the computer now, so they just rerun the item in the
next available sale. Sometimes a lot will be returned several times
before it "sticks." Sooner or later it will.
There is a huge difference between a describer's honest mistake and,
what I refer to as a "conscious effort to deceive."
So, what can you do to protect yourself?
First, if you are not knowledgeable, buy from dealers you can trust.
Auctions are not for everyone, and until you know enough to protect
yourself, don't bid. A "bargain" which is not as described is no
If you do want to buy at auction, ask for recommendations from others
about which firms they have had good experiences with.
READ the terms of sale and if there is something you don't
understand, ask about it.
If you are a successful bidder, don't postpone examining the lots
you've bought. Compare the item to the catalog description and if it
has a serious flaw not mentioned in the description, return it promptly
with a nice letter explaining your reason for the return. Do NOT get
all pissy and accuse the firm of trying to rip you off. It may have
been an honest mistake. Judge the auction firm by how it resolves the
problem. Most reputable firms will treat you well.
Finally, if you notice a pattern of deception and errors, and you see
items you've returned being run in a subsequent catalog with the same
description it had when you bought it, move on. I guarantee you there
are more companies selling more lots than you could ever buy, so don't
keep doing business with a firm which does business that way. If you
keep doing business with that firm, you pretty much deserve whatever
happens to you.
Jeff Purser & Melissa Wheeler, Purser Associates, Inc.
Philatelic Auction Agents & Consultants
37 Moody Lane, Danbury, CT 06811-3805