Coaching on being wary of even “major players” in the fine art and antique market.

“There are only four thousand Picasso etchings, and over seven thousand of them are in the United States”. Hahaha, I love that quote, which I picked out of a good short article which was presented to me in LinkedIn and come from the Art, Antiques and Luxury Design Blog. This article is a great teaching tool to new collectors on the subject of “Trust” in the fine arts and antiques buying world. Again, and I will talk about this over and over and over, provenance, trust and caution are critical, and the above quote and this article brings that home. I think that the quote would be more accurate if it said, “There are only four thousand Picasso etchings, and over thirty thousand of them are in the United States”. There are more fakes than real ones, I have no doubt about that. It also brings home the fact that just because an art or antique dealer “says it’s so” does not “make it so”, without proof that “it is so”, so ask for proof or hire someone like me to check it out for you before you buy. If they can not prove it, or we believe it is questionable, do not buy it, regardless of what your emotions want to do. There is always another cool thing just around the corner. Also, because the dealer is a “major player” or “well-known,” does not necessarily mean they are actually good at what they do or can be trusted, often ego and narcissism are involved, so “buyer beware” is THE RULE! Someone who tells you that they are not sure and/or need to look into various aspects and get back to you about it is far more trustworthy than someone who always knows every answer. Just ask yourself this, do you know everything about your highest expertise in your life, let alone all of your interests? If you do, you are a rare bird and congratulations! If you are in an art gallery that only sells Picasso works, they may indeed know almost everything about Picasso and his works, if you are not in such a specialty gallery, then you must be your best advocate with your money until you have the proof, then you can let your guard down.

I was just told a story 3 days ago about a situation where one of the wealthiest families in the US/world found they had been duped into thinking that they were buying monolithic antique Chinese ivory tiled statues. They had surely spent several hundred thousand dollars on them. When they later had them appraised, they were shocked and embarrassed to find out that they had been sold fakes made in the 1990’s! These statues still had value, about $10,000 each, but not hundreds-of-thousands! Ouch! So, wealth is not a barrier against being ripped off either. You must check your ego at the door when buying, and expect that you are being set up – period! The lesson from this, which I have previously written about, is that once you have found something you love, it is well worth paying a professional like me to pre-examine them before you buy. In this family’s case it would have been more than well worth flying me to China, if that is where they were purchased (I do not know that part of the story), let alone to another state, let alone to another city, etc., which costs are small compared to the loss due to fraud. Caution is the better part of valor (desire) in the fine art and antiques world. We (experts) are well worth the cost versus savings, and we might instead even help you find a real find for a really great price too.

Remember this, despite it being a sad fact, over 95% of all art and antique “dealers” are dishonest to one degree or another. Yes really! Let me state that again, over 95% of all art and antiques dealers are dishonest to one degree or another! Sometimes it is a small “addition” to the facts to try to “entice” you into being excited into buying, some times it is out right fraud. But what is the difference either way if you get ripped off? For me, the point is, even a little lie makes one dishonest forever, and it is unfortunately all too true that this behavior is rampant in this industry, which is very dangerous for a trusting new collector. Once a dealer has done it once with positive effect for their increase in sales, it has only one way to snowball, the wrong way. Yes, really, 95% – or more! And preaching that they did not know, or that the person who they acquired the piece from said so is not an acceptable excuse, unless they genuinely apologize, are curious about their error and what was found, do not put the piece back out for sale with the same information(let alone excluding the new information you bring to them) and most importantly pay you back in full, which may or may not include shipping costs. If they do this, I would still trust them, otherwise, do not! I had a very rare policy in the antiques industry for my old fine Asian art and antiques gallery, which was, if you could show me through an authority’s statement what I missed or why I was wrong about one of my descriptions/dating/etc., I would buy the piece back, with no expiration date, as long as I was still running the gallery. I never had a piece returned, because I up held my end of the bargain in being a dealer because I had done my work on each piece before I would put it on the floor for sale.

