RICS Property Journal - December 2014 / January 2015Read More
Costume Society of America, Mid-Atlantic NewsletterRead More
Valuation Strategies, November/December 2011Read More
Journal of Advanced Appraisal Studies, 2010Read More
The BladeRead More
by Elin Lake Ewald, Ph.D., ASA
For the first time in your professional career you have been asked to respond to a proposal solicitation for an appraisal from a national corporation (or a private family group or a regional cultural institution). You have a solid but modest appraisal practice, have worked primarily with individuals, local banks and businesses, and you don't know how to begin to respond to what at first appears to be an overwhelming challenge.
You have no idea how many others also received this solicitation, the exact purpose of the appraisal and therefore the type of value, or what material the assignment is to cover. The letter simply states: "The Blank and Blank (hereafter B&B) Corporation is soliciting pricing information for collections management services of the company's holdings of art and antiques. Your organization has been selected to receive a formal Request for Proposal (RFP). A contract will be awarded to provide collections management expertise. B&B's main office is in New York, with subsidiary offices in Chicago, IL, Park City, UT, Rizzoli, MI, and Compo, TX." (Don't look for these last two on a map; they don't exist.)
Information on the history of your firm, similar jobs completed, and the education and experience of your firm's members is requested. "The deadline for the solicitation is ten days from receipt of this RFP. The due date for the appraisal will be six weeks after the contract has been signed. All correspondence should be addressed to: Gladys Martin, Facilities Manager, GM@BBCorp.Com."
Shock and Awe
After fifteen years of extremely hard work building an appraisal business, dealing with often cranky and more often demanding private clients, you see the light at the end of the tunnel – an opportunity to expand and step up to the next level in the field, a corporate notch on your professional belt. After a few minutes of seeing yourself covered in corporate pinstripes, marching through the halls of B&B, dispensing advice on a Chippendale chest in authoritative tones, reality strikes.
How will you get from your office in St. Louis to Rizzoli, MI, wherever that is, to Compo Somewhere and then? Your head is spinning and you wonder whether it even makes sense to consider responding to the offering. After downing two extra strong cafe lattes you pull yourself together to figure out your strategy.
1) Networking. You can contact fellow ASA members in the cities and towns mentioned in the RFP, with the idea of working together on the project, or
2) You can find out how many items are in each office and, if there are only a few, besides New York, you could suggest appraising by photograph. Would flying or driving to each location make economic sense – to the corporation and to you?
3) You can sit down and write a letter to Ms. Martin with the questions that must be answered before you can even begin to respond to the RFP.
You opt for #3
"Dear Ms. Martin:
It was with great pleasure (and a lot of confusion) that my firm (already I'm becoming an appraisal giant) received your RFP (I'm a fast read on corporate jargon) and we shall be happy to respond once certain questions have been answered by your department (hope Facilities knows appraisal jargon).
1. Would you please indicate whether B&B Corporation desires the appraisal to be done for purposes of fair market value (secondary, resale or auction), or for replacement value (gallery, shop, store at retail)?
2. In order to plan location visits, would you list the number and type of the art and antiques at each site? For instance, fourteen paintings, two antique furnishings, etc.
3. What is the total number of items in the overall collection?
4. Is the appraiser expected to generate his/her own computer program? What information does B&B wish to be included in the appraisal or should the appraiser make that recommendation based on prior experience in similar appraisals?
5. Photography is not mentioned in the proposal. Does B&B anticipate that the appraiser will produce digital photographs, slides, or still photos of all, any or selected items in the collection? Do these photographs already exist?
6. If there are only a few items in some of the satellite offices, would it be acceptable to B&B if the appraiser used photographs (taken by B&B in the individual offices) on which to base his/her appraisal just for those offices?
7. Will special arrangements have to be made to obtain access to the offices of B&B?
8. Is there a preference for formatting? Database chart form or formal format?
9. Are the works of art and the antiques easily accessible? Are there off-site locations in which some items are held, such as storage spaces or warehouses?
10. Is the appraiser expected to unwrap or rewrap items in storage units? If so, will B&B offices provide required materials?
11. Will B&B provide an art handler to remove wall-hung paintings or to move furniture, if necessary?
12. Will you require condition information together with the other data in the appraisal?
13. Is it possible to extend the six-week completion deadline to three months?
14. Would it be possible to inform us as to approximately the number of RFPs that have been sent to appraisers?
That last question is a sleeper. If you are fortunate, Ms. Martin, after responding to all other questions, takes pity and tells you that fifty requests have been sent to one appraiser in each state, you will have to consider the odds. Should you spend the better part of a week putting together your response? You're a one-person business with a part-time secretary/bookkeeper. Even if you got the job, could you possibly complete the work in six weeks?
Ms. Martin's answer is that the six-week deadline is absolute. Unfortunately, Ms. Martin does not know exactly how many items there are in the collection, but states that they are "in excess of 1,000." She says that approximately three-fourths of the collection is in New York, with the remainder scattered. Photographs would be acceptable for any office with less than 10 items, but if there are more, they must be personally inspected. You live in St. Louis. Whew!
What To Do?
Even with the help of a dozen fellow appraisers in the area of the satellite offices, and even teamed with another senior appraiser to undertake the main office appraisal, the request from B&B can only be considered unrealistic. There is no way an appraiser can seriously consider adhering to the proposal as set forth and still accomplish a credible valuation, yet there are organizations who still send out RFPs not unlike the hypothetical one we have given.
Professional appraisers, in my opinion, should band together in some way to get across to the managers in these organizations that providing legitimate appraisals requires as much time as would be allowed other service providers that the company uses – such as attorneys, accountants, even public relations campaigners. In other words, if we hold ourselves out to be professionals, we should expect clients to treat us as professionals, not as pizza deliverymen. But responding in some form and in a thoughtful manner might just possibly have an impact on those who read your response.
In my opinion, a single practitioner, or for that matter a multi-person firm, would be ill-advised to rush into answering this request as it stands, but it might be worthwhile to answer it in another way – leaving the door open for a possible re-think on the part of the corporation.
What Makes You Special?
In your response you might consider mentioning some of the more interesting assignments you have had. Explain the unusual problem that had to be solved and how you went about solving it. Mention how many items and the types of art or furnishings were involved. If you can't brag about the big jobs you've done for other corporations, you can explain how tricky and difficult certain particular jobs were that you successfully completed.
Discuss your formal education and your continuing education courses, the seminars you have attended and other relevant education you have received that add to your credentials. Organizations also like to know your technical expertise: What kind of office equipment do you have? Computers? Printers? DSL line? Internet access? etc. Describe your library. What auction catalogs or art/antiques magazines do you subscribe to? What professional organizations do you belong to? And don't forget to provide a list of satisfied clients.
In your statement you might want to explain what goes into a replacement value appraisal and how much time it takes, the galleries or stores that must be contacted to obtain insurance values, and the necessity to sometimes repeat requests for information half a dozen times before receiving that information. You could explain what you have to do when an artist lacks representation or auction records, and how much time it might take to track down the value of an artwork that may turn out to be under $1,000.
If you are not going to make a formal proposal but wish to remain on file with the corporation for possible future assignments, make this clear in your letter. You want to leave the reader with the impression that, although you do not believe you can give them what they want in the amount of time they want it, you are certainly capable of providing them with excellent appraisals within reasonable time constraints and would look forward to working with their (whatever corporate services named) at a future date.
Having been the recipient of dozens of corporate RFPs over the years, I constantly wonder about who writes these bid packages. On at least two occasions elaborately detailed corporate bids were responded to at length by at least a dozen appraisers called in for the bid. This was followed by a half-day walk-through and then by complete silence. A year later I bumped into people making the request and was told that the company had decided not to proceed with the appraisal.Another time the corporate contact failed to return numerous telephone calls and letters asking for a decision. Again, I bumped into the corporate counsel unexpectedly at a meeting two years later only to find out that the appraisal had been shelved indefinitely. Yet no one who had participated had been notified.
Another proposal sent around to a number of appraisers was written like an actuarial table, with expectations that as more work was done, the cost to do it would decrease proportionately. (And then, I figured, when the job was completed, the appraiser would pay the corporation for having allowed him to do the work.)
Sometimes more is less. I hate to see gobs of written detritus spilling over pages when half that amount would have explained twice as much. However, I have learned that in the world of appraising, it matters how you present your credentials.
In court, for example, it's important to clearly articulate your professional experience and mention specific important cases in which you have been the lead appraiser. In presenting yourself to a corporate entity it is equally crucial to let them know more about yourself and your work than your natural diffidence might incline you. You know who you are and what you have done, but the other fellow doesn't necessarily. Sometimes that other fellow happens to be an international conglomerate.
One final note. Perhaps it should be mentioned that it is important to ask about low bid. When a corporation leaves the decision-making to a relatively low level employee other than the art curator, for instance – the matter of low bid may determine who gets the job, despite excellent credentials and a persuasive proposal from the appraiser. If possible, try and find out from the person sending out the bids if low bid is something at the top of his or her list. With federal requests,low bids are very significant. It varies with corporations.
If the person or persons are not familiar with the difference between the presentation of one appraiser and another, low bid will probably take the day. With someone more knowledgeable and discerning, it will not be of such significance – unless your bid is so vastly out of line with that of the others. It's always helpful, when possible, to have a walk-through on the company's premises in order to get an idea of how much time will probably be spent by the appraiser(s) on site. Then figure out how much research and report compilation time will be needed. When you come to a final figure you might want to add a ten percent contingency fee. There will always – and I can guarantee that word always – be a reason why you'll need that ten percent before you finish the job. Best of luck, fellow appraisers!
