The Smithsonian of Sham

August 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

Aristotle, one of the earliest promoters of authenticity, asked a question in his Metaphysics that roughly reads ‘is the whole greater than the sum of its parts.’ Be it ball bearings or lip stain, he wanted to know whether a collection of items is substantively different from the nature of its components. A complex existential dilemma, no? Does it sound like too much philosophical noodling for the luxury realm?

Never.

When the question is asked about the Musee de la Contrefacon (Museum of Counterfeiting)* in Paris with its extensive inventory of historical fakes, the answer to Aristotle’s grand quandary is a resounding oui.

Sure, it’s a collection of individual fakes, but the historical perspective that comes with these assorted incidents of fraud is far more important. The whole, it seems, is undoubtedly greater.

The collection is housed in a small building. “Postage stamp-sized” according to a piece that ran recently in the Los Angeles Times. It’s been around for almost six decades and was originally opened by a trade organization, Union des Fabricants or Unifab, to inform the public about the mounting sham scourge.

While it’s a lovely opportunity for reflection on the progress that’s been made in the fight against fakes, the most critical item the article addressed wasn’t the coverage of the Musee’s ‘how to identify a fake’ section or evidence of the frightening frequency with which counterfeiters have entered into the everyday commercial products space. It was a point made by the author, Adam Tschorn, in which he stated “…by the time these pieces end up in the museum, the counterfeiters have long since learned from their mistakes.” He sums up the dilemma perfectly: the enforcement agencies are caught in a high stakes game of cat and mouse. Trouble is who’s playing the kitty? Well, that depends on who you ask, but we know who our money’s on.

The continued inventiveness of the security pioneers and the efforts of organizations like the Musee that serve as a sort of Smithsonian for shams that help us to learn and reflect on how both sides have been forced to adapt is inspiring. We can’t offer enough support to the brave and talented individuals who fight via security innovation, enforcement, and legislation. They are the unsung heroes of this battle. The Musee exists as testament to their quiet and selfless successes.

That the counterfeiters fight to find their way past these measures is just the nature of the relationship. Necessity is root of all innovation. What we can focus on is removing the ‘necessity’ component.

The solution to ending this alternating cycle of security device-sham innovation-security device-sham innovation is to spread the word about this epidemic. Contribute to an informed citizenry capable of making choices in this matter. We are confident that when the real cost of the counterfeiting game is exposed, the demand will evaporate faster than a raindrop on a Death Valley sidewalk. And the profits will follow. And then, the exploitative production cycle will collapse.

It is a tottering, sham house of cards.

So here’s to the card pullers and those that display their efforts so we might reflect. Spread the word. Empower other shoppers. Pull a few cards of your own.

* The Union des Fabricants is the organization that maintains the museum; information about the collection can be accessed on the bottom left corner of their menu page. The tab is labeled Musee de la Contrefacon.

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