Art and antiques as a viable asset.

This is an interesting article by Lewis Baer related to art and antiques being a viable asset, and it should pique the interest of anyone who collects or in considering getting into collecting real fine art and antiques. Short and sweet too! Enjoy.

http://art-antiques-design.com/2013/04/07/antiques-a-viable-asset-class-by-lewis-baer/.

Sincerely, Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA. Fine Art and Antiques appraisal, brokering and consulting services.

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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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BBC News story about the crisis occurring in the illegal trade of animal parts.

This is an interesting news story about the problems occurring with the illegal trade in animal parts, focused on ivory and rhino horn in this case: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21652437

Some basic advice for new art collectors/new collections.

The first thing is, to educate yourself about the area or areas you want to collect in, and not just read one book, but do it in-depth, become a scholar. Otherwise, expect to get burned if you do it alone and with limited education about what you are interested in. It is when a “collector” gets lazy or when they find that they think they know enough that they will get caught by a shyster. Ego gets in the way much more than you think it does, “because I have studied enough already!” There is really never “enough”, because the fakers and fraudsters are aways trying to stay one step ahead of the art historians and especially the uneducated public.  The one thing that you must be exceptionally careful about and understand is that this industry has more conmen/conwomen in it than there are honest people! I hate to say it, but it is true, and you must get it – so only work with people who have stellar reputations and/or have been recommended to you by people you truly know and trust. Be careful every time you buy!

At the beginning you really should use a consultant to work with OTHER than the dealer themselves – dealers have a distinct interest – their own, no matter how friendly and helpful they are. Here is a small example of this, I had a friend refer his father-in-law to me because he wanted to start collecting art and had thought he found a little gold mine in a shop north of the Twin Cities. My friend convinced him to consult with me, and he did. Of the 6 “Fine Art Prints”, 2 x Picasso, 2 x Chagall and 2 x Warhol, all moderate sized, 3 were fake and he did not want to spend the money on the Warhols to have them authenticated appropriately, to which I told him I would have to err on the side of them being forgeries based on the fact that I had two Warhol experts both say they thought they were fakes! Only 1 Picasso was real! I saved him over $14,000.00 USD because he knew enough to know he needed help because he was new to collecting! A good consultant will be happy to teach you and help you head off on your own way. This in turn will allow you to create trust in them so that in the future, if you are not sure, you will always have them to contact and work with again – for which they will be very happy to have the repeat business and trust. Good luck.

How strict is ivory enforcement?

A client asked me the other day, “how strictly does the US Government enforce the trade in legal and illegal ivory?”

So I told them this little story. They are so strict that even the Juggernaut eBay is scared enough of them not to allow the word “ivory” to appear on their site in certain categories. If an item appears in certain categories on eBay with the word “ivory” in it, it sends out a notice for immediate review, and the listing can be immediately taken down. A few years ago I had a long discussion with eBay customer support about a verified antique Japanese okimono I tried to list because I did not understand why my listing was taken down by them when I had disclosed everything. They did not care that I had made the disclosures and that it was clearly pre-ban, antique ivory. What they cared about was that I had the honesty to use the word “ivory” in my listing!

However, eBay’s fear of the US Government only goes so far! Their hypocrisy is tremendous, because if you don’t use the word “ivory” in your listing, you can still sell your real ivory pieces, regardless of age or animal, on their site with relative impunity. There are constantly a large number of real ivory pieces for sale on eBay if you know which key words to use to search. Also, the sellers are “cleaver enough” to use code words like “ox bone”, “bone, “wood”, or use no descriptive word at all, which has taught them that eBay will ignore their listings and not take them down, despite them being real ivory, let alone post-ban ivory. The sellers way around the inability to use the word “ivory” in their listings is circumvented by the use of specific search words and of very clear images and lighting angles in their listings, which show that they are selling real ivory or superior faux ivory. For example, nearly anyone can easily learn to identify real elephant/mammoth ivory in a good photograph by referencing the Schreger pattern/lines (the natural cross-hatched appearance found in all proboscidean ivory), which these sellers some times explicitly show in their images. Here is an excellent example from a listing on eBay today, January 23, 2013, exhibiting exactly this “allowed” behavior, note the search terms “Ox Bone” associated with clear Schreger lines seen on the face and around the neck of the carved figure, let alone the fact that this is clearly an elephant’s ivory tusk: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Huge-Solid-Ox-Bone-Raw-Tusk-L-K-Statue-Head-Sculpture-Bust-Okimono-Netsuke-/121056013400?pt=Asian_Antiques&hash=item1c2f802c58.

