I like to fix stuff thats broken. In that regard, I should have been a mechanic or a marriage counselor. My antique dealer friends, who bring their broken things to me to fix, say that if you want to get me to pay more for something, just break it.
One of my latest fixes was a Circle Y saddle that Cowboy Mike purchased and brought to me to repair. We call him Cowboy Mike because, as a picker, he specializes in cowboy stuff; not because he ropes steers or lives like a hermit in a line shack.
I happen to like Circle Y saddles so I was brokenhearted to see the one Cowboy Mike purchased at a yard sale real cheap. It was a custom saddle covered in chrome, with well-tooled tapaderos hanging from its fenders. It showed hardly any signs of use or mistreatment except for a silver-dollar-size hole right in the middle of the padded seat. Thats why it was so cheap. My guess is that a mouse probably liked Circle Y saddles too and started munching on this one in its softest spot.
Like most people, Mike wanted me to fix the saddle but didnt want to spend a lot of money. This ruled out taking the intricate saddle apart, putting in a new seat and rebuilding it, so I did a patch job, matching the color and stitch style to the best of my ability. I dare say, when I was done you could hardly tell where it had been patched and Mike was so pleased he gave me a $20 bonus!
On the same day another dealer friend of mine, also named Mike, brought me a pair of spurs to repair that hed just bought at a swap meet. The spurs looked old and were in the early California vaquero style so popular today amongst collectors. Mike was looking to make a 1,000 percent return on his cheap purchase price, or he just might keep them for his own collection, he liked them so much.
In the course of fixing the spurs I thought I saw the faint outline of a makers mark so, with some very fine steel wool and WD40, I uncovered what looked like a C under the rust, then an H and then an I. It was at this point that I started to get a bad feeling. Next I uncovered a faint N and finally an A. Thats right, the antique collectible spurs in the California style had been made in China! By Chinese! Maybe even last month!
Now I had a real dilemma on my hands. Mike is the nicest guy I know and I didnt want to embarrass him, nor did I want to hurt his feelings because hed made such a boneheaded mistake. If word of this ever got out in the picker community hed never live it down. What should I do? I could file the word China off, but as a purist I felt that wasnt right. On the other hand, Mike is a sensitive individual and I didnt want to do anything to harm our valued friendship. So I told him I really liked the spurs too and asked if hed consider trading them to me for a genuine pair of Crockett spurs. He reluctantly agreed and made it clear that it was only because we were so close that hed do the deal. So I gave him a nice pair from my collection and cut up the Chinese reproductions and threw them away in order to save him any embarrassment.
Last week we were all standing around prior to an estate sale when un-cowboy-like Mike gathered up all the pickers to make the announcement that hed tricked the so-called cowboy expert (that would be me) and got a pair of Crocketts for a worthless pair made in China! By Chinese! Probably last month!
The rascal had known all along.
My reputation was ruined and I thought the least that Cowboy Mike could have done at the time was come to my defense by saying what an expert job Id done on his saddle. But no, he stood there and laughed at me like all the rest. Ha, ha, what an idiot Pitts is.
There are many morals to this true story such as: Honesty is the best policy. Or, You are judged by the company you keep. But I think the best lesson I learned from this humiliating experience was simply this: Dont have friends named Mike.
Lee Pitts is a California ag producer and newspaper editor.