Do you burst their bubble?


SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Apr 29, 2002
Corrales, New Mexico
Someone comes in the shop with a worthless piece of paper they picked up at a flea market, that they are convinced is valuable. They want to spend a lot of money on archival framing *because* they think they have something.

Do you tell them it's crap? (politely, of course)

A common thing around here is the perception than any Gorman reproductions are valuable because his lithographs are worth thousands. Inept treasure hunters come in crowing about their "find" of a faded ($5 orignal retail) Gorman poster.

If I go along with their misconception, they will have a "trophy" to enjoy and brag about for years; untill someone else points out their mistake.

So, it's a dilemma. I don't want to spoil their fun, but I don't want them to be thinking they have made an investment when they haven't.
As I say in my shop - "the customer is always right, but sometimes I'm a little righter". They told me when I opened 16 years ago, that when they come in, they're ready to spend and far be from me to tell them how to spend it ! ENJOY!!!
It's tough, but you have to let them down easy. We have the same problem from time to time and it is typically with the flea market set. The crazy thing is that sometimes as hard as you try to set them straight, they just don't want to believe you. They will continue to quote their neighbor who told them that yes, it is a real Picasso.
I think you have to use your best judgment about whether the customer WANTS your opinion.

There is a big difference between the questions, "Is it worth framing?" and "Is it worth thousands?"

The answer to the first question is nearly always, "Yes" though, sometimes, if I have my own doubts, I'll say, "Let's pick out something nice, work up a quote and then YOU can decide."

The answer to the second question is often, "This is a very nice reproduction, printed in virtually unlimited numbers by New York Graphics. Don't quit your day job."

I try to avoid offering answers for which there's no question (except on The Grumble, of course.)
Originally posted by Ron Eggers:
I think you have to use your best judgment about whether the customer WANTS your opinion.

That is the way I always handle these customers. It is really not all that hard to say "oh that is nice" or "that was a lucky find". I'm not an art appraiser. However they get to me, I always an enjoy an enthusiastic customer.
If the art work is not what the customer thinks it is and I can demonstrate that - like when I showed a customer the calendar month printed on the back of her 'original' watercolor - then I will.

Otherwise, I keep quiet. I have no expertise as an appraiser so I don't do valuations. I've seen high ticket sales receipts with pieces that looked ten-a-penny to me.

I don't know how I'd respond if a customer came back after the framing was done and said "Why didn't you tell me?" I hope I never have to find out.

I remember a couple who brought in a poster with about a 9 inch border on the bottom with the artist name on it and the name of the painting. I told them (as I do everybody) that I would cut that off. They insisted that the border needed to show for "copyright" reasons (I'm not making fun of these people). I told them that it isn't a look that I prefer but if they wanted it to show it would likely double the cost of the framing. They decided that it would be ok for me to cut it off. I'm glad I kept that old mat cutter....errrr I mean print cutter.

I didn't help your question but I just wanted to tell the story. Carry on!
Just had this happen. A very good regular client bought an asian piece from an antique shop. They told here it was a print but she was sure it was an original. When she showed it to me I told her it was a NYGS print. I also told her how nice it would look in the room after I reframed it.

$470.00 later it does look great
It is not our job to evaluate the customers projects, we're the picture framers, not appraisers.

I remember back in the sixties, mounting and framing rock & roll posters for the UCSD students. Those worthless concert posters are now valued into the thousands, except of course the ones I mounted and put a metal frame around.

The kindest thing you can do, and probably the smartest, is keep your mouth shut. Why on earth would you want to burst their bubble? Perhaps you just take sadistic delight in being the bearer of bad news, some folks are just plain like that. Myself, I try to leave that job to others.

What if it only takes a week for their "best friend" to point out to them what fools they are? It means they had one full week, of their lives, being proud of something they did. That feeling is worth how much?

This is one of those "talking out both sides" issues.

How many of us simply "refuse" to use paper mats or regular glass because it is so harmful-after all, who are we to judge what's important or not? (Man, if had a dollar for everytime someone used that argument defending the "look down your nose attitude on paper mats or reg glass"....)

Well,if all you use is alpha/rag and comservation glass or better and you don't dry mount it, but hinge it-What's the difference?

So, this thing is a Gorman calendar. Does that mean you would dust off those old paper mats that you refuse to use?

If all you carry is only the "finest" anyway, what's the problem
I think that as framer/business owners we have enough on our plate without taking on other specialists professions. We are: business owners, framers, human resources directors, chief operation, executive and financial officers, scullery maid, garbage men, maintenance person, and we in charge of inventory, shipping and receiving, production, design, and customer relations, not to forget merchandising, marketing, and host.

