Greatest Irony

In 1920, the legendary art dealer Joseph Duveen and several of his colleagues hatched a plan to persuade Henry Ford to buy some art. Together they produced exquisite full-color reproductions of the "hundred greatest paintings in the world," had the plates bound into three extraordinary volumes, and visited Ford at his Dearborn home.

Ford admired the volumes, thanked the delegation for bringing them, and appeared on the verge of showing them out; the dealers quickly made their move. By a remarkable coincidence, they explained, each of the works reproduced in the books was available for sale. Moreover, they would be delighted to assist him in acquiring them for his personal enjoyment. A puzzled look passed across Ford's face and he courteously explained that, as beautiful as these volumes were, he was not in the market for such expensive books. Duveen replied that the books were a gift, prompting Ford to declare that he could not accept such generosity from strangers. At last, Duveen was forced to admit that the books had been contrived to convince him to buy some of the pieces depicted therein. At last Ford understood. "But, gentlemen," he declared, "why would I want to buy originals when the pictures here in these books are so beautiful?"

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