Wish list: it's growing, and now I see the need for a pamphlet that provides corporations nationwide with information that gives definitions of the different values, what is needed in the appraisal of the art/antiques collection of a major (or minor)corporation, and what a corporation, wanting to undertake an inventory/appraisal, should be looking for in a professional appraiser or professional appraisal firm. This should be an outreach project that also serves as a public relations tool for ASA. (Do I hear a second?)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elin Lake Ewald, ASA, is president of O'Toole-Ewald Art Associates, Inc. of New York City. Established in 1932, O'Toole-Ewald is one of the oldest and most respected personal property appraisal firms in the country, with a wide variety of services and a distinguished list of clients.
Personal Property Journal Vol. 10 (4) 1998 Fall ViewpointRead More
by Elin Lake Ewald, ASA
Over the last five years, the word BLOCKAGE has perhaps become the most overworked word in the appraisal vocabulary, akin to the art world’s repetitive and mind-numbing intonation of the word APPROPRIATION over the last five years. During the past couple of months there have been queries from both appraisers and attorneys in various parts of the country, asking about blockage application. Most of the queries concerned estate evaluations, but what is even more provocative to me is the concern about the use of discounting in appraisals for charitable contribution.
In the June 1993 ASA conference in Seattle, Richard Raymond Alasko, ASA, in the related seminar handbook (Section 2, point A), defined blockage as “A discount applied to a sum of value where a quantity of very similar properties would impact a market at one date. If such a quantity would have an adverse effect on the market a discount which considers a reasonable estimate of time for the market to absorb the quantity is applied. Blockage is not a set formula.”
In the view of the Internal Revenue Service, a process that is applied to one type of evaluation (fair market value) for a particular purpose (estate taxation) should be applied to an evaluation (fair market value) for another particular purpose (charitable contribution). But there are specific instances in which the IRS will allow a discount in one instance relating to donation matters while disallowing it in other tax matters. In other words, a contribution by one of five owners of a painting gifted to a museum is given full value for his/her share. A situation in which we presented a set of facts before the IRS held that partial interest in a work of art should be discounted under certain circumstances. Although the IRS initially opposed the concept, it was successfully argued in a case that resulted in a 25% reduction to the fair market value of fractional interests in works of art (Personal Property Journal, Winter 1995, pp. 16-20).
Since there is no set formula for determining blockage, and because the IRS will consider a reasonable and carefully considered presentation of facts that may alter the normal process, we would like to consider an approach to the donation of multiple and similar artworks in the same year by a single donor. Reviewing the type of question that has been posed, short hypothetical cases will be laid out. My response is not be to be considered as anything more than my “Viewpoint”;however, I believe that this type of question opens the gates to discussions among appraisers about the various approaches professionals should be looking at to solve specific situations. Although there are rules and regulations to which appraisers may look for guidance, individual appraisal problems may not be directly answerable in books of rules and regulations.
Historically, the concept of blockage originated with business valuation. The first application of the concept of blockage for the evaluation of works of fine art (Estate of David Smith, 57 T.C.M. 650 1972) was based on the sale of a large number of securities. Section 20.2031-2(b) of the Federal Estate Tax Regulations, in respect to large blocks of stock, (e) states:
If the executor can show that the block of stock to be valued is so large in relation to the actual sales on the existing market that it could not be liquidated in a reasonable time without depressing the market, the price at which the block could be sold as such outside the usual market, as through an underwriter, may be a more accurate indication of value than the market quotations. Complete data in support of any allowance claimed due to the size of the block being valued shall be submitted with the return.
According to Value Added, a business valuation publication of Mercer Capital, Memphis Tennessee, (Volume 6, Nos. 2,3, 1994) the standard for considering a potential blockage discount was established in Helvering v. Maytag [125 F. 2d 55 (8th Cir. 1942)]: The taxpayers must affirmatively show that the block is so big in comparison with the amounts of the stock which have been traded on the exchange where it is listed that it could not be sold on quoted market at its quoted prices within a reasonable time by skilled brokers following prudent practices for liquidation. Apparently there have not been generous discount blockages granted in recent decisions, and when they have been given they have proved skimpy [5% inAdair v. Commissioner (54 T.C.M. 705. 1987)]. J. Michael Julius, ASA, CFA, author of the two-part article, “Blockage Discounts and Restricted Stocks,” in Value Added, poses several questions to business valuation appraisers in estimating a blockage discount. We have extrapolated from his list a series of questions that we have transformed into questions for personal property appraisers to use in determining whether or not to apply blockage to the charitable contribution of works ofart:
· What is the size of the block of (type of artwork) relative to the total outstanding works by this artist, and his/her monthly or yearly sales at auction?
· Based on auction sales, how long would it take to sell all the related artworks on the public market?
· What has been the trend of prices of other similar artworks in this school of art?
· What pattern have prices of the subject’s artwork followed? Are any unusual factors influencing the price of the artist’s work?
· How many collectors are there for the artist’s work?
In Estate of Van Horne v. Commissioner [78 T.C, 728 (1982)]
... it must be shown that actual sales on the market, at or near the valuation date are not representative of the value of the stock held because of the disproportion between the volume of market sales and the block of stock to be valued.
Given the points made by Mr. Julius (and reinterpreted by me for purposes of this article), and given the following questions posed, we invite your comments on the correct steps in deciding whether blockage is applicable to the group of artworks being taxed, or donated, or indeed if any blockage is appropriate:
· An inquiry from an East Coast ASA appraiser concerns an estate containing several hundred artworks of varying types, from 19th century prints to a collection of approximately 50 textiles, and including numerous individual sculptures, paintings, and other art media. The attorney for the estate suggested that blockage could be applied because of the sheer quantity of the materials. (We thought that no blockage could be effectively applied since the sale of anyone item, orgroup of items, would not impact on the market value in these particular categories, and that this would be an inappropriate usage of the blockage discount.)
· An inquiry from the Midwest asks about the donation of a collection of 500 prints by the same artist. A second call revealed that the prints being valued were from different periods in the artist’s long life, and that the number of prints within each edition varied. (The question to be answered here is – how prolific was the artist during his lifetime? (The approach to this would be similar to that exercised in Estate of Georgia T. O’Keeffe v. Commissioner [63 T.C.M. 2699] in which the Court determined that a blockage discount of 25% should be applied to half the work and 75% to the remainder, based on the salability and quality of the various pieces remaining in the estate.)
REFLECTIONS ON A WISH BOOK
In law one refers to documented cases in which, for instance Jones v. Smith might prove the legal point that you cannot enter a stranger’s house to use the phone unless he first agrees to let you in - that kind of thing. As ASA appraisers know, there are only a handful of law cases on the books to which to refer that involve the appraisal profession, and these are almost exclusively involving Tax Court. In my opinion we need a case study book, based on real and typical appraisal problems that confront most personal property appraisers at one time or another over his/her career. Of course, these problems would be accompanied by solutions, based on regulations and rules that are contemporary with the date of publication. Contributions to these case studies could come from ASA appraisers around the nation; the solutions might be accompanied by further comments from members of the Personal Property Committee, or by those senior members in a position to offer legal and professional overviews. I see this as a book that evolves, as issues change, new laws come onto the books, and the complexity of the appraisal profession increases. In speaking with ASA appraisers from around the country I see a real need for a book that addresses real problems faced by real appraisers on a daily basis. Many appraisers work in relative isolation, primarily those who may be the only appraiser within the area. With whom do they conferwhen faced with a valuation dilemma? There’s real comfort in speaking with another personal property appraiser about a particularly difficult exercise in valuation and getting feedback on your own solution of the problem. My thought is that a book of appraisal problems and solutions would serve as a substitute friend in need. At least let’s think about it.
For further information on Blockage and/or Recent Court Cases, the following are available:
Blockage Handbook– This is the book produced to accompany the Blockage Seminar offered in Seattle in 1993. The handbook is available for $35. Send your request and payment to Janella Smyth, ASA, P.O. Box 12465, Raleigh, NC 27605.
Principles of Valuation course PP204 concentrates on recent court cases that affect appraisers. This course may be taken by Accredited Members and Senior Appraisers as a refresher and for re-accreditation credit. It is currently offered toAMs and ASAs at a half-tuition rate. (Candidates and others who have not taken the core Principles of Valuation Courses 201 through 203 should take the courses in order.) See page 42 of this issue or contact ASA headquarters for course scheduling information.
The ASA International Education Department is currently offering a one-day seminar, “Recent Court Decisions: Implications for Personal Property Appraisers.” See page 44 in this issue for a listing of seminar offerings, dates and locations.
The textbook The Appraisal of Personal Property © 1994, includes chapters devoted to related subjects, including “Revenue Ruling 59-60 An Alternative to Blockage in the Valuation of Artists’ Estates,” written by Terry Melia, CPA; “Discounts Applied to Value,” which discusses both depreciation and blockage; “Legal Guidelines for Appraisals Used to Substantiate Charitable Contribution Income Tax Deductions,” written by Corrine Richardson, J.D., M.V.S. This textbook is available for purchase for $32.50 from ASA Publications Order Department, P.O. Box 17265, Washington, DC 20041.
Personal Property Journal, Winter 1995Read More
In the American wing of the most august and magnificent metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, elegantly produced books on baseball memorabilia rest side by side with books on Tiffany glass. That should provide appraisers with a clue as to what’s being taken seriously these days in the field of high level collectibles. (We’re defining high level collectible as any non-fine/decorative art category that can reach $100,000).
Take sports memorabilia collecting seriously. At a recent Sotheby’s sale in New York, its second for baseball and sports items, the New York Yankees home run uniform worn by Roger Maris in 1961 when he broke Babe Ruth’s record, sold for $132,000 (with premium). Estimated at $20,000 - $30,000, the uniform included shirt, pants, cleats, belt, sock and cap. Prior to that coup the previous baseball uniform record had been held by Leland’s when, just a couple of months before, a Yankees 1960 Mickey Mantle jersey sold for $111,100. For comparables at that auction remember that a Roger Maris 1960 jersey fetched only $66,000.
