Don’t know exactly how it happened but I am not so young. In this age of disruption and globalization I thought I might pass on some information to collectors and potential collectors that they might find useful.
The market for rare art and objects has exploded into some kind of a wild west garage sale. Early disrupters have morphed into dealers, Auction houses have abandoned many traditional markets. Markets have collapsed generally with usually one exception. The Best sells Best and at times record Markets. Your chances of buying something good to great are better then they have been for a long time. How do you make sure that your money is well spent?
The most important question is do you understand the structure of the deal. Where are the obvious and hidden incentives?
1. It was unlikely that rich uninformed buyers would return from their various hunts empty handed. Reproductions made to deceive are not unusual. The old painting with the new signature. The remade “antique” with just enough original parts to look plausible. The original Dickens Christmas Carol with a faint smudge where the small printed 5th edition used to be. The old master painting that literally fell out a window and was patched back together but is so damaged that its value simply can not be anything like an un smashed version.
2. Really good things are hard to find. The Antiques Road Show will comb through thousands of candidates to come up with 8 stories for an episode. A piece with a few hundred years of use will have honest wear and probably some acceptable repairs. Occasionally you might find the blessed original that had an unusually fortunate life but they are very rare and require expert authentication.
3. In 30 years I have had the pleasure of getting to know a few experts. Not one would offer an opinion based on a photograph. Many reproductions are antique. I recently handled a Renaissance carving of a Roman god. It is worth noting, many master sculptors started their career making ancient Carvings. Easy to sell if you could make it attractive enough.
4. A local appraiser has given up their license, quietly, and works almost exclusively with one dealer. The clients are creamed three times. When they buy, when they consult to sell, and, when they sell at suggested prices.
5. Auction houses traditionally have been dumping grounds for pieces with “issues”. Read the auction houses terms and conditions. They are not liable for much. Only statements in bold. They do not make many. For a while the top dogs have not assumed responsibility for works by non living artists. I have handled a lot of Chinese material. Some of the best dealers I know are in this field. What is amazing is that often they can’t decide easily. About 20 years ago a famous museum director told me the Universities in China were involved in making very good fakes. Old clay pits were being opened. Pigments made in the ancient manner with materials coming from ancient sources.
6. How to find a good dealer. Everyone is happy to take your money and is probably charming as well. Generally a good indication of what you can expect is how much pressure they put on you. Will they let you take the piece on approval with deposit? If you move or for some reason no longer need the piece will they sell it for you or are you on your own. Generally dealers are glad to have back a good piece.
7. Auction houses are their own universe. I have little to say. Understand what the description of the object means. Assume nothing. A condition report noting restoration and repair might be helpful if available. Fees including sales tax might be around 30%, Shipping and delivery is generally expensive. It is no accident that often the galleries are lit poorly. Faults are hard to spot and even harder to spot in low light. The smartest people I know still make mistakes at auction. We all hope for a find and the speed of the sale causes something like auction fever.
8. Get the best advice you can and buy the highest quality that you can. This is where you might see some spectacular returns over time. Buy what you love and avoid dealers that will not allow you to try a piece in your home before completing the purchase. You should see the object in the morning light, daylight, and, evening. A good painting is like a friend. Over time you should enjoy it more as you get to know it better. Don’t fall into the trap of buying a work just because it is supposed to be by a famous artist. You should like it first and foremost.
9. Find dealers or experts you like and work with them. They should be happy to explain what makes a piece exceptional. Over time your eye will sharpen. This is the best time to collect antique objects since the great depression. If you are interested it is worth the trouble. Often a new piece will cost more than the old original. Scarcity and quality eventually will become important again.
Happy Hunting! Howard @ aaxsf.com