I continue to be shocked when I go into art and antique galleries by the huge number of terribly misidentified items, materials, dates, locations, etc. It is the dealers job to know, that is really what you are paying them for, to know the difference so you can be sure of what you are buying from them for your good money, right? Right! If their policy is “all sales are final”, then  you can ask them to modify that policy and put it in writing on the receipt, it must be in writing! If they will not, then you can bet they do not know their business. The reverse of this is that they might miss something valuable, and you may come across a great find cheap! It does go both ways if you know more than they do.

The lesson a beginner needs to get, be smart, do not fall for the sexiness of what you are being told and look for red flags! Make sure all aspects can be backed up including the medium things are made in/what they are made of and what the provenance is! Before buying expensive pieces, have them put those facts in writing. If they don’t, be careful! Legit dealers have true confidence in what they are selling and have no problems putting it in writing. To be successful as a real collector,  you must deal with caution with everyone in the art and antiques industry at every level until you have a long and very well established relationship that is built on results, which then produces trust. This is exemplified in this story. The other important thing to understand is the wise old statement that “extraordinary claims, require extraordinary proof.” In the case in this article, the story falls apart very quickly, as there was no provenance and the “dealer” could not even properly identify the medium used to create the work! This is like having an aircraft carrier sized red flag being waved right in front of your face – “BUYER DO NOT TRUST THIS LISTING!” So, have a nice read, the article can be found at: http://art-antiques-design.com/2013/03/25/educating-art-buyers-part-2-by-lawrence-klepper/?goback=%2Egde_153474_member_226094189. The image below is from http://www.rottingtelevision.com/lmfao-big-red-flags-blog/.

Which are you looking at? The sexiness “of the piece” or the red flag? Final question, which is going to win, your emotions or your intellect? It is your choice, choose wisely! And, do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help! We may save you thousands, hundreds-of-thousands or even millions of dollars! Well worth our costs.

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Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA.

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THought provoking article on the (bad) relationship between collectors and the US Government (and archeology).

CHASING APHRODITE

Athens Tetradrachm, ex Morcom Collection

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court of the United States is expected to respond to a petition from the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild challenging federal import restrictions on ancient coins with unclear ownership histories.

The ACCG case started in 2009 when the Guild illegally imported 23 Chinese and Cypriot coins of unclear provenance from London in an effort to challenge import restrictions granted to those countries by the State Department under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). The coins were seized by US Customs officials and ACCG challenged the seizure in court. Both a district court and an appellate court have upheld the seizure and rejected the Guild’s arguments. If the Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, as is expected, the test case is effectively dead.

UPDATE: As expect, this morning the Court declined to hear the case.

So what was this costly legal experiment all about? We thought…

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Working with an appraiser should be comfortable…

If you need to get appraisal work done, no matter what kind, you should first check with several appraisers before picking who you want to work with. Any legitimate appraiser will understand this and knows that not everyone works well together. You should even be able, if you are not comfortable with someone you picked, to let them know you are not and ask if they would refer you to someone else whose style might mess better with yours. Of course, we all want your business, but true professionals understand, in all professions, that in order to make the job work the best for both parties that comfort is a part of that.

So, if you find that you are not comfortable with someone you are working with, it is okay to terminate the process, even appraisers themselves have to do this some times too – yes, really. We must also be comfortable with you. Being comfortable allows us to do the best job possible for you and also motivates any human being to want to do their best.

So, first, call several appraisers and interview them. Ask them where most of their experience is, find out if you like their style in talking on the phone and except a truly professional appraiser to some times answer with the words, “I do not know, will need to look into that” – this is one of the best answers you can hear. As the old saying goes, if it is too good to be true, it probably is! The same goes with an appraiser. Any appraiser who says they know it all is lying to you, so, do you really want them appraising your important art and antiques? And, if you are not comfortable with them for any reason, do not hesitate to at least say that you do not want to complete the project, and understand that even more than this, you can say, “I am not comfortable working on this project with you, can you recommend someone who might be a better fit with me to work on this with? Thanks.” A true pro will not be offended!

Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA.

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The actual violin played on the Titanic and a great lesson about authenticity and value.

