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Alexander The Fake

, , , , | Right | September 17, 2021

One of the strangest things about working in a library is having to tell someone that, according to the reference sources available, their gold coin, china plate, oriental fan, etc. is just not valuable. At least today, we are able to pull up pictures of the item on the Internet (usually) and show the patron what experts say.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, this was not possible. We relied on various annual resources and, more importantly, a cache of names and phone numbers of antique dealers around the county.

A patron brings us an item wrapped in layers of tissue. He’s holding it gently and gingerly, cradled in both hands.

Patron: “I need some idea of how much this is worth. My great grandfather carried it with him for the whole of the Civil War.”

He unwraps the tissue to reveal a blindingly shiny gold pocket watch.

Coworker: “Well, unfortunately, I don’t think it’s worth very much.”

Patron: “How can you say that? My great grandfather carried this through the whole civil war! It must be valuable!”

Coworker: “Okay, well, I am not an expert in antiques, but given that on the back there is a stamp that reads, ‘Made In China, 1985,’ I think your great grandfather is pulling your leg about carrying it throughout the Civil War.”

Patron: “What do you mean? Are you calling my great grandfather a liar?”

Coworker: “Of course not. Perhaps he was a time traveler?”

This same patron comes in some time later with yet another of his treasures. He puts a parcel in front of me and begins to carefully unwrap it from the crisp, pure white tissue paper.

Patron: “You can’t say this isn’t valuable. Look at it! This is the sword Alexander the Great carried with him when he was conquering the known world!”

Me: “Um. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but I don’t think that’s the case.”

Patron: “What do you mean?”

Me: “Well, first of all, I don’t think Alexander’s sword had ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ carved into it. That was Julius Caesar’s thing.”

Patron: “So Alexander had Julius Caesar’s sword?”

Me: “No, I am sorry. I don’t think so.”

Patron: “Well, how can you tell? It could have happened.”

Me: “I guess it could have, but the thing is, when Alexander the Great was alive, their swords were made of metals like iron, and a sword made from Styrofoam would not have been much protection.”

This guy was in his mid-thirties, and for as long as I worked in that department, the day wasn’t complete until he brought in one of the many famed treasures he wanted to sell.

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