We are not art conservators, nor for the most part are we art appraisers. If we have absolute knowledge that what the person is framing is not what it is represented to be do we have any legal, moral, or ethical right to inform that person of their misinformation. It is a very grey area, and the decision to proceed with the framing should be informed, eh? So why not pose the question..."do you like this so much that you would be willing to frame it even if it turned out that it has no monetary value?" You are neither professing knowledge to the contrary, nor are you denying the validity of the claim of authenticity, and you are placing the decision square in the lap of the client. If they have doubts and questions, you can direct them to an art appraiser that can answer their question. (So just now I get a call from a young woman who picked up an original Picasso drawing in a yard sale. oy!)
Fortunately this predicament comes up infrequently. A vast majority of what we frame has an established market value, because the client still has the receipt, or is of sentimental value. I have also found out that folks that truly believe that they have a "valuable" piece of art are very difficult to dissuade even in the face of documented evidence to the contrary, after all, what could a place called Southeby's possibly know about the value of vintage photography?
Look at it this way if you will...the value of the framed piece of art you just collected $500.00 bucks for is about $150 on the open market (assuming 30% COGS), and in reality probably will have no retained value, other than aesthetic, in very short order. Are we to burst the clients balloon with that information as well?
People spend money foolishly all the time, and it isn't our job to stop them.
I usually take the "maximize the customer's enjoyment of his piece" approach, which means letting them continue to think it is more valuable than it is. Even something with no intrinsic value is worth UV glass and archival mats if the customer enjoys looking at it, so they can enjoy it longer.

What worries me is when their main interst in the piece is not that they like to look at it, but that they think they have made an investment.

The customer's perception of the value of the piece will affect their choice of frame. I have had many who think that something valuable "has to" go in a big ornate gold frame, whether they like big gold frames or not.
Honesty and ethics go a long way in any business. This is what reputations are built on.

In the AIC Code of Ethics and Practices, there is a bit about not placing monetary values on items, unless one is a certified appraiser. This is to avoid conflict of interest, or the appearance of conflict.

If the client asks if something is worth treating or framing, I always cite that clause, and give them the names of appraisers that I trust.

I couldn't agree with Rebecca more .It is a very good idea to learn as much about ALL subjects related to our trade as we can. However it is even more important to KNOW when to call in a RELATED EXPERT,and not attempt to do things we really aren't experienced in.The repercutions can be disaterious both for the client and US.
So I'd give as polite and honest an answer as I could while suggesting they check with an appraiser in this case or a Conservator in others."No one should attempt to be ALL THINGS to ALL people" or give replies that give the impression that they are .However being helpfull and cooperative in directing them to someone who can is just as impressive.(IMHO)
Charles BUDDY Drago CPF ®
Always remember that something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it...period!

Dave Makielski
We had this discussion not to very long ago. With respect to those who say, "We're not appraisers!" I'd suggest that you don't have to be a licensed plumber to flush the toilet.

If someone asks if their treasure is an original or a reproduction, we'd better be able (and willing) to tell the difference. We don't have to guess what it's worth and we don't need to volunteer any information they don't ask for.

This isn't really that complex an issue, is it?
Ron while your comments ;
>>>>>If someone asks if their treasure is an original or a reproduction, we'd better be able (and willing) to tell the difference. We don't have to guess what it's worth and we don't need to volunteer any information they don't ask for.

This isn't really that complex an issue, is it?<<<<
Are basicly correct .i.e. this issue isn't complicated and it would be nice to have the ability to know the difference between and original and a reproduction ;doing so isn't always an simple a task as "flushing a toilet".

Otherwise there would be no need for appraisers and even Museems wouldn't be faked out when they use their appraisers. This doesn't even take into consideration the valid point that John made about some insignificant works APPRECIATEING in value over the years.

While we may have discussed this before I think I and others like me where only offering how we would handle the question and why we feel that way.

The rest seems like an endorsement of Ellen's sign off. "Take what you can use and the rest......"
I am sure most of you have more knowledge of what art is really valuable Then I and that is why I suggested "If I where you this is how I would handle the issue" no slight meant to Hanna or anyone else.
In fact you may recall my posting the question "How do you really tell good art",reason being ;I think that is a very personal observation.
With regard to this issue, I wouldn't offer any unsolicited advice. We use archival materials to best protect the artwork. That is my job -- protecting the artwork.

However, I have been asked on numerous occasions if something is of value. My response to that question is that I am a picture framer, not an art appraiser. When asked where can they get their art appraised, I usually suggest they contact a local art musuem for answers to that question. I also suggest an Art Auction House that is located in our state or if they really have something they think might be that really big find, I suggest they contatct Chisties. I have never had one customer come back to me saying they took my advice. When they find out that they will have to pay for an appraisal, they usually drop the ball right there. $200 is too much to pay to find out what their "prize" is really worth.
I had a woman bring me a tiny piece of needlepoint she loved..
I mean loved. Just looking at the piece and the framing materials to enhance it made her deliriously happy. Of course I got the impression that it was something some dear family member or friend had made and passed down through the family, b/c it was old and fragile. I assumed great sentimental value.

She paid $300 to frame it - that was a finished size of about 5 x 7. When she picked it up, I finally asked what the significance was. None, she replied. She found it at a garage sale the morning she brought it in. She paid $2 for it. It made her happy, she said.

Ya just never know...I imagine her grandchildren will fight over it when she dies, thinking it is costly or rare, or done by an ancestor, etc. b/c of the framing job! :D