WASHINGTON – The fight to keep fakes and repros off antique show floors, out of shops and away from auctions has been taken to the nation’s capital. Nancy Johnson, president of the Professional Show Managers Association, armed with statistics detailing the financial impact of antiques on the national economy, met with Jeanne Bumpus, the director of Congressional Affairs for the Federal Trade Commission.
The goal: Make the FTC add an “Antiques and Collectibles” category to the Office of Consumer Protection Web site, giving consumers recourse should they be taken by unscrupulous sellers passing off bogus goods as real antiques.
“This is about getting the recognition of the FTC that antiques and collectibles is indeed an industry,” Johnson said. “It may not be regulated or well organized, but there is, nonetheless, a tremendous amount of money being spent in this field with no watchdog and no umbrella organization.”
As a dealer and a show promoter, Johnson had long watched and wondered at the same thing as many of her colleagues. In many instances at shows, shops and auctions, the proliferation of fakes and frauds had made shopping at shows, shops and auctions a “Buyer Beware” situation. This not only hurt individual buyers who spent good money on bad material, but sent ripples across the entire business.
Johnson’s frustration mounted when she went to the FTC Web site in the hopes being able to find a way to file a specific complaint. What she was greeted with was a perplexing series of hoops to jump through simply to list her grievance in a category labeled “other.”
“The complaint form is very confusing,” she said. “It’s mostly geared toward buying an automobile or getting a house loan, something where there’s a contract number or regulated documentation.”
The genesis of Johnson’s quest in D.C. began shortly thereafter, in January of this year, when she sent an open letter in the PSMA newsletter to organization president Mitchell Sorenson titled, “When Did It Become OK To Cheat Someone?”
In the letter, Johnson writes: “When did it become ‘OK’ for companies and individuals to cheat, defraud and rip off the consumer? Just as importantly, when did we as consumers stop hollering at the top of our lungs when it happens? It seems we have accepted being cheated as a way of American life to the degree that it’s ‘OK.’ It certainly is not ‘OK,’ and we as PSMA members can say so…”
This led quickly to a correspondence with Dordy Fontinel, promoter of Dordy Fontinel Shows in Virginia. Besides holding similar beliefs on the issue, Fontinel related that she numbered Virginia’s senior senator John Warner among the regular attendees at her show. When told of the issues faced by the antiques and collectibles industry by Fontinel, Warner agreed to help.
“Dordy deserves a lot of credit when it comes to this project,” Johnson wrote in an email to Antique Trader. “She and her husband met with the Senator’s staff in late May, which led to the appointment with Jeanne Bumpus at the FTC.”
The meeting, which took place in late June, and included Johnson, Fontinel, dealer Mark Gillespie and Larry Krug, Founder of the National Association of Collecting Clubs, was an important step in the ongoing fight for recognition.
According to Johnson, at the meeting the three representatives of the FTC, including Director Bumpus, said that only 900 antiques and collectibles related complaints came in via the Web form, which didn’t seem to represent a significant segment of the industry. Johnson quickly related to the FTC staff just how difficult it is to actually find a place to file an antiques and collectibles fraud-related complaint, and said that if 900 people were willing to run the labyrinth that finally got them to the “right” place, then it was likely that there were thousands more that simply gave up out of frustration.
If this didn’t get their attention, when the PSMA crew put it into terms of the sheer amount of cold hard cash that is generated on any given weekend by any of the thousands of different shows, shops and auctions that do business the tenor in the room seemed to shift.
“The PSMA estimates that there are more than 2000 antiques and collectibles shows every single week,” Johnson said, “and that’s just the beginning of the math. When I said that, the three of them looked at each other and I think they finally realized that we were talking about a lot of money and a big chunk of the economy. Suddenly we were treated very professionally.”
While the government is notoriously slow to act on anything, the request to add an “Antiques and Collectibles” category to the complaint list was received positively. The FTC Web site, said David Torok, Associate Director of Planning and Information, is decades old and due for a revamping early next year and that the information presented by the PSMA group would be used in the development of the new form. Krug requested that the PSMA be allowed to work with the FTC in developing consumer information about purchasing “Antiques & Collectibles,” which was also agreed to by the FTC representatives.
Nancy Johnson and group requested that the FTC add the category of “Antiques & Collectibles” to the present list., DTorok@FTC.gov, conceded that the form was “decades old” and not necessarily “user friendly”. Torok indicated that the FTC website is scheduled to be revamped by early next year and that the.
“We’re trying to add legitimacy to this business,” Johnson said, “to weed out – if we can – the fraud and fakes and be left with the good stuff.”
For now, Johnson’s quest will continue through the PSMA while waiting for the government to move forward with its Web site retooling. Seeing the tenacity that Johnson and Fontinel have shown so far, it’s a good bet that they’ll keep their eyes, and the eyes of the FTC, on the prize.
In the meantime, consumers wishing to file a complaint about fraudulent antiques and collectibles can go to www.FTC.gov, and click on the “File a complaint” button on the upper right corner of the home page. Fill out contact information, go directly to the “Explain your problem” box at the bottom of the form. The word “antiques” must be included in the complaint.
For those who do not have computer access, call the FTC directly at 1-877-FTC–HELP.