Ethical/Customer service question


Cliff Wilson

Customer brings in an Artist proof numbered AP XV/XV and signed by the artist. It's shrinkwrapped.

The design she wants and we settle on is simple, so the shrink never comes off. When assembling the piece I take the shrink wrap off. Stuck between the print and the foam backing is an Artist proof numbered AP XV/XV and signed by the artist. Yep, same #.

So, do I
1) give the second back to the customer?
2) throw it away?
3) put it in the bin and sell it?
4) something I haven't thought of yet?

Now, before we get too mad, it could have been an accident on the artist's part. They were "stuck together."
It belongs to the customer
No, go for number 4

Frame it in something horrible - pink mount - swept frame. Plead ignorance - put it behind counter, swap it for ordered job and don't even blink - make customer think he is nuts.

This would be an S.O.P. in our shop - staff would be fired for not taking up a wind-up opportunity like this, what is wrong with you?

(S.O.P.) = Standard operating procedure
Of course it belongs to her, but wouldn't it be nicer to make the second disappear, so she continues to feel good about the "value" of her artist proof?
I see what you are asking Cliff. You don't want to spoil her belief she has the only one with that number. Hmmmm.......I guess it should go back to her. I know for sure I would not keep it and sell it. I guess destroying it has its merits. That way there will only be one copy with that number?

Quite the conundrum. Let us know what you decide.
Does it not make it more valuable to have two with the same number? Surely this would be a rarity - albeit artificial.

I love Johns idea - another option would be to hand back the unframed print and say "couldn't be bothered, its just too ugly"...

Personally I would contact the customer before making the frame and let them know, it could be a possibility to sell another frame, or put the second copy in the frame for safe keeping.
You hit it kathy. Maybe I should try to be clearer. It just seems mean to show her the "copy."

Tried to find the artist on line, but couldn't get any hits. The print is dated 1978. It's somewhat abstract sailboats in a row with a blue background. Title "Boats Antibes"

Mary Ford is the artist.
I don't understand where the ethical question is, unless there is a shortfall in personal ethics.

1. It's not your property.
2. It's the customer's property.

Finish the framing job, return the 2nd copy, get paid for the framing job. Anything else is outside of common ethics.
Another wind up

Frame them both, swear blind the customer brought two in and ordered two frames.

Once you have had your fun - you never know - customer may have a home for the second one, offer a good discount to compensate for your wind up.
Is it possible to remove the number on the second piture? Maybe you could offer to remove the number from the second print and tell the customer that you think it was probably a mistake because the pitures were stuck together. Then offer to dispose of it, or suggest that maybe she could frame it for some kind of charity event. If it is a nice picture some people don't care if it is numbered or not and would buy it at a silent auction just because they like it.
Not sure whether someone working for an insurance company should be offering opinions about ethics, but . . .

This seems similar to the question that comes up from time-to-time about the customer who comes in with an original watercolor (purchased as such) and you know it's an offset litho.

Are we obligated to deliver bad news? Can we reasonably expect the customer to be grateful for it?

<strike>Tell her the doctor billed it incorrectly and that's why the claim denied.</strike> Oops, wrong business.

I like the idea of sealing it up inside the customer's frame for long-term safe-keeping.
OK, after my bit of fun, the bottom line would be "OK, we found this inside the wrapping"

Not your problem is it

If I was not going to have a bit of fun I'd ring the customer up "We've found another print......."

Not your problem is it, beats me why you're asking

Bet there's another MM of those XVs too!
Of course this is assuming that there is no way that the artist is engaging in fraudulent behaviour. Seems to be a nice way to maximize on the AP premium.

I say call the client, tell her what you have found, and let her decide how to deal with it. I wouldn't be too thrilled in her place and I am certain that I would be having words with the artist or his/her agent.

This is really something that is between the client and the artist. There might be some legal implications (breach of contract, fraud etc...). It isn't right to make any decisions on the client's behalf.

Worst case for you, the client decides she doesn't want the piece anymore and you lose this frame job. However you show a high level of integrity and the client will surely be aware of that.
Some of you seem to be focused on the # on this piece last I checked we make mistakes and it cleary seems as thought the artist has done just that.

As to the right thing to do. I think Deacon hit it right on the head but I would do what Bob Roy states.
Yes, I have to agree with Bluewing, Deacon, and Bob Roy. Very good advice! I once found a beautiful original watercolor behind a framed print. I called the customer right away - he was very grateful and had me frame it for him, too.
I like the "frame it back in behind the other".... but first, on a sheet of 1 ply, in pencil, write:

"Dear fellow framer of the future [beyond 12-19-2005], we found this "extra" print [note the numbers on both prints] hiding in the customers package..
So while thinking concervation, buy knowing the conditions that can occur in a home... we have place this "spare" in this frame "in case" the other "original" becomes ruined, damaged, faded, acid burned, or just plain passe.
Please do not tell on us. We felt it best to keep the owner clueless.
Please respect this secret in the nature of framer brotherhood.
The Last Framer"

That sounds pretty ominous.

Do you really think Cliff is going to be "The Last Framer?" If so, who's going to be around to open the framing package, if not Cliff?

I hope Cliff is up to the task.

And I wonder if it's okay to use "if so" and "if not" in the same sentence.
I agree with Deacon - it is really pretty simple from an ethical point of view:
1. It's not your property.
2. It's the customer's property.
We discussed this issue at length in our shop several years ago when an antique dealer found a Revolutionary war document in the back of a frame (that he had purchased) that went for more than a million at auction. The question raised was: What would you do if you found something incredibly valuable behind a picture? We established as official shop policy that the treasure would belong to the customer without exception but that we would cheerfully accept gifts of luxury automobiles from the grateful new millionaires

The complication of course is the duplicate edition numbers. At our house we read "The Ethicist" in the Sunday NYT magazine every week. The game is to read the question than have everybody come up with their answers before we read the Ethicist's. The hardest ones are when an ethical lapse may spare someone pain or discomfort.

In this case sparing your customer the possibility that they were cheated by lying to them doesn't work for me and certainly keeping the print constitutes larceny. The discovery that a limited edition publisher may be a crook is not so potentially hurtful that I would lie to protect my customer. Among other things my lying would prevent the customer from seeking recompense from the publisher or the publisher from explaining a possibly honest mistake.

So Deacon - now that we have covered ethics perhaps we can revisit the issue of your avatar - it is way creepy. I have to put my thumb over it when I read your posts.

Peter Bowe
Saline Picture Frame Co.
I always tell the customer if it is a repro...... just in case they think I swapped out the original for a copy.

BTY if you hold both prints up to light, do the signatures and numbering line up perfectly?
Ron, you hit it on the head that it is similar.

The question really is ... If the customer is all happy and thrilled with there purchase/find and we discover something (potentially) "bad," are we obligated to tell them?

She is away until next week and I want to get the framing wrapped up, so I will leave it out, show it to her when she picks up, and offer to put it in a a/f evelope on the back if she'd like.

But, I still feel bad telling her!
In a situation where the piece is not as "cool" as the customer thinks it is, it is hard to burst their bubble. If they just bought it because they like the image, and the falsely percieved value of it is just icing, I am really tempted to let them keep their illusion.

I remember an uncle of mine who thought he had found an original Remington painting at a yard sale. It was one of those prints on cardboard that was embossed with an all over brushstroke pattern. No one in the family would be the "bad guy" and tell him it was worthless. He never tried to sell it, because he was soooo proud of it.

I was always uncomfortable with the situation. What if someone came to visit, and laughed at him?
Were we being cruel to humor him all those years? As far as I know, he died believing it was real.

Of course, if the customer thinks they have something that they can sell for a fortune to keep them warm in their old age, it is easy to sound the buzzer on their dream.