Back to Sotheby’s auction: A circa 1910 Honus Wagner T-206 baseball (card), one of only 40 known, brought the day’s top lot price of $20,000. The same card, but in considerably better condition, was tucked into somebody’s pocket after he had paid $451,000 at the first Sotheby’s sports auction. It’s still the baseball card record, but at the rate this area of collecting is growing, the record may not stand for long. Much of the high-end collecting is being done by a group called Sports Heroes, headed by Jerome Zuckerman, a Ph.D. sports maven, who raised $4.5 million in a public stock offering in 1991 to invest in inventory. According to Zucker Sports Heroes sold $2.1 in sports memorabilia last year and netted $242,000 after taxes. In line with this big-money-speaks approach, a California Gallery is currently searching out sports memorabilia, and advertising for consignments for the first National Sports Collectors Convention and auction in July, to be held in Atlanta. This group claims to have $30 million available for cash advances for desirable sports memorabilia.
Collectibles of all sorts are pushing their way to the forefront, while the fine art market remains uncertain, despite some very good prices posted in recent weeks at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s for modern and contemporary material. Among the less esoteric goodies on the market – a pink baseball outfit that Madonna once wore in the movie League of Their Own, cost $7,150. And you know the cartoon art market is attracting collectors who never considered van Gogh nearly as much fun as Dopey. Since 1984 major auction houses have been holding specialist sales. Around Christmas a private collector paid $209,000 for a scene from Snow White. A 1930s celluloid of Donald Duck brought $286,000, and a Mickey Mouse $176,000. Since every second of a cartoon film can contain up to 24 different images, that means that there are 86,000 images in an hour-long film. Much of this material is mass produced, so to speak, with artists’ line drawings traced and inked by studio gnomes. But since celluloids were never taken very seriously by the studios, much of it was destroyed, or wiped clean and reused. At one Disney film premiere every guest was given a drawing as a freebie. And so much was either thrown out or taken home by the artists.
Look for images that show the main character facing forward in the center of the picture, together with an interesting background. Only a fraction of the cels can boast this, making them the most desirable. Prices vary considerably for cartoon art. Donatello can be found under $150, but you’ll have to produce about $7,000 for Mickey Mouse with a lasso. Average prices for very average cels run in the $400 - $600 range.
It’s possible that concern over the art market has triggered fabulous prices in the collectibles arena – trivia replacing treasures temporarily, if one wants to get alliterative about it – but we have seen a million paid this year for a collection of 23 gold clubs, $55,000 for the first Batman comic book, and $57,200 for a King Kong movie poster. Old Masters have held steady, with some impressive single sales peppering an otherwise conservative market – $13.4 million for Titian’s Venus and Adonis, for instance – while fine silver, with a world-wide following, doing very well, indeed. Domestic silver from the 19th century is also doing surprisingly well at both retail and auction. Elaborately decorated Art Nouveau Tiffany and Gorham pieces fetched double their estimated prices at a recent William Doyle sale, where rugs were also very popular. Eighteenth century French furniture continues to attract high prices for quality pieces, but Americana, having a narrower following, is down from 1990 highs. Collectors of French art glass, primarily Japanese, have slipped away, and prices are now down by nearly half of those in 1989. The market is adjusting, downward, from the frenzied buying in photography, English pottery and middle-level Modern and Contemporary painting we saw just a few years ago. Buyers are far more selective in these lean and mean days, and they know that much of what comes on the market must be sold – divorce, death and bankruptcy dictate the inevitable. Because of this bargain hunters abound, and negotiated prices are the order of the day. This calls for a good deal more investigation on the part of appraisers; the asking price is no longer the price at which an object can always be valued these days.
We’ve heard, ad nauseam, about the plunge the art market took last year when the bottom fell out of the Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary sales. The situation is now equalizing, if the most recent auction sales are any indication. But the bad news is in for last year’s accounting department at Christie’s and Sotheby’s where profits fell 85 percent for both houses; Sotheby’s went from $95 million in 1990 to $13 million in1991, and Christie’s from 75.8 million to $11.3 million. Sotheby’s total sales were $2.4 billion in 1990 and $1.1 billion in ’91, while Christie’s fell from $1.96 billion in 1990 to $103 billion last year. At Christie’s last year 61 works passed the $1 million barrier; in 1990 143 went over that mark. The most recent big-ticket auction sales at both houses included the collections of McCarty-Cooper and Roos, forecast possible glad tidings for the market. These sales, however, contained some fabulous art and artifacts with excellent provenance and considerable rarity. Paintings and other objects were conservatively priced, were generally of exceptional quality, and many had not been on the market for many years. Among the star works in these sales was Braque’s Studio VIII, a 1955 4x6 foot painting that sold for $7.7 million, a 1935 Picasso featuring guitar and fruit that went for $3.85 million, a Renoir portrait of his second son, Jean, that fetched $2.31 million, and African Fang sculptures that sold for $352,000, $440,000 and $550,000 (from the McCarty-Cooper tribal art collection). You do take your chances at auction; the most expensive Fang had been sold to Mc-C in 1989 for $660,000, while the second most expensive had only cost him $71,500 in 1984. And the collector’s name does count a lot – another tribal art sale that week saw 93 of 210 artifacts go unsold.
Congressmen are currently huddling about a proposed bipartisan tax bill that will include some form of increased deductibility for charitable gifts. Currently, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) allows taxpayers to claim a full market value deduction for gifts of tangible property until June 30th – known as the “Window of Opportunity.” Whatever the shape of the new bill, it’s probably going to be a lot less inclusive that the controversial tax package that President Bush vetoed on March 30th. To keep abreast of current information regarding this bill contact the American Association of Museums Government Affairs Department, 1225 Eye Street, NW., Washington, D.C., 20005 or call (202) 289-9125. Continuation of the full deduction for appreciated property is crucial to many appraisers who had a windfall last year as a result of the open window.
For appraisers who like to read themselves to sleep, there are a number of books currently available that could be fun to cuddle up with after an exhausting day in the real world. The Man From Greek and Roman by James Goldman (Random House, 1974), is the museum mystery about a stolen golden chalice; The Melting Clock by Stuart Kaminsky (Mysterious Press, 1991), is set in Hollywood in 1940s, and deals with a set of characters that include Salvador Dali, and other folk in the art world. John Malcolm’s Sheep, Goats and Soap (Scribner’s, 1991), deals with art and mystery, a not unlikely combination, and with an art investment fund. If you’re interested in the rare book trade try John Dunning’s Booked to Die (Scribner’s, 1992). The reading suggestions came from Maine Antiques Digest and we thank them for it.
It Pays to Appraise
If it hadn’t been for an experienced dealer who caught the error in a painting signed “Haberle,” Robert Trotter wouldn’t have gone to jail, and he wouldn’t be singing like a canary now and causing a good number of red faces in the folk art field. Trotter was a talented artist whose work, executed in American primitive style, was picked up by dealers and sold as authentic Americana. Before long, buoyed by success and ego-inflated, Trotter began signing his paintings (with the names of famous American artists) – or selling them as American “old masters.” Well-known, and respected, folk art dealers were among the purchasers. A portrait of a boy with a cat was given to some dealers in Massachusetts in 1985, and subsequently sold to a famous Connecticut dealer for $16,000. She was so entranced with the painting that she paid $7,000 to have it restored and $2,000 for an ad in Antiques magazine promoting the portrait. About that time Trotter became concerned and quit the forgery business, but returned when he lost a bundle in antiques investments and needed and infusion of cash. The same Connecticut dealer agreed to pay Trotter $50,000 for an “Ammi Phillips” that he had skillfully created and even more skillfully aged under ultraviolet light. He used genuinely old canvases, melted down lead weights mixed with color, and, to escape detection by appraisers, a fast drying varnish that did not come off in cleaning. He knew – and practiced – all the time honored tricks of the forgery trade. But it wasn’t until an expert noted that a “Haberle” painting (by Trotter) had all the wrong stamps painted in the trompe l’oeil work that the FBI moved in on the (now) 38-year-old artist whose work had been exhibited (but withdrawn) from a Christie’s sale where its posted price was $30,000 - $40,000.
Trotter has the dubious distinction of being the first American convicted of selling forged art – a felony. During the 10 months spent in the poky, Trotter had plenty of time to mull over 350 interviews given to the FBI by appraisers, dealers and collectors that were part of the evidence presented during his trial. And apparently he has very little good to say of any of them. His opinion is echoed by New York Assemblyman Richard Brodsky who wants extensive regulation in the art and antiques field. He and Trotter have one thing in common – a mutual mistrust of the appraisal industry, apparently lumping the few errant practitioners with those proven to be above reproach. In the recent article in Gentleman’s Quarterly, one of the several about Trotter that have chronicled his doings, Thomas Hoving, formerly director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and ex-head of Connoisseur (now defunct), joins in the attack on appraisers. Meanwhile, the pressure has eased on the forger and life is looking very rosy indeed. Trotter found that he can make a lot of money creating folk art paintings and signing them with his real name. He caught the attention of Betsey Wyeth, Andrew’s wife, now his art advisor, and has latched onto Frank Miele, now his agent and dealer. To top it all, Trotter has recreated an overmantel painting, in the style of the original 18th century artist, for an historic house museum in Connecticut. After being found out as a forger, Trotter blamed his predicament on dealers, collectors and appraisers. His viewpoint has been repeated by supporters with high visibility, who should know better than to launch an all-out and indiscriminate attack on an entire industry. Those who now treat Trotter as a kind of “fun forger”, overlook the question of personal responsibility. The problem is that collectors who once bought his paintings as genuine folk art work now are buying it as a genuine “Trotter.” And this time around he’s making a lot more money.
The 1991 Winter Antiques Show served as a predictor of what is definitely a current strong trend in decorative furnishings – garden furniture and ornaments. An entire Park Avenue Armory show will be devoted next year to all types of garden furniture (wood, cast iron and concrete), to antique weather vanes, architectural artifacts, landscape designs, gazebos and botanical prints. And Connecticut’s Litchfield Gallery has held its third spring Garden Ornaments Auction of predominately antique artifacts that included large figural fountains and life size statuary. Nineteenth century cast iron fountains were in the $6,000 to $7,500 area, while European formal figural sculpture was offered at prices up to $8,500.
Speaking of sculpture – another area of increased interest to collectors is that the late 18th-late 19th century bronzes. At an Ohio auction last year some well-executed works found handsome prices. A lot of four 30” tall bronze statuettes by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887), representing the Four Seasons, brought $17,600, while bronze casts after antique originals of The Discus Thrower found $17,600, and The Borghese Gladiator brought $14,300. Another final bid of $17,600 bought a pair of marble urns of Bacchus and Ariadne. Still another area of collecting to watch out for – architectural renderings – was apparent when several of these examples (rescued when an architectural firm went out of business), found buyers for prices in the $500 - $3,000 category.
On the Block
Not that anyone is admitting to forced sales, but interesting what’s on the market these days. Barbara Piasecka Johnson, widow of Band-Aid heir Seward Johnson, has consigned 19 pieces of French furniture to Sotheby’s to fund her Eastern European ventures. And New Hampshire collector Eddy Nicholson, one of the most famous collectors of Americana, and the first to pay over a million dollars for American furniture in 1986, is selling 30 important pieces at Christie’s. Nicholson is the purchaser of Cadwalader chair, the Philadelphia piecrust table, the Houdon plaster bust of Jefferson and any number of high profile pieces. Christie’s says the 20 percent decline in prices for American furniture has primarily affected Federal period items, but that top of the line 18th century material has not dipped in value. But note that a Queen Anne mahogany candlestand (sold to Israel Sack in 1982 for $65,000), is offered at $40,000 - $60,000; a pair of Philadelphia Queen Anne walnut side chairs (sold at Christie’s in 1986 for $110,000), is estimated at $70,000 - $100,000; a Jeremiah Drummer Boston silver tankard (purchased by Nicholson for $145,000), is up for sale at $100,000 - $150,000. According to our calculations if one accounts for the decline in value of the dollar over the years since purchase, offering pieces at the same prices ten years afterwards certainly does indicate a dip in value. Maybe we’ve missed something here.
A daguerreotype record has been established by the Swann’s sale of half-plate image of a street scene by African-American photographer James Presley Ball. His image of three store facades in Cincinnati, circa 1851, brought $63,880. Estimated at $7,000 - $10,000, the daguerreotype beat out the old record of the earliest extant portrait by Matthew Brady, sold to the national Portrait gallery in 1985 for $59,400.
Art Market Review
The annual urge to encapsulate one year’s activities into a few terse paragraphs, and predict the future of a particular market, is with us once again. So let’s take a plunge, a la Jeanne Dixon.
As of the moment it appears that the future focus in the arts field, at least for the immediate months, will be in decorative arts. If auction sales are a true indicator, there is no slump in the areas that combine function with aesthetics, i.e., antique furniture, ceramics, glass, and those other use-plus-beauty items. The recent sale at Sotheby’s of the Keck collection saw 55 objects on the block, of which only six failed to sell. The auction house revved up for a show previously reserved only for high profile painting sales, a nighttime glitz and glamour parade of gilded and lacquered French furniture, led by a Louis XVI ebony and Japanese lacquer secretary, accompanied by a matching commode, both by Adam Weisweiler, a famed 18th century cabinet maker. The pair was bought by Antiquaires à Paris for $2,860,000. The sale’s total came to $10,212,400, and many of the pieces were bought by French dealers, seemingly not the least discouraged by the 18.6 percent value added tax the French government recently imposed on the purchase and importation of French antiques. However, it’s rumored that many of the French dealers are shipping their new acquisitions to Geneva.
Also interesting about this sale, actioned by Keck’s divorce, is that the majority of the pieces were acquired over the past decade usually considered a negative factor in the secondary market. Howard Keck is the son of the founder of the Superior Oil Company.
In the same sale a pair of blue and white marble jardinières, estimated to sell for approximately $300,000, fetched $825,000, and an exotic Louis XVI stained horn, mother-of-pearl, stone and brass marquetry writing table, figured to bring about $450,000, sold for $962,500.
Aside from the promising auction sales of decorative arts lately, we note that a number of painting dealers have been adding a decorative arts section to their galleries, and doing well with them. And we know of a few dealers who are moving out of the fine art area into antique furniture and decorative objects. If these dealers, with a background in high visibility hype, decide to take on the challenge to promote their decorative holdings, we foresee a boom in high quality furniture and decorative objects that may rival the past boom in Impressionist and Contemporary art.
Toys For Us
There have been so many forced bankruptcy sales lately involving art and artifacts that it’s unusual when one makes the news, but the “Sold Unreserved by the Trustee In Bankruptcy” sale of goods from the recently deceased Mint & Boxed galleries did just that. Press and TV representatives abounded at the Christie’s dispersal where an impressive array of beautifully preserved transportation pieces went on the block. Among the showcase items was the well-known George Brown tinplate “Charles” hose reel, circa 1875, decorated with scroll work, brass bells and large cast wheels, considered the earliest surviving tin toy in existence – a steal at $210,000 dollars. The owner of the now-defunct corporation was a very high-profile Englishman who cut a mighty swath through the world of small scale transport, paying top dollar and acting every inch the heir to a great fortune. It was a fantasy acted out, and the Christie’s sale saw the end of the dream.
Mishap In a Pool
This incident had nothing to do with water. At a Christie’s East auction five years ago a dealer bought a handsome Chippendale mahogany chest-on-chest for $30,800. As a result of that seemingly ordinary purchase the Justice Department has fined three antiques dealers the following penalties: Kay & Gross, New York - $20,000; Bernard & S. Dean Levy, New York - $100,000; Thomas Schwenke, Inc., New York/Connecticut - $50,000. In the J Department’s anti-trust probe it was determined that those three dealers had recognized the aforementioned chest as being a major piece and had agreed to send one of their group to capture the prize, that later went to the Levy’s for about $38,000. The allegations are being denied by the Levy’s. Christie’s had estimated the piece at $1,200 - $1,800. Despite that low estimate, the counsel for another auction house (Sotheby’s), says it might conceivably have sold for even more than the $30,000, but, in any case, it did not allow a free market. The New York indictment was primed by recent pool investigations in Pennsylvania. The anonymous tip that triggered the NY investigation came from a Philadelphia source in 1987.
In the terrible fire that swept through Berkeley and Oakland, CA, a short time ago the following architecturally important homes were destroyed: Craig House-1950, by Warren Callister; Evans House-1929, by Henry Gutterson; Calkins House-1926, by Ernest Coxhead; Lamberson House-1941, by William Wurster; Terry House-1949, by Bernardi and Emmons; Edwin Pillsbury House-1928, by Bernard Maybeck; Starbuck House-1932, by Maybeck; Warren P. Staniford House-1925, by Maybeck; Talbert House-1962, by Moore, Turnbull, Lyndon and Whitaker; Wells House-1911, by Julia Morgan; Honeymoon House-1969, by the Wells family; Atkins House-1915, by Henry Atkins and Harry Stearns. These were among the 2,668 houses lost in the horrendous blaze that destroyed not only homes, but numerous works of art and irreplaceable collections.
In the 1950s an ex-Borstal working class boy was given the opportunity to study at the Royal Academy School in London where he encountered a very upper crust blueblood, Sir Anthony Blunt, Keeper of the Queen’s Pictures. The young man, Eric Hebborn, felt that Blunt was patronizing him and decided to take his revenge on the aristocrat and on the whole bloody establishment. In his autobiography, just published, Hebborn explains how he went about forging a series of drawings by Poussin, the subject of Blunt’s lifelong study, and how Blunt himself authenticated these as products of the Italian Renaissance. Hebborn blew the whistle on himself because he was miffed that his ersatz works were not include in the British Museum’s show last year, Fake? The Art of Deception. Hebborn claims his make-believe masterpieces are hanging in the British Museum (Van Dyck’s “The Crowning with Thorns), in the Danish Royal Museum (Piranesi’s “A Roman Port), and in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (Jan Breughel the Younger’s “The Temples of Venus” and “Diana at Baia”), among numerous other art showcases. He also points the finger at a number of art dealers whom he has deceived. In the museum and gallery world, where reputations are teetering as a result of this scandal, many say that Hebborn is a manipulator of truth. But what is the truth in this case?
While contemporary art dealers continue to moan and groan about the dismal season Latin American art sales seem extremely healthy. Diego Rivera’s 1942 painting, “Vendedora de Flores,” set a new high when it brought $2,970,000 at Christie’s. A Fernando Botero, which sold in 1984 for $176,000, went for $40,000 this time ‘round. At a Sotheby’s Latin American sale the same week a Jose Maria Velasco, estimated at $600,000-800,000 fetched $2,42 million, not an unpleasant surprise for the auction house – and the owner. Nineteen artists’ records were set in the one sale at Christie’s and 18 records went into the books at Sotheby’s. So it’s best to take a long and measured view of the art market; where one area takes a dip another always emerges to fill the void.
The sale of a famed bankrupt Australian businessman’s art collection has been put on hold because Alan Bond refuses to let go of eight of his paintings. There’s a court order in the works that would take the paintings from the family. The paintings have not been identified as yet, and there’s been no date set for the sale. Bond was the purchaser of the van Gogh “Irises” that he never did collect from Sotheby’s.
Van Gogh Again
The Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company of Japan is giving $18 million into the planned expansion of gallery space at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It’s being done through the Japan Foundation, a non-profit cultural exchange agency, therefore exempting the donation from taxes. At the same time another Japanese corporation has given six and a half million to an Oslo museum to refurbish the plant. In return, the corporation, which has major investments in Norway’s oil industry, obtains the right to exhibit special works by Edvard Munch at Tokyo museums over the next 15 years. It’s the best kind of publicity.
