The Telephone Game and the Exponential Effect of Misattribution

Do you remember playing the Telephone Game when you were a child?  It starts with one person whispering a sentence to another, then that person tries to whisper the same thing to the next person, and so on until the last person speaks aloud the inevitably garbled message, often to hilarious effect.  

Erroneous information about antiques promulgated by online auction sites can have a similar effect, though with consequences that are not very funny if the bad information has caused you to buy something that is not what it was advertised to be.  

I often notice misattributions in seller’s descriptions on eBay and other online auction sites.  I am sure that some sellers are knowingly misrepresenting their auction items, but I’m just as certain that many sellers are simply repeating bad information.  Of course the internet causes information, good or bad, to grow exponentially.

Marks on porcelain, for example, are often mis-interpreted, mis-understood, and mis-reported.  There are numerous reference sources available for identifying porcelain marks.  I keep Kovels’ Dictionary of Marks and Kovels’ New Dictionary of Marks close at hand as broad references.  However, it is important to exercise caution when using these or any other reference books.  Be sure to read carefully the information about the individual marks.  Is the mark the same or similar?  Painted or impressed?  Under the glaze or over?  Once you think you know the maker, does the piece resemble other pieces by that manufacturer?  

Of course, it is wise to keep in mind that the market is full of fakes (or mistakes) where items of value are concerned.  The best way to avoid unpleasant surprises is to spend the time to educate yourself in the area of collecting in which you are interested.  And do consider consulting your friendly personal property appraiser when contemplating larger purchases.

Happy hunting!