It's a tough one, but I think the right thing to do is tell the customer about it. They just might think they have a cool "error" print. (which it really could be!)
Sorry to be a "Johny come lately" and not working in the craft at the time to boot.However these features might be an advantage in this case,since it allows me to lok at things from a slightly different prospective.

Suppose you mistakenly left something of value in a frame package and it was discovered later by either the owner or another framer.Wouldn't you want them to return it to you? I would/As I suspect anyone else would. The previous logic of who pocesses it is accurate it is either the purchesor or the artist's. How and why they determine it's final disposition is up to them.
As is why the error occured and it's causes and remidies.

As to wether YOU should "Burst their Bubble" by being honest and showing them what you discovered,that logic escapes me. I can't imagine being crest fallen by knowing the truth wether it is for devious reasons or an HONEST mistake.

Trying to assume WHY the error occured may get you in trouble as will venturing an unsubstaniated opinion.However, as in the customers case and yours "The Truth Shall ( always) Set You FREE"

It's all the OTHER cover ups that will get you in deeper and deeper and may get you a date in court.IMHO And God forbid you are asked to explain keeping something you knew you didn't own ,regaurdless of why.
Take the easy and honest way out tell them what you found and let them detrmine where it goes from there.

Just call her and tell her what you found and let the chips fall where they may. You will be lookied upon as a man of great integrety. Even though you have to tell her something she may not want to hear. She needs to know. Doctors don't make people sick, but they are the ones who have to break the bad news to the patient.

One of the things we must do. If we want to be looked on as the experts/professionals/masters of our crafts, then we must behave in that way.

Just call her ****.
Great new concept! Just in case your morning coffee spills on the first LE print, you've got a back up. I think all new editions of LE prints should come with a spare numbered the same just in case the worst case scenario happens.

Maybe it was just a packaging error. The second print is from the "Dual Edition" being released after the first edition was put on the market and sold out.

I'd be sure and finish the job first, because, sure ' soon as you let the customer know about the second print Murphy will visit your shop in the middle of the night and destroy the first print.


Actually, this situation is between the artist, the publisher, and the purchaser/owner of the print(s). Contact the customer and let him/her decide the course of action.

OR...PLAY GOD...Destroy the second print...

just kidding...

Dave Makielski

PS It could be a set up! A sting operation to test and determine the quality of ethics in the picture framing industry.
If you are going to be ethical, you have an obligation to notify your customer before you order the frame materials - she may not want to continue with the order with the obvious loss of value. Telling her at the time of delivery may cause her to wonder about your "ethics" vs. "greed".

Pat :D
Remember the old Alfred Hitchcock story. An elderly, wealthy stamp collector has one of only two existing valuable stamps. He was finally able to persuade the owner of the other stamp to sell it to him for a large sum. The seller said "Now you have the only two in existence." And the buyer said "No, now I have the only ONE in existence." as he held a lit match to the second one.
This is not likely but what if 20/20 planted the print there just to see what you would do. Make whatever choice you wish but think about how you would like to be able to respond when the reporter comes busting into your shop with a camera in your face (this time not hidden).

As far as her feelings are concerned play up the anomaly. Anybody selling museum glass is used to selling dust as if it were diamonds.

I would absolutely tell her about it. It might make her day and get it framed also. If not, it could be an undercover reporter.
Hiding the truth has never been easy and in this case there is no reason.

Just share the information of what you found. It is then in the customer's court to deal with.

Having been the baby of a family of 3 girls - I never liked being "protected" from the truth as I was - I wanted to face it and deal with it. Not everyone is like that. But you found it, you would be sharing that fact. How the customer deals with it is something you cannot guess or decide.

That's my take on it.

The true test of integrity is what we do when nobody is looking. It doesn't matter if it's a sting, if the print will have diminished value, if the customer will be unhappy or if there is any personal profit involved. Since you chose to bring the issue up on this forum it would seem to me that you recognize it would be deceptive to do anything but tell the customer.