No Kids Allowed
We doubt there are many tykes who could afford the prices paid at Sotheby’s for a bunch of old comics, including the record breaking $55,000 for a copy of Detective 27, the 1939 issue in which superhero Batman flew onto the American scene for the first time. It’s one of the about 100 extant examples, and went for double its pre-sale estimate. A 1938 Action No. 1 (originally priced at 10 cents), in which Superman made his debut, was bought for $29,700. The majority of the major purchases were made by the owner of a traveling museum of baseball memorabilia, which exhibits in Wal-Mart stores.
Prediction No. 2: There’s a big push on now for iconic collectibles – comic books, rock’n roll memorabilia, vintage toys – this is one of the areas where we can expect to see price explosions. When heavy-hitters enter a market hold on to your hairpieces.
Sad But True
A well-known and respected authority in the ceramics field is about to begin an 18-month sentence at the Allenwood Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Pennsylvania after admitting to the theft of more than 100 valuable objects from eight museums in the United States and England. Professor John Quentin Feller, a much published authority on Chinese export ceramics, and a member of the board of trustees at the Peabody Museum, confessed to an 18-year habit of removing precious works from the institutions in order to donate them to other museums, or occasionally to keep them in his own home. The thefts began in 1972 when the professor, on the faculty of the University of Scranton, found a cache of 30,000 pieces of antique porcelain in the basement of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. Horrified by the idea that these valuable ceramics were being so badly neglected, he decided to remove 18 of them, giving them to the Peabody Museum where he felt they would be appreciated. He donated to the diplomatic reception rooms at the State Department in D.C., in memory of his parents, a rare Chinese export cup and saucer that he had lifted from the Rhode Island School of Design. And so on and so on. Feller took items from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Ashmolean Museum in England without being apprehended. It was when he recently secreted a Chinese platter in a sideboard at Winterthur that the plot began to unravel. Although he couldn’t be tried for the earlier thefts – (the statute of limitations had run out) – Feller was convicted on the theft of the most recently stolen eight objects. It’s a fascinating study in criminal behavior by an academic felon who desired only to find appreciative audiences for neglected objects – or so the defense attorney’s script goes. The prosecution says Feller really desired to further his academic career. We’ll put aside any judgment until we see it on television, and I’m sure we will.
We’ve come to the conclusion that most markets can be viewed in the same way – items sell if they’re appropriately priced, in good condition, the right collectors know about the sale because it’s been well publicized, and the objects are not entirely out of fashion. Only the last reference doesn’t apply to vintage clothing, where everything is out of fashion, so to speak.
The recent auction at Sotheby’s of three different groups of vintage clothing illustrates the above point. The first group of clothing, sold by a former vintage clothing dealer, had unrealistic reserves, some of them above the minimum, some with questionable attributions, and all of them at high retail level. Almost every item was passed. The second group, designer dresses, was sold for the benefit of a philanthropy. The clothes showed wear, but were priced at buyable levels, and many apparently were without reserves That group sold moderately well. The third group came from the collection of a well-known Newport fashionplate. These examples were in almost pristine condition, all bore top designer labels, and all the dresses and gowns had been carefully catalogued by the collector’s personal appraiser. There were no reserves on the lots and the sale move briskly and well, although the unusually small size of the collector probably prevented atmospherically high prices – except for those rare examples when costume institutions sought. It was an interesting comparison. Three different approaches in one sale. The end result says it all.
A Classic Case
In Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, at an auction of class autos, a collector didn’t exactly drive off with a 1927 Bugatti Type 35C after he paid $330,000 for it. He was bidding over the telephone. The final offering of the day was also the most desirable item – a 1952 Mercedes W194 SLR Works Race Car, one of only ten ever built, and one of two in private hands. Known as the Gullwing, it soared to a sky-high $715,000. The 60-cars in the sale had been donated to the Harvard Medical School and the School of Public Health. You must admit it’s a novel way to further medicine.
Stamp of Approval
Lugano, Switzerland was the location. The object of admiration was a Penny Black, the world’s earliest stamp. Sold to a Swiss agent acting on behalf of a Japanese executive, the 1851 stamp, canceled in London the day after it went on sale, was purchased for $2.4 million, the world record price for a stamp. Previous records for a single stamp are $1.3 million for an 1855 Swedish stamp, and $1.1 million for a plate block of four upside-down U.S. airmails (not exactly a single stamp, but we thought you’d like to know about it anyway).
A whopping $13,471,480 just displaced the previous record price for works by Titian, a meager four million plus. The superprice was paid for “Venus and Adonis,” sold at Christie’s, London. It was purchased by a London gallery in partnership with a New York dealer, a pair known to have previously bought works for the Getty. The Getty at present is denying that it has bought the masterpiece, but is a bit coy about denying that it couldn’t happen in the immediate future.
This highest grossing sale of the season doesn’t thus-far necessarily mean that the Old Master market is about to hit the roof. It probably just means that there are some wonderful things available that were worth the prices paid.
REVIEW OF THE SUMMER AUCTION MARKET
The art market never ceases its relentless flow onward, in sometimes turbulent and ofttimes muddied waters, which occasionally and unexpectedly reverse direction.
Major art sales at auction are finished until the Fall, and it's fair to say that price levels are, in general, back to the 1986-88 season, so it's not all gloom and doom, but the faster than a speeding bullet stratospheric roller-coaster ride is over for the time being.
No question that great art fetches great prices. At the early summer sale at Christie's in London, Degas' racehorse painting, "Les Chevaux de Courses," estimated at several million less, sold for $9.74 million, not a shilling less than it might have gotten at the top-of-the-market 1989 sales. The unknown purchaser of the Degas went on to buy Oskar Kokoscka's "Richmond Terrace" for $726,000 and Max Ernst's "Vol Nuptial" for $371,910. The next day this mystery man turned up at Sotheby's in the same city and took Toulouse-Lautrec's “Le Lit" (from the Chester Beatty collection) for $2.12 million, Max Ernst's "Foret et Soleil" for $850,000, and Edouard Vuillard's "Le Divan" for $247,940. Of course, high rollers don't remain anonymous for very long. Said to be a big donor to charities in the U.S., the mystery man is of Iraqi-Lebanese origin, and his first name is Wolfgang. He'd be perfect for a cable tv show titled "The Art World's Most Wanted."
Although the Degas we just mentioned was only the second highest public price paid for a work by the artist, there have been other auction records broken recently. At Sotheby's Americana sale at the end of June, a much publicized inkwell by William Crolius set a record at auction at $148,500 (including premium). This heartshaped piece, thought to be the most important item of early stoneware known, had elaborate blue filled incising and rosette stampwork, and was signed on the bottom and dated "July 12, 1773." The same inkwell was sold at Sotheby's in 1979 for $12,000.
Records for African art occurred when a 19th century carving of a Bangwa queen from what is now Cameroon sold at Christie's for $3.4 million, eclipsing the $2.08 million paid last July for a Benin bronze head at Christie's in London. In the same sale a Bamileke mask was purchased by the French Government for the Louvre, at $319,000, helping to bring the auction total to $7.1 million, a record for a tribal art sale.
It's not only the major auction houses that produce surprises. At Doyle's in New York a Second Empire gilt and patinated bronze vitrine table, 25 3/4 inches long, estimated at $5,000 $7,000 pre-sale, soared to $145,000. At the sale furniture by the recently deceased artisan, George Nakashima, found $7,000 for a rosewood and walnut dining table, and $2,000 for a set of six "Mira" chairs by the same maker.
And still another record bit the dust - this one for printed Americana - when Sotheby's sold a first printing of the Declaration of Independence for $2.420 million. One of only twenty four copies known, the freedom proclamation had been estimated by about half as much as it fetched. This is the famous copy that the consignor had found in a picture frame at a flea market in Adamstown, Pennsylvania two years ago. He paid $4 for the frame and when he removed the painting he found the document inside. The previous auction record for a copy of the D of I was set last year at Sotheby's at $1.595 million. Sort of restores your faith in scavenging.
Now another copy of the Declaration has been discovered (actually rediscovered) at the Maine Historical Society. Bequeathed in 1905 to the society by a collector in Maine, this now known-to-be-the-25th-copy was ignored by its owners because it was thought to be a reprint. The Society finally got around to examining the document a few weeks ago and it's currently on display at the organization in Portland. And they say Southerners are slow.
Cincinnati has had its share of excitement this year. First, the brouhaha about the Mapplethorpe exhibition and its subsequent trial of the museum director generated renewed interest in a city not known for spectacles. Now an auction of Rookwood pottery has set a series of records that will be a long time in breaking. The Cincinnati Art Galleries featured the collection of Katherine and the late David Glover, purchased by the Galleries following Glover's death. Records were set for a world record price at auction for a piece of American art pottery, for Rookwood with applied decoration, for a standard glazed piece, for an iris glazed plaque, for a standard glazed plaque, and several for individual ceramic artists. The Rookwood-only sale contained 1,210,000 pieces and generated $2.4 million. The top lot was a monumental Rookwood vase by Kitaro Shirayamadani, estimated at $40,000 - $60,000. Decorated with· electroplated copper carp swimming under a sea green glaze, the vase finally sold for $198,000 (including premium). A standard glaze vase by Albert Valentien brought $60,000, a standard glazed plaque decorated with a papoose carrying Indian woman fetched $31,000, and another Shirayamadani, a decorated vase with applied dragon, brought $80,000.
In a trickle-over from the troubled painting market, buyers of photographs have buoyed up that market, which is up 680% since 1975. During the art recession between Spring and Fall of 1990, the photography market fell 20%, following a steep climb of 70% over the preceding year. And it's a market still new enough to create surprises, such as the sale of Felix Teynard's “Sights of Egypt and Nubia,” that brought $800,000, double the earlier record for a multiple-image work. What was really remarkable about this is that Teynard is not mentioned at all in any of the major histories of photography.
