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Happy Hunting Antiques Today

Enjoy the Hunt!

Enjoy the Hunt!

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 @

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Hunting for Great Art

Hunting for Great Art

Few things will add more to your life than a great partner, a great pet, and, a great piece of art.

Early in my career I bought attractive and relatively inexpensive art. Price is not a good measure of quality however it is reasonable to say that it is unlikely that you will find an amazing piece for a low price.

I have found that Art Collectors usually are aware of any remarkable artwork they have in their collection. One of my earliest purchases was Picasso’s “Dove of Peace” complete with a certificate of authenticity for about $150.00. I was so pleased I couldn’t see straight!

Kind and polite dealers pointed me in the right direction. Still it was hard to sort out what I had bought. It was not in the Bloch book that held records and images of Picasso lithographs. The signature looked good and the image kept turning up with vague descriptions. I sold it to a friend for a modest amount and moved on believing I had bought a fairly common fake.

A few years later I learned the work was first a drawing by Picasso chosen as the emblem for the First International Peace Conference in Paris in 1949.The lithograph was made by someone else, and the signature probably a fake. The last one I saw for sale was $5000!

Not a bad price for Picasso but a very ambitious price for a copy.

A good friend was trying to sell his collections to support him through an illness. The artwork was and is still important.

It seems as though quite a few originals are being printed, now signed with an estate stamp as the artist passed away decades ago. The auction houses have several years of pieces worth to offer and the private market is either informed or wary. What was it is worth? He certainly paid handsomely for it but was unable to sell it at any high price during his lifetime.

We live in interesting times.

Clients of ours recently sold an Andy Warhol portrait and made out fairly well. The painting was acquired directly from the artist with documentation! This is essential!

Provenance is extremely important.

Not long ago I had a good work by a local artist that is now deceased.

His gallery sells his work for serious money and was willing to take one on consignment. Auction records were almost non-existent. I finally sold the painting to a friend for a fair price. He could take his time selling it and was glad to have it. I was pleased to.

Figure out what you like and what you can afford. Take your time and avoid the Wild West of the Internet at least at the beginning.

Find a dealer you like and learn as much as you can about the artist and their work.

A great piece lasts a lifetime.

My advice is:

1. Important artist generally have catalogue raisonné where all their known work is published.

2. Artists tend to work in predictable formats and sizes. Is the image the correct size? Is the paper the artists GoTo? Is the work the right age and most important can you put down a security deposit and take the work to hang in the office or your home for a few days? If the answer to this one is no then something may be up. You probably dodged a bullet.

3. Paintings should be examined under black light. The original work will be one color while the improvements will reflect another color. This will usually expose restoration or an added signature.

4. While most dealers will be happy to share all information they know about a piece, avoid running a dealer through their paces if you are simply curious.

Happy Hunting! Howard @

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