THE VERY BEST AND THE REST

On a recent evening I went to a presentation by Wes Cowen, who is one of the appraisers appearing on the popular public television program “Antiques Roadshow.”   He said that the primary motivation of viewers who tune in to the show is to see if someone who brings in an antique for appraisal has a valuable piece.  Maybe someone found a gem of an antique stored in the attic for years or bought it for a pittance at a flea market.

In the question-and-answer session that followed the presentation, Cowen was asked how to dispose of items collected over the years that the children don’t want.  He agreed that today’s younger generations generally don’t want to inherit their parents’ antiques and heirlooms.  Cowen lamented that a person under thirty-five years old at an antique auction stands out from the crowd.

Cowen stated that antique dealers at one time referred to “the best and the rest,” meaning that there was a demand for premium merchandise but not much demand for the vast majority of merchandise.  Now, he says, reference is made to “the very best and the rest”:  buyers have become even more selective.  The Internet has contributed to this trend, as buyers can easily determine if an item is rare and its value.

The “very best and the rest” nomenclature seems like an apt description for present-day horse racing.  The racetracks that are doing well are the very best in terms of the ambiance and quality of racing they offer to customers, while most of the rest are struggling.

At the auctions, the very best–athletic-looking horses with strong pedigrees–sell for hefty prices, whereas the rest typically don’t fetch such good prices.   Of course, just as there is always the remote chance that someone buys, say, a valuable painting at a flea market, the purchase of an unfashionably bred yearling with a few conformation faults may turn out to be a great bargain.  But that is the exception that proves the rule.

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Like a lot of people with grown children, I’ve got to figure out what to do with all the stuff stored in my basement.  Habitat for Humanity and Good Will are the likely options for items that have been in the family for years.

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