Don't bother to offer a photograph for sale at Sotheby's or Christie's unless they expect it to bring a least $2,500. What's hot right now in photography are images by artists famous in other fields, such as Man Ray and Brancusi. Younger artists of interest are Cindy Sherman and Joel-Peter Witkin.
Can't resist picking up old catalogs and comparing auction prices then and now - even though the contrast might have been more startling a year ago. John Marion was even then at the podium in January of 1965 when 20th century paintings from the Ira Haupt Collection were offered at the old Parke-Bernet Galleries on Madison Avenue (now Sotheby's on York). A sampling from the sale reveals the following prices realized: "Jackson Pollock from 1948 - $14,000; Willem de Kooning - $40,000; Robert Delauney - $10,000; Piet Mondrian - $40,000. A quarter of a century ago and a million light years away. It really adds perspective when someone tells you that "the market is really down.” Down, perhaps, from a brief whirl when dealers were dancing on the moon.
When a Van Gogh painting was discovered by Leslie Hindman auctioneers in a suburban Milwaukee home it was sent to Amsterdam for evaluation by a panel of experts, and then onto the auction block where it sold to an American based Japanese collector for $1.43 million. Unfortunately, before calling in the auction house the elderly couple had sold off a Renoir at a tag sale.
At an offbeat auction house a little German-made wood Santa Claus in a tin sleigh drawn by goats fetched $104,500. In the realm of collectibles that's got to be some sort of record. Again, on the subject of records, a Tiffany stained glass triple panel window from the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland's former residence, sold for $440,000. The previous record for a Tiffany window was $352,000, also set at Christie's three years prior.
"A thief of historic proportions,” who faces up to 35 years in prison and a fine of $1 million, is to be permitted to match up the thousands of rare books he has stolen with their owners. The books are stored in a warehouse in Omaha, NE., where Stephen Blumberg was arrested. The enterprising gentlemen, it turns out, never sold any of the books he stole, living instead on a widespread business in stolen antiques. The books were taken, according to Blumberg, "to preserve and protect them...from a plot by the American government (and others) to keep the masses downtrodden and without knowledge of their history.” Blumberg pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. Surprise, surprise!
An early cover bearing the world's first postage stamp, the British Penny Black, has been sold at auction for $2.4 million, almost double the highest previous price for a philatelic item. The Penny Black, canceled in London on May 2, 1851, the day after it went on sale, was auctioned by Harmers in Lugano, Switzerland.
This has certainly been a traumatic year in the art world, what with an economic recession, a war in the Gulf, and the retreat of the scandal buffeted Japanese, until recently the mainstay of the market. It's encouraging to see that good paintings and antiques are still selling well at auction, that the cooling down of the overheated market saw the diminution of the overblown, overhyped and not-all-that-talented artists so lionized by the industryover the past ten years. We're not back to square one in the art market, just back to reality.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elin Lake Ewald, ASA, serves as a member of the Board of Directors and Editor of the Newsletter of the New York Chapter of ASA. She is a member of the American Arbitration association, and is a doctoral candidate, Ph.D. program, New York University. Ms. Ewald,a fine art appraiser, is President of O'Toole Art Associates, Inc., a 12 person firm specializing in the appraisal of corporate' collections and in damage/loss/fraud reports involving fine and decorative art. She is currently researching her dissertation topic focusing on art ethics and law involving the fine art appraiser.
APPRAISING AS A PROFESSION
Well past Mach 1 is the speed at which the appraisal industry is zooming into the truly professional stratosphere. At present there is no generally accepted definition of the term profession, but there are certain features that identify an occupation as a profession and define the category.
There are at least three requisite features constituting a profession according to almost all authors who have written on the subject:
1. Extensive training is required to practice a profession. Lawyers attend three years of post-graduate school and physicians a four-year medical school. It is plausible to require fine art appraisers to hold as a minimum requirement a college baccalaureate degree.
2. Training of a professional involves a significant intellectual component. While the training of hairdressers, electricians and cabinet makers necessitates learning physical skills, accountants, architects, engineers, lawyers, physicians and appraisers are trained in intellectual tasks and skills. Professionals advise others about matters the average person does not understand or know about and, therefore, an intellectual component is characteristic of a professional. Professionals provide advice and service rather than things.
3. Professionals provide an important service in society. This service is crucial to the organized functioning of society. For instance, appraisers provide services that require intellectual training and they assist in the operation of financial markets that relate to insurance, law, property purchase and dispersal of goods. Appraisers, as well as accountants, testify to the financial integrity of institutions and individuals.
These three elements define the major elements of professionalism, as cited by Michael D. Bayles in Professional Ethics (Wadsworth Publishing Co., Belmont, CA., 1981, pp. 7-11). But there are, in addition, several other ingredients that may be said to go into the professional mix, that Bayles and others touch upon:
4. There is usually a process of certification or licensing for a professional, although in itself licensing does not turn an occupation into a profession. Barbers are licensed while college professors are not, for instance.
5. All major professions have organizations of members that work to advance the goals of the members, but which are not always open to all members of a profession.
6. Autonomy is another characteristic of a professional. Autonomy is the ability to be responsible for our actions. The question as to how far that autonomy extends is a relative matter since many appraisers work for large organizations, but even in these cases they must exercise their own judgment concerning specifics of their work. Many appraisers are single practitioners and the sole judge of their product.
7. Professions are either consulting or scholarly, the latter category including, for instance, college teachers or scientific researchers. Architects, dentists, psychiatrists, consulting engineers, accountants and appraisers are found in the category of consultants.
8. The professions have a monopoly over the provisions of services. In many professions, it is necessary to have a license to provide services; professions often set up procedures that exclude those lacking educational credentials and licenses or certification from the legitimate practice of the profession. Specified conditions must be met for professional status and these conditions are usually in the hands of the established professionals. Professionals have long been granted a large degree of self-regulation, claiming that because of the training and judgment required in their profession, that non-professionals are unable to properly evaluate their conduct.
A profession delivers services to individuals, organizations or government, to whole classes or groups of people or to the public at large. “It professes to know better than others the nature of certain matters, and to know better than their clients what ails them or their affairs. The professionals claim the exclusive right to practice, as a vocation, the arts which they profess to know, and to give the kind of advice derived from their special lines of knowledge. This is the basis of the license, both in the narrow sense of legal permission and in the broader sense that the public allows those in a profession a certain leeway in their practice…” (Hughes, Everett C., Daedalus 92, Fall 1963, pp. 655-68).
As Hughes points out, there are markets where the motto is “Buyer Beware.” Conversely, the professional asks that his Buyer/Client have faith in his advice and trust him since the client is not a true judge of the value of the services he receives. The client must trust in and believe the professional he retains since he will reveal to him all the details and information that bear upon the matter at hand. On the other hand, the professional makes it very difficult for anyone on the outside to pass judgment on the consequences of his professional actions. It is accepted that, in most instances that only fellow professionals can determine if a colleague made a mistake. “(The) collective claims of a profession are dependent upon a close solidarity, upon its members constituting in some measure a group apart with an ethos of its own.” (Ibid)
A view that is allied with that of Bayles and Hughes can also see professionalism from a slightly different angle. This four-fold description of professional behavior includes: “A high degree of generalized and systematic knowledge; primary orientation to the community interest rather than individual self-interest; a high degree of self-control of behavior through codes of ethics internalized in the process of work socialization and through voluntary associations organized and operated by the work specialists themselves; and a system of rewards (monetary and honorary) that is primarily a set of symbols of work achievement and thus ends in themselves, not means to some end of individual self-interest.” (Barber, Bernard, “Some Problems in the Sociology of the Professions”, Daedulus 92, Fall 1963; pp. 669-88)
Honorary awards have always held a more important status in the professional career than in that of the non-professional, the reward system for the professional being a combination of prestige, titles, medals, prizes and offices in professional societies. Although not always the case, the monetary income should be commensurate with the recognition given to the professional. In other words, the life style of the honoree should have some relationship to the weight of the medals bestowed. After all, it’s tough on your teeth to nibble on bronze plaques.
To some degree nearly all the well established professions are located in or related to universities – the more professional ones having the most number of connected schools. The merging professions, “when they are trying to raise standards for themselves, seek to locate themselves in universities. If they already have a marginal connection there, they seek to improve their position in the university…The university professional school has, as one of its basic functions, the transmission to its student of the generalized and systematic knowledge itself, but knowledge of how to keep up with continuing advances in professional knowledge is what the university school seeks to give its student…Equally important is the university professional school’s responsibility for the creation of new and better knowledge on which professional practice is based.” (Ibid)
The lofty flight towards professionalism has its problems as pointed out by Barber: “(The) leaders of an emerging profession will have to engage in some conflict with elements both inside and outside their occupational group …they may meet with some opposition from the less professional members within the group…in such social situations competition and conflict often have a positive as well as negative function.”
Changes in the status of the appraiser have been almost palpable in the last few years. For this, much gratitude is owed to the leaders of ASA and The Appraisal Foundation. Not too long ago being an appraiser held little cachet in the eyes of the community. An appraiser was the “guy who put a price on things.” Because of the efforts determination and courage of a handful of dedicated men and women the “guy” became a gentleman and a scholar whose opinion is respected by fellow professionals aware of the density of knowledge, the careful research and the ethical performance required of an appraiser. Little by little, the public is becoming aware. The course has been set and we are all moving in a direction that will bring to appraisers the recognition accorded to other acknowledged professionals.
Ethical Issues in Professional Life, Edited by Joan C. Callahan, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York 1988.
Lecture Series, Ethics and the Professions, Jay Cantor, Department of Philosophy, New York University, 1990.