You're a victim of your own honesty Cliff, call the customer.
The customer is still the owner of whatever they gave you to frame. What if you found a $1000 bill in there too? Would you keep it?

You should tell the customer; if you didn't and it comes out later (usually the worst possible time and outcome) it will be very bad for business & ethics.

Your good name and reputation are priceless.
I'd just call her up and tell her about it , or wait until she comes in to pick up her finished frame and give it back to her then. Chances are she will probably just take it home and tuck it away, or she might even pass it on to a friend who will want to have it framed. I don't know who the artist is or what the value of the print is though. If it's a very expensive piece she may be unhappy.

Around our parts there aren't very many customers who are die hard collectors who would be very upset by this (and would cancel her order because of it)- but she should have her property back.
I think some of the answers here are misinterpreting Cliff's intent. He isn't trying to find a way to cash in on this. He simply has a heart and is seeing it through his customers eyes and doesn't want to ruin her happiness over this "one of a kind". He doesn't want to hurt his customer, nothing wrong with feeling that way. I don't think he would be asking if he found a $1,000 bill inside should he keep it. He hasn't found some rare artifact he wants to keep himself. He is just wrestling with his conscience as to how not to disappoint his customer. He will do the right thing.
Thanks Kathy, the "sell it" in the original post was intended to be funny. I keep forgetting that my dry sarcastic humor doesn't work well when I'm typing. sighhhh
Originally posted by Dave:
Great new concept! The second print is from the "Dual Edition" being released after the first edition was put on the market and sold out.
Maybe not far off the truth, UK editions, US editions, Export editions etc, would all have artists proofs numbered the same
A bit more stirring, or another thought...

1. It's not your property.
2. It's the customer's property
You forgot
#3 It's the artist's if she did not pay for it.

Or is it??? Did this customer pay for it? If not it belongs to the artist, it does not matter if this person makes fifity prints the same (i think that is bad, don't get me wrong), the point is she got something that is not hers. You should inform her so she may return it.

Then again possession is 9/10th of the law isn't it?

Ok that is the art brain, the reality is it is just a junky piece of paper with an image on it. It won't be work swkat in a year. Now saying that, I think it is a perfect time to educate the customer. Tell her how this print business works and offer to show her real art, painted by someone, not a machine-i gues that is sort of the art brain tooo?

Patrick Leeland
Well Patrick, It was shrink wrapped and the price was on the outside. I guess that makes it a two-fer! Customer again. One thing for sure -- it's not mine.
I think the artist made a mistake. The numbered prints are identical, and Cliff did say they were stuck together. I think what might have happened is the artist signed and numbered them, then stacked the remaining unumbered prints on top of the numbered pile. When she went to have them shrinkwrapped, the bottom print w/o a number and the numbered print were stuck together, unumbered one on top. They were unable to find #15, so a new one was signed and numbered.

I don't think the artist intended for two identical prints to be sold. The person who purchased one, certainly didn't expect to get two. That being said, I don't think anyone is really "entitled" to the extra print. I think the extra one really still belongs to the artist, who should destroy the extra print.

Anyway, that is my theory, and that is what I would tell the customer. Ethically speaking, there should not be two of these identically #'d prints floating around. So, I would not put it inside the frame. I'd let her decide what is the right thing to do. If you all think the customer is the rightful owner, then I think she should destroy the print.
In this case, I also believe the mistake has occurred as Pamela has described. I had large contracts in the past framing limited edition prints for auctions. I was provided a large number of signed but unnumbered prints to be used as replacements for items damaged in shipping.

I personally would frame the job and then at the time of pick up explain that this situation was most likely an error as described. I would further explain that the existence of another identical piece devalues the framed piece and ask the customer to cut the corner with the number off the print with scissors. The situation has been corrected and the customer would then be able to do whatever they wish with the second print. Most artists and publishers use this method of destroying prints when replacement is required.