I even offered my services to eBay’s legal team, to help purge the real ivory pieces on a daily basis from their site if they wanted to take their “ban” on ivory sales seriously. However, despite being given the eBay legal department’s phone number by the eBay representative, and leaving a message with my contact information and my offer of help, no one ever returned my call! After waiting in vain for a reply, I then called the USFWS and spoke to an officer who is a specialist in endangered species explaining everything noted above. They told me they have been trying to work with eBay for a long time on these issues, but were glad to hear my story and observations, as they had not known of this loop hole.

As a final comment on how seriously USFWS, and in this case the State of New York, takes the illegal trade in ivory, please reference these two New York Times articles that address exactly that. Just this past year, two dealers in NY pleaded guilty to illegal ivory trading charges in NY. The ivory they had in their possession cost an estimated 25 Asian and African Elephants their lives due to poaching! The fines are far too small in my opinion! 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/13/nyregion/illegal-ivory-leads-2-to-plead-guilty-in-new-york.html?_r=0 

http://online.wsj.com/article/AP37fe357e82724b84b502dbfbae99ee56.html

Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA, CAGA.                                                                                                              President, Greg C. Brown & Associates, Inc. Appraisal Services.                                                             Minnesota Sub-Chapter Chairman, The Explorers Club.                                                                                     (888) 355-6939.                                                                                                          gregcbrown@asianappraisals.com

What are the rules on Fossilized Ivory?

What are the rules on fossilized ivory? Well, again, I premise this with, to have the most up-to-date information, you need to call the USFWS at 1-800-344-9453 and/or visit their website at:http://www.fws.gov, and also contact the proper department in your State Government.

According to the USFWS, all fossilized ivory, from any animal, is legal to own, buy and sell, national and internationally, except when raw materials and cultural artifacts are taken from public lands, removed from archaeological sites, Native American (Indian) lands, or private lands without permission of the owner, i.e. any item that is acquired legally and under all applicable laws is fair game. There are no known international bans that I am aware of or any known laws that say otherwise, I would be glad to have input from anyone who knows more about this. However, if you are in a foreign country, it would strongly behoove you to check with that government before removing anything, as the pieces can be confiscated from you by US Customs or other US Government officials and repatriated back to the country of origin, and you will not get your money back, as it is your mistake. Also, generally it will not be legal to own, buy or sell pieces that arrive in the US when they violate other Governments export laws, and just because a dealer in China tells you it is legal to transport back to the US, what do you think their main motivation and knowledge base is anyway? The US Government will always blame the error on you, regardless of how much you plead your case by telling you that ignorance is not an excuse!

Here is a document from the Government of Alaska that addresses exactly this issue back in 1994: http://www.law.state.ak.us/pdf/opinions/opinions_1994/94-004_661940484.pdf. The key to this document is the conclusion, which states,

“In summary, applicable federal and state law provides that fossilized ivory may not be excavated, removed, sold, or exchanged, where it is found in an archaeological context, or under circumstances otherwise demonstrating that the material has significance to the cultural or natural history of the state, or to the cultural history of an identifiable Alaska native group. While fossilized ivory may be removed and sold with permission of the federal or state agency with management authority, or with the permission   or the private landowner, an item made from fossilized ivory may not be falsely marketed as a Native handicraft, either by Alaska natives or non-Natives, regardless of its origin.”