Elin Lake Ewald, ASA, serves as a Member of the Board of Directors and Editor of the Newsletter of the New York Chapter of ASA. She is a member, Panel of Arbitrators, American Arbitration Association, and is listed in WHO’S WHO IN AMERICAN ART. Ms. Ewald, President of O’Toole-Ewald Art Associates, Inc., specializes in damage/loss/fraud cases involving fine and decorative art. For several years she has written a monthly newsletter on the art market
OBLIGATIONS OF AN AGENT IN THE ART MARKET by Elin Lake Ewald, ASA
(Spring 1990 - Personal Property Journal - s/b PPJ Vol. 3 (1))
From time to time personal property appraisers are asked to act as agents in the sale of paintings, antiques or other objects of value. Some appraisers turn down these requests as a matter of course, some don’t want to bothered, and some eagerly seek the assignments as an adjunct to appraisal work.
Since this is a litigious society, professionals especially must be on the alert for actions that could be interpreted adversely. Different states define the role of ‘agent’ in a variety of ways, some stipulating rules that are highly stringent; appraiser/agents may not be aware of the laws governing their actions in their particular state until a dissatisfied client decides to sue.
Perhaps it’s time to clarify the role of an agent and to set up guidelines to serve as a yardstick for those of us who take on that role. There are rules of ethics and methodology for appraisers devised by ASA, rules that set the standards for the industry. If the appraisers also work as agents, related standards should also be observed. I recommend the following:
OBLIGATION OF AN AGENT IN THE ART MARKET
The role of an agent, who takes on the assignment of selling for a client a work of art, constitutes a fiduciary relationship that involves specific steps to maximize the best return for the client.
- The agent draws up a contract stating the exact steps he intends to follow in order to produce for client the best results of the sale of a work of art.
- The fee for the work involved (see following) should be commensurate with fees charged for similar roles in the art marketplace, i.e., approximately 15% of selling price for the sale of works under $10,000; 10% for works up to $100,000; and a descending percentage for works that increase in value. Although these fees are flexible, it is usual to provide lower fees in direct proportion to the increasing value of the work.
- The agent should research the art sales market in order to provide for his client a full and complete picture of the possible sales outlets and the specific costs the client should expect to incur in each – dealer’s commissions, seller’s premiums, photography, insurance, etc.–relative to each of these markets. For instance, he should contact at least two dealers who specialize in that particular market as well as at least two auction houses showing transparencies, slides or color photographs of the work in question, in order to develop a sense of what the client might expect in terms of price estimated and realized for the work. He should present to the client recent retail prices and realized auction prices for similar works of art by the same artist.
- The agent should explain to the client the ramifications of sale through both dealer and auction house, what the attendant costs might be, and what the contractual agreements would be if sold through either source.
- The agent should be relied upon to be completely open and ethical in statements made as to what commissions will be offered or paid, either to dealers or through auction houses. He must reveal if any commissions, other than the ones stated in a contract, have been offered. That is, if an auction house offers a percentage of the sale to the agent this must be revealed to the client.
- The sale through a dealer is usually at one-half the retail price agreed upon. If the work is taken on consignment by the gallery the usual procedure is for the gallery to take a 30% commission on the sale. The commission taken by the auction house from the seller can be, and usually is, to the advantage of the client if the agent is skilled and knowledgeable in negotiating that commission, particularly if the work to be auctioned is considered of artistic or historic importance and is expected to realize in excess of $50,000. Reserve prices should be explained and set. All related costs, such as photography, shipping and insurance, should be explained to the client, as well as any penalties that might be incurred if a painting is withdrawn prior to sale. All of these facts must be explained to the client prior to negotiating any sale on his behalf.
- Most importantly, the agent must be totally aware of the market for the work of art. Although it is not necessary that he/she is an acknowledged art expert, it is imperative that the agent have a full and complete understanding of the monetary value of the work of art before engaging in its disposition since, without this knowledge, the work may (sic) sold to the disadvantage of the client.
- After compiling all the above information the agent should offer to the client the various choices available to him concerning the sale of the work of art and, subsequently, render all services required to successfully conclude that sale.
- Lastly, there should be no change in the initially stipulated agreement without the written consent of the client.
The professional world and the public sector look to ASA to set standards and, by example, to adhere to those standards. Those in the ASA who have achieved the level of certified personal property appraiser should be in the best possible position to determine the most accurate fair market value for a work of art, an antique or an art object. Whether that item is to be valued for estate or donation purposes, or for sale in the secondary market, ethics and professionalism are the key words in any valuation performance.
Elin Lake Ewald, ASA, serves as a Member of the Board of Directors and Editor of the Newsletter of the New York Chapter of ASA. She is a member, Panel of Arbitrators, American Arbitration Association, and is listed in WHO’S WHO IN AMERICAN ART. Ms. Ewald, President of O’Toole-Ewald Art Associates, Inc., specializes in damage/loss/fraud cases involving fine and decorative art. For several years she has written a monthly newsletter on the art market.
Art Market Review
For those of you who didn’t make it to New York in January for the winter Antiques Show, the following is a review of the famed bazaar held annually at The 67th Street Armory for the benefit of the East Side House Settlement.
In recent years controversy has surrounded this prestigious show. Show manager Mario Buatta, a leading interior designer, has been accused of high-handedly dismissing several long time exhibitors from the show and has consistently opposed vetting. At one point several established dealers resigned from the event in a sympathy protest for their vanquished professional friends.
Vetting has become a cause célèbre, especially since the International Dealer’s Show, held at the same armory in September, produced an array of goods at the highest level, all of which had been professionally and successfully vetted. This was a first for any major antiques show in New York.
The WAS (Winter Antique Show) has 68 dealers this year as opposed to 74 participants last year; 61 dealers returned to the event, five dealers turned down invitations to return and one died. Sixteen of the 68 in the show also exhibited at the British run International show. The group of 7 dealers who had been asked to leave two seasons ago, sued and were allowed in for one last go in 1989. Of course they weren’t at their stands this year.
Among the new faces in town was Donald Sack of the famous Sack furniture family, now a dealer on his own in Bucks County, PA; Leigh Keno, formerly with the American furniture department at Christie’s; Art Trading Ltd., of New York, ceramics specialists; Colwill-McGehee of Baltimore, Americana specialists; Devenish, New York, English/French furniture; and two English firms – Garrard & Co., London silver; Spink & Spink, oriental art. Foreign entries to the show have also generated controversy since some American dealers are miffed at being excluded from Grosvenor House.
With the politics of the show now disposed of, perhaps we may proceed to the nitty gritty. What were the highlights? the trends? the prices? To begin with, to talk about trends is to talk about folk art, garden furniture and bold design – all themes repeated through the show. Our firm’s folk art specialist examined one category and tracked it around the floor – painted and decorated furniture that included grain painting, stencil and freehand painted motifs. At Thomas K. Woodard, NY – a 19th century lift-top blanket chest with fantasy grain painting and plain drawers – $22,000; an American 19th century dome-top chest decorated with painted dots, English – $6,800; a fantasy grain painted 1790-1810 American Cabinet – $16,500; a 19th century wall box – $2,800.
At Robert Kinamon/Brian Ramekers, Long Island – painted kas from Western Long Island – $35,000; American 19th century grain painted chest – $26,500; American Hurrah, NY circa 1840 grain painted chest – $24,000; James and Nancy Glazer, PA, American 1880 mahoganized and grain painted comb back chair – $65,000; painted and decorated footstool – $3,200; Berks County, PA, grain painted chest of drawers, circa 1810-20 – $22,000; painted and decorated blanket chest – $28,000. Harry B. Hartman, Marietta, PA, grain painted canopy bed with eagle-neck pediment, 19th century – $15,000; Colwill-McGehee, 19th century painted and decorated settee – $12,500.
Another major trend centered on the near avalanche of garden furniture and outdoor decorations that could be found in innumerable booths and which included cast metal, marble and other weatherable materials, many of them taken from demolished buildings. Overall there was an emphasis on the dramatic antique that could add glamour to the décor. It didn’t seem to be a requirement that these special effects items have provenance or importance in their usual historical sense, just that they had visual impact.
Walking about the floor of the WAS – a really spectacular Tiffany & Co. Japanesque tall case clock, circa 1880, of cherry wood and leaded glass, highly carved and highly noticeable, at Anthony Stuempfig’s, Philadelphia for $275,000; at Merrin’s, NY, a headless torso of a Roman Apollo, 1st/2nd century and $275,000 – but you could pick up Roman sardonyx rings for $5,500; at DM&P, Manheim, NY, a circa 1690 English gateleg table was available for only $4,000 but you had to pay $48,000 for a pewter inlaid English lady’s writing desk; at California dealer Michael Powers, a specialist in arms and armor, an Ottoman Turkish dagger set with coral and silver was $3,000, but $30,000 for the ultimate Swiss knife – an English exhibition knife with coronas of open knives, mounted on a gilded brass stand with an 1839 Sheffield hallmark. Not revealing the dealer there was an 1805 copyof a French 17th century painting that had and asking price of $48,000.
The unhappiest couple at the show was Mr. and Mrs. Dimars, located on the wall of Gerald Kornblau. The graphite and colored pencil pair, instead of being shown in confronting or complementary poses, were seen with the wife glaring at her spouse’s back and looking as if she wished she were holding a knife. They were very available for under $5,000.
At Guthman’s Americana, a NY military helmet from the War of 1812 was yours for the asking at $6,000, while you could also buy a Canadian Indian octopus beaded bag, 1800-20, for $12,500. Didier Aaron, Paris and NY, had an interesting 1880 straw composition with painted cut out faces, French, inscribed ‘FGB’ and $5,000. Taylor B. Williams of Chicago displayed a miniature Hepplewhite chest of drawers, American, 1820, at $3,200. Colwill-McGehee had a white cast iron umbrella stand by Wm. Fiske, NY, for $3,250, and three Wedgwood style bough pots attributed to Daniel Steel of Burstin at $6,850. There was an 1870’s rococo revival cast metal lacey looking bench for $3,500, offered by John Newcomer, Funkstown, MD. At Joan Mirviss, NY, dealer in orientalia, there was a signed 6 panel Japanese screen, 1850, for $8,000 and a pair of 17th century yokeneck Chinese chairs for $34,000.
At Devenish there was a reason to pause and reflect on a marquetry inlaid pair of English commodes, attributed to Chippendale, that could be yours if you happened to have $1,600,000. By comparison, his Regence étagère was a steal at $300,000. If you were really bargain hunting, you might have picked up one of Stephanie Hoppen’s antique bookplates listed in the low hundred or framed displays of casts of antique seals in the $2,500 range. She’s a London dealer.
At Hastings House antiques, NY, an imperial court lady’s hardstone inlaid collar was available for $11,400 and a garden sculpture of a wolfhound for $21,000. Ed Handy of San Francisco offered a pair of Louis XIV stone dolphins, circa 1700, for $3,800. At Hyde Park Antiques there was a famille rose Chinese Export bowl, delicately painted with mythological designs, at $36,000 and a John Opie double bed from the 18th century for $24,000. A Los Angeles dealer, Quatrain, had a large coromandel screen, Kang Hsi, for $225,000.
The seven dealers who were not invited to return to the WAS were Antique Porcelain Co., Lillian Blankley Cogan, Hobart House, Jesse Caldwell Leatherwood, Michal Ottin, Ltd., Jack Partridge and York House. The five who resigned were Doris Leslie Blau, Richard Feigen, Chris Jussel, Deanne D. Levinson and Elinor Merrell.
Some of the more grand items in the sow were in the booth of Bernard Baruch Steinitz of Paris who displayed his furnishings within a room paneled in an interior from a former Rothschild home, for sale in the $2 million range.
With the advent of the International Antique Dealer’s Show there will be increasing pressure on the WAS to undertake a vetting process. Without that, it runs the risk of being known as a “decorator’s show” while the English group may be the place to go for “museum quality” material. Although most of the dealers at WAS have opposed vetting members of the National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America, who introduced a sort of vetting procedure in1985 but were forced to drop it, are still pushing for the procedure. Without vetting the WAS will never be taken totally seriously as the epitome of antiques exhibitions in the USA, nor will it deserve to be.
Elin Lake Ewald, ASA, serves as a Member of the Board of Directors and Editor of the Newsletter of the New York Chapter of ASA. She is a member, Panel of Arbitrators, American Arbitration Association, and is listed in WHO’S WHO IN AMERICAN ART. Ms. Ewald, President of O’Toole-Ewald Art Associates, Inc., specializes in damage/loss/fraud cases involving fine and decorative art. For several years she has written a monthly newsletter on the art market.
Confederate bonds…it was not the type of case this fine art/antiques damage/loss appraisal firm usually takes on, but the more I explored the case with the client the more I thought the matter involved a modicum of common sense and extensive evaluation experience, rather than a specific knowledge of the obsolete bond market. Added to this was that as a Southerner whose family had once had its own collection of worthless Confederate money, and as the editor of the New York Chapter Newsletter whose habit it was to file away information on expanding personal property markets, I had accumulated a considerable file on recent activities in the Confederate bond area.
In 1865 at the conclusion of the Civil War (or The War Between the States), Confederate bonds had value only as sentimental collectibles. Despite a creeping increase over the following century, the cost of acquiring one of these artifacts had been hovering until recently under $25. Then, in the fall of 1987, a single lot, consisting of approximately 85,000 pieces of Confederate numismatic material, was auctioned at Sotheby’s London. This lot, “including Bearer Bonds, Confederate States of America,” with the ten percent buyer’s commission, realized $655,645.50.
The California dealer who bought the bonds with a Texas partner, claimed it was the largest such private hoard ever sold, and predicted that his corporation, a Dallas-based coin and old bond dealership, would sell the bonds in smaller wholesale lots that would fetch in excess of $2 million. Too late, of course, for the long gone British and European investors who had contributed $60 million towards those bonds and the Southern cause during the early 1860s. Since there was no Internaitonal (sic) Monetary Fund to protect investors in those free-wheeling days, the only recourse the investors might have had was through the Council of Foreign Bondholders, founded in 1868, primarily to assist British moneymen to pursue defaults in America.
(As a matter of fact, there is one outstanding case in the USA that the Council is still trying to collect on, which involves Mississippi. Today the British under Margaret Thatcher are once again attempting to privatize financing through the sale of share and bonds of formerly state-owned companies and utilities. It is one way to make a fortune or, as in the case of the Confederate Bonds, not make a fortune and then wait a century and a quarter and try to capitalize on this risky form of capitalism by selling the bonds as collectibles.)
Recently there has been a vigorous renewal of interest in the collecting of old bonds and shares, primarily on the part of bankers, brokers and money managers in the USA, West Germany and Britain. Although many of the collectibles are in the under $100 range, others have reached the $5,000 mark. As with other types of personal properties, one takes into consideration rarity, condition and aesthetics.
With that background in mind let’s return to February 8, 1988. The record breaking bonds, back in the USA, had been separated into manageable lots. One of these lots had been inventoried and was exhibited at a trade show on the West Coast. On that date this bond lot, consigned to a major airline for transportation as checked baggage, simply disappeared. It was not available for claim after the flight reached its Dallas destination.
The rest of the hoard had not been itemized, either by the auction house or by its new owners, so there had never been an appraisal of the collection. Lacking an appraisal, we began with the bulk numbers. We calculated that the average price at auction, including the buyer’s premium, for the entire group was $7.7 per item. The items involved in the loss totaled 2,854 in number. The insureds (sic) claimed the loss was $85,700; by that calculation the average price for each item would have been $30.02.
The last major sale of Confederate material had been in September 1987, in Richmond, Virginia, capitol of the Confederacy. It had been conducted by NASCA, researchers in inactive and obscure bonds and stocks and, it turned out, under bidders at the London sale.
In conference with representatives of NASCA, it was determined that it would be unrealistic to attempt to assign individual values to the missing items. The fact is, that in attempting to replace on an individual basis within a truncated period of time, for instance, 500-700 of one type of bond, the market would be severely altered, artificially affecting the value of those specific bonds. It was our contention that the only way to deal with the missing items was to assume that they must be bought in bulk, not as individual lots. This made considerable sense since it is common practice at obsolete bond auctions to sell large lots, designated as “Dealer Lots,” at a price that is far less than the individual items times the number in the lot. This also applies to retail sales of similar bonds, as it does for other property items when large purchases are accompanied by related discounts. It was determined that there is no confirmed single price for the bonds-one dealer might charge $18, while another might sell the same item in similar condition for $25.
Further clouding the issue was the publication, subsequent to the London sale, of a magazine aimed at contemporary numismatists and owned by the dealers who had bought the Confederate hoard. Like a Playboy centerfold, right where the magazine falls naturally open, was the announcement of “a unique opportunity for dealers, collectors and investors” to purchase the 1861 Montgomery Loan Bonds, the 1862 Battle of Shiloh Bond, the 1863 Pink Issues, etc. Accompanying this appeal was a list of prices – if you cared to enclose a check. Now we could compare some prices. The price requested for one of the bond sets was $1,200, while at a recent auction the same set sold, in four different lots and in fine condition, for between $600-$700. We had another comparison. In the Richmond auction sale 12 dealer lots of a certain bond (500 items total) realized $5,670. The value of 500 similar bonds as given in the insureds’ (sic) claim was $14,000. There were other comparables, and because we had access to the auctioneers we were apprised of the condition of all the bonds involved. What we found most interesting was that, although neither the auction house which sold the bonds nor the purchasers of the bonds had ever inventoried the entire hoard prior to sale, the under bidders (NASCA) at the London auction had examined and inventoried the entire collection before bidding. After extensive research and review of bond auction catalogs we made the following recommendation:
The insured was to be offered his total stated retail price minus 30 percent, or reasonable dealer commission. Our decision was based on the fact that purchase had been in bulk. Sotheby’s did not provide itemized evaluation of the bonds, nor did they provide prices realized on that basis. (The entire auction, consisting of one massive Confederate Bond lot, was over in less than 15 minutes. Part of the proceeds from the sale are being kept in an escrow acount (sic) against any claims that might be made by heirs, if any, of the numbered bonds-should the claimants be able to satisfy the bank that the claim is valid). Therefore it is difficult to cite auction value as opposed to retail value in this case.
The bonds were to be sold on an individual basis following a promotional campaign that might entail several months of advertising and commercial offerings. There would be extensive clerical work involved in disposing of the hoard. The 30 percent we cited would include the cost involved in this promotional campaign, as well as the overhead cost. We believe the value we placed on the missing items represents actual retail price since it is well above the probable auction costs for these items as incurred by the owner, although below the projected price the owner hoped eventually to receive.
As we stated, the average price paid at the London auction by the insured for the bonds was $7.7. Using that average price as an indication of what was paid, approximately, for the missing bonds, the total would be $22,004. The claimed replacement price given by the insured was $85,700. We would also note that these missing items are not considered rare in the numismatics world.
Our recommendation was that the insureds (sic) be offered a settlement of $59,990; above secondary market value, but below projected retail.
The owners had publicly stated in published articles and interviews that their intent was to buy the bonds at auction and sell them for a sum in excess of 2 million dollars.
The average price for the bonds in question, according to the owners’ total value, was $30.02. Multiplying by the number of bonds in the entire collection would result in a selling price of $2,572,714-or the projected value after promotion, a figure four times the auciton (sic) price and a speculative figure that might not be realized until years after the advertising campaign. The suggested settlement allows for an immediate profit on the part of the insureds (sic) without including the additional profit they had anticipated from the final sale of 85 thousand Confederate Bonds.
When I was a child there was an expression I must have heard at least twice a day on a regular basis: “Save your Confederate money boys, the South will rise again!” Think I ought to plan a trip home and spend it in the family attic.
Copyright © 1988 ELIN LAKE-EWALD. All Rights Reserved.