The Hunt…in the information age

By Jessica Mizrachi, Director of Evaluations at LOFTY
There is a school of thought, commonly ascribed to by seasoned and novice collectors and art world spectators, that the shift to online buying and selling has destroyed what has historically been a primary source of pleasure for antiquers–namely, “the hunt.”

There are three core aspects that together define what “hunting” entails.

The first is simply the benign pleasure of looking. Many of us who have spent an afternoon (or two) browsing listings on our favorite websites know that the act of looking, though altered by the online experience, is still alive and well. Simple keyword searches on some of the largest sites pull up many hundreds of items for sale. Much like in offline looking, one must peruse these listings with an eye towards authenticity, which is oftentimes no small task (but we’ll get to that later!).

The second defining feature of the hunt is the decidedly less benign pleasure of finding an item being offered by an unknowledgeable seller and buying it for a mere fraction of what it’s worth. It is clear that with the amount of information available online, more people than ever before are able to understand the potential value of their property, and so hunting the “steal” is getting harder and harder to do.

Many in the trade lament this fact, no doubt at least in part because without specialist knowledge it’s easy to assume that your cut glass dish looks kind of like Libbey’s Aztec, so of course it’s worth thousands! Misunderstandings like this aside, the fact that more information is available, and that expertise is more accessible, is a boon for both buyers and sellers alike.

The third and final aspect of hunting is a purely competitive one–finding the item first, and getting it before someone else can. While technologies like keyword alerts and automatic bidding have made it easier to spot an item immediately after it’s offered for sale, and if it’s at auction to bid on it without actually having to attend the live session, anyone who has watched the last few minutes of a heated online sale knows full well that competition is fierce. Bids come in and are accepted at a rate faster than any human auctioneer would be able to process.

In other words, the hunt is still very much on, and updated to better suit our information age!

Selection originally published in The World of Antiques and Collectibles, June/July 2014