The Maltese Buddha

So we heard about the garage-sale Buddha that brought $2.1 million at Sotheby’s. And wouldn’t you know — we have one just like it! I took it off the shelf, found the receipt, dug out the description. Yep, it was definitely the same style. I was struck with gold fever.

While Jim wondered what had possessed me, I scurried around taking photos from every angle, weighing, taking measurements, and filling out the forms on Sotheby’s website. The 12-inch high casting of the diety Guanyin weighed in at 7.5 lbs — a hefty treasure. My mind danced around all the good we could do with a couple mil — even one mil would do.

Within six hours, Sotheby’s responded.
“After thoughtful consideration, we believe that your property is most likely to realize its optimal value if sold through one of our preferred partners.” In other words, you loser.

Okay, so I saw ours had been assembled from 3 pieces held together with modern screws (but wasn’t the screw invented in the 15th or 16th century?). But Jim had paid good money for it back in the ’80s and…

I did a lot of talking to myself. The auction house brush-off made me feel we were poseurs, middle-brow collectors of bric-a-brac.

But wait. Here’s what my life with Jim has taught me: we are romantics, not players. Art is not a financial investment but an adventure of the mind and spirit. The question is not how much is it worth, but where does it take us.

Look at that 1984 picture above. That’s Jim (in his 20-year-old shirt) telling my parents and my aunt and uncle why his old camera collection was so exciting. For a decade, no one knew more about photographic history than Jim. And when the cameras stopped telling their story, Jim sold them off with only enough profit to pay off the debt he got into buying them.

Collecting for the romantic is about a lusty curiosity, not about cashing in.

Circling back to my understanding of this made me feel better. I thought about “The Maltese Falcon” (1941) — Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre chasing the treasure that turns out to be only a hunk of lead (probably 12 inches high and weighing 7.5 lbs). Bogart refers to it as “the stuff that dreams are made of.” Yeah. That’s what I live for.

Wine poured.

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