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.

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

Cloisonné: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties | Asian Art

Cloisonné: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties | Asian Art.

Chinggis Khaan/Mongolian Monument, art, antiques and artifacts

Video of a Monument to Chinggis Khaan.  This field video is of one of the most important locations in Mongolian history and is from one of my two Jan – May, 2011 Explores Club Flag Expeditions to research the Mongol-Siberian Shaman’s, their stories, art, cultural objects and Mongolia history. It is the location where 20 year old Temujin took his first real step towards taking the name Chinggis Khaan. The location is in very remote, far northern Mongolia, northwest of Ulaanbaatar. In the background, the ridge line that can be seen is the border with Siberia. The reason the Merkit had camped here was that there was a natural mineral water spring the emerged near by, as well as a river about 1/2 mile/0.8 Km away.

The monument that I am doing a traditional Mongolian offering and prayer to, marks the battle field where young Temujin had his first major successful battle, routing one of the most powerful Mongol clans, the Merkit, and winning back his beloved wife Borte, who they had kidnapped 4 years earlier. The offering I am giving is directed towards the four directions, the great blue sky, as well as respect to Chinggis Khaan, his amazing wife Borte and their love and loyalty to each other.

Many artifacts and antiques from Mongolia are frequently misrepresented as being either Chinese, Sino-Tibetan, Tibetan or even Indian. However, these misrepresentations can depress the prices of real Mongolian art, antiques and artifacts. Please feel free to contact Greg C. Brown & Associates, Inc. if you think your items might be incorrectly identified. I am one of the very few people on earth who has the extensive hands on experience and background in the world in Mongolian history and artifacts.

Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA.