Theme : Secondhand – Introduction

The Editor considers the less-than-new

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Secondhand. It isn’t a word with a lot of cachet is it? For goods It suggests that someone else got there first, enjoyed the best of it and has left you with the frayed remains. For ideas it suggests that there is nothing new or original, that everything about it is derived from something better. And it gets worse. Third-hand has even less cachet but, for the purpose of this month’s theme, we will make no distinction regarding the quantity of prior keepers, and ‘secondhand’ is certainly a more forthright description of an object than the weaselly and presumptuous ‘preloved’ of modern usage.

But this scorn for the used object is a relatively new way of thinking. The worshipping of the new was not always so. Before industry became the ravenous monster it is now, with an insatiable appetite for our custom, the item that had been owned by someone else had no stigma attached. Objects were passed from parent to child and valued as such and, since technology in many areas hardly altered, there was little incentive to replace something until it became irreparable.

Cars, unfortunately, do degrade, and it seems likely that they will continue to do so. As such, a secondhand vehicle does deserve to be approached with a degree of caution having a day-to-day history that is, usually, completely unverifiable. Regrettably, the motor trade long ago acquired a dubious reputation in this area. If the word ‘secondhand’ has negative connotations, the phrase ‘secondhand car salesman’ has even worse ones. I hasten to point out that there are certainly honourable companies and individuals in the trade, but the commercial realities of shifting decaying metal off forecourts means that the above mentioned caution is justified. And even if you trust the individual, can either of you ever really trust the car?

Certain cars transcend this. I don’t imagine that you would have much luck beating down the £2m asking price of a Ferrari Lusso by pointing out that it had seven previous owners and lacked a fully stamped dealer history. Somehow calling a car a ‘classic’ cleanses it of the stigma of being secondhand. Provenance can also improve matters. Some members of the motor trade still like to use the rather quaint device of appending a description with ‘one lady owner’ or ‘one titled owner’. Presumable the ultimate would be ‘one titled lady owner’ which might be a selling point to those who, unlike myself, lack a knowledge of the behaviour of many female members of the aristocracy.

And now we come to the concept of secondhand ideas. Unlike objects, ideas don’t degrade in themselves, though the passing of time might show them up as not being quite as perfect as they first seemed. If we subscribe to Isaac Newton’s notion that we stand on the shoulders of giants, then the acceptance and fettling of secondhand ideas carries no real shame. This is how we progress. If, however, you are standing on the shoulders of people of more diminished stature, maybe it is not so wise. This is how we stagnate. I have commented before on the inherent conservatism of the motor industry, and its unquestioning acceptance and repetition of the hand-me-down concepts of supposed competitors can become depressingly incestuous.

So this month we look at the secondhand. Old or New? Good or Bad? Subjective or Objective? Original comments only please.

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