Here is a really cool article from the BBC about probably the single most iconic possible item from the wreck of the RMS Titanic! WOW! I was very proud to have had a small roll in the U.S. Federal Court case for the Titanic artifacts that have been recovered from the ship on the sea bed, but never knew anything about this violin. The image below, from this BBC article, is the violin that was being played while the RMS Titanic went down! Yes, really! However, for this blog the important part is how they figured it out and how long it took to do so, and in the end, why – the ultimate value, expected to be in the six figure range!

Therefore, this article allows me an excellent opportunity for coaching about authentication and appraising. I would like to convey to people in need  of, or interested in the appraisal and authentication process that you need to allow us to do our job for you completely and this article about the violin proves this very well, although in the most extreme of cases. Remember that with extraordinary claims comes the need for extraordinary proof! The best, and most efficient way for us to help you is when you have excellent provenance. However, most things  lack this one critical aspect, which leaves it to us and other experts to show why an item would deserve a high value. The violin’s owner got this, and it has paid off! The other point is, do not make an extraordinary claim, and then not allow us to find extraordinary proof to back it up, because the normal human reaction is that you do not believe it!

What I find all too often is that most people want to skip this necessary step and not allow us to do our research properly for the client, they just want a very high value, but that is not how it works. However, if you truly believe you have something of significant value, then you need to understand that we must determine values based on what we can establish through the research we are allowed to do by the client. The more restrictions the client puts on the work they want us to do, and thus the less research, then due to limiting conditions, generally the lower the value that will necessarily be produced, because we are not able to establish what is necessary to show the highest possible value.

When people say they know they have a Ming dynasty painting by a famous artist, for example, then I need to be able to show that this is accurate. Just because someone says it is this or that does not make it so if there is no provenance, only the research will show the truth. People frequently do not understand that when I say I must be allowed to do my work in order to properly value a piece, that this is exactly why, and it is not a ploy to purge money out of them, but is what must be done to allow the best possible use, thus allowing the best possible value for the item being appraised. It is indeed a lot of hard work, and there is a reason that real appraisals are not cheap, but the payoffs can be tremendous. It is fairly rare that an item requires seven years to be shown to be what it is claimed to be, but it is not unusual for it to take weeks to several months, and some times a year or so. This is a high stakes game, which you must play right to do well in. Some times you win, some times you lose, but as seen in this example, the win is SOOOO nice! Enjoy the article. So, the next time you want to get your wonderful piece appraised, understand that the pay off can only come if you do the work right. Enjoy the article, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-21806334

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Even experts can be wrong and/or miss things! BBC: “Van Dyck painting ‘found online'”

Even museum curators miss things some times, very important things, as exemplified by this BBC article on a Van Dyck painting that was in a museum collection, but thought to be a copy. One of the hurdles that art professionals must over come with the public is the idea of being an expert. I forget who said it, but it was a good quote, “we know a lot about a little and a little about a lot”. In between these two extremes we must be guided by following standard procedures that we learn on how to get to the bottom of the facts and not merely base it in ego and opinion. Some times it is easy, generally it is hard. There is a very high standard to proving authenticity, and as you will see in this BBC article, even the experts can miss things. This is not from ineptitude, but generally caution, some times due to emerging new scientific techniques that had not previously been available, some times from missing obscure clues. If you want to get to the bottom of the truth of your pieces, you must be willing to allow the expert to do what they must in it’s entirety, and this is generally very involved. Just because you do not see the procedures, does not mean it is a simple process. However, if allowed to follow through completely, the truth will be disclosed. Enjoy the read from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-21712209. The image below is taken from the BBC article.

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Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA.                                                                                                        gregcbrown@asianappraisals.com.

Interesting article on “MoMA’s ‘Tokyo 1955-1970′”

An interesting article posted by Kate Evens, founder of Art Radar Asia, on the Museum of Modern Arts Show on the arts of Japan from the 1950’s – 1960’s from Art Radar Asia: http://artradarjournal.com/2013/02/26/review-round-up-of-momas-post-war-japanese-art-exhibition-need-to-find-angle-through-research-discuss-with-editor/?goback=%2Egde_153474_member_221279271. The image below is from this article.

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