Now, that being said, you must also understand that the average customs official and law enforcement officer is not an expert and has only minimal training with ivory, and so they generally will not know the difference between fossilized, contemporary or antique ivory, regardless of what they say, which is trouble for the possessor of the ivory item. Ivory identification is a highly specialized area of knowledge. The best thing you can do is to make sure it is well documented as being a legally obtained fossilized specimen – the main point, provenance, provenance, provenance. Your documentation is your trump card to legitimacy with the US and State Governments. If you are not sure, then ask a true expert for assistance.

I truly hope this set of blogs is helping you to understand and untangle the mess surrounding ivory ownership, and it’s trade.

Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA, CAGA.                                                                                                                                                                                    President, Greg C. Brown & Associates, Inc. Appraisal Services.                                                                                                                           Minnesota Sub-Chapter Chairman, The Explorers Club.

Can you own, buy and sell elephant ivory in the US?

Can you own, buy and sell elephant ivory in the United States?

I preface all of what I say from here on within this blog on ivory with this statement, I am not the legal authorities, so to make sure you know the most current laws on these issues, you must contact the United States Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) for the up to date information at 1-800-344-9453 and/or visit their website at: http://www.fws.gov and the proper department within your State Government. Laws on ivory are confusing and hard to answer. The short answer  to the question, can you own, buy and sell elephant ivory is “yes and no”, it depends on a number of variables and even the state you are in. So, to be as clear as possible I will quote directly from a USFWS fact sheet found at: http://www.fws.gov/international/DIC/species/afe/pdf/Ivory_Fact_Sheet.pdf.

According to the USFWS, there is currently a moratorium under CITIES, and thus by default by the USFWS and the (U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), on all raw African and Asian Elephant Ivory. It is illegal to import and export raw elephant ivory in the U.S., except for properly permitted African elephant hunting trophies. As the Asian elephant is a highly endangered species, in the words of the USFWS, “all commercial trade in Asian elephants and their parts and products is prohibited.” Further more, the USFWS states,

“In general, export of raw African and Asian elephant ivory from the United States is prohibited. Import of raw African elephant ivory, with the exception of sport-hunted trophies, has been banned since the 1989 moratorium. African elephant ivory can be legally owned or bought and sold within the United States providing it meets ESA requirements and State laws. Worked African elephant ivory acquired before its 1978 ESA listing or antique ivory (over 100 years old) may be imported or exported for noncommercial purposes or, in limited situations, for commercial purposes with a certification from the Service. To date, no commercial import of nonantique African elephant ivory has been permitted under the AECA.

“African elephant ivory within the United States that was imported prior to the 1989 ban, imported as sport hunted trophies, or obtained as the result of Federal law enforcement action is considered legal.

“Asian elephant ivory that was purchased prior to its 1976 ESA listing may be sold to others residing in your State, if allowed by your State’s natural resource management agency. However, the sale or commercial transfer of Asian elephant ivory across state lines is regulated and must meet specific requirements of the ESA.”

The key point here is that you must have the proper provenance and documentation for your pieces if you are going to practice any kind of trade in or transport of them. Basically provenance is the documented history of a piece from its origin to your current ownership. Without it, you may not be able to prove age, country of origin, date of importation, etc, which can make you legal susceptible to your piece being confiscated. You can not rely on family stories for this proof, as that is not provenance. Provenance is critical to the appraisal process and achieving the highest appraised values. The lesson, keep all of your family notes, previous appraisal reports, receipts, photographs, etc. with the items, no matter how rough or poorly preserved.

Tomorrow we will address fossilized ivory.

Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA, CAGA.                                                                                                                                                                                    President, Greg C. Brown & Associates, Inc. Appraisal Services.                                                                                                                           Minnesota Sub-Chapter Chairman, The Explorers Club.