Four Costly Mistakes Collectors Make

Buying from Unreliable/Shady Sources 

I strongly suggest avoiding such art-selling venues as eBay, cruise ships, travelling hotel art auctions and late-night television art auctions.  Generally speaking, the products sold in these venues ranges from ‘decorative-only’ reproductions to outright fraudulent items.  There are exceptions, of course.  Not all that is sold online is bad.  But, unless you are a seasoned collector who has deep knowledge of what you are buying, the combination of your naivete and the fly-by-night dealer’s incentive to sell you high-priced wall décor using trumped-up or tricky descriptions is a bad combination.  These venues offer none of the advantages a good dealer offers collectors… knowledge, in-person examination, etc. 

Collecting art is a learning process.   One does not develop connoisseurship on the sidelines.   The world of art is fascinating and has its own lingo. That can be intimidating and it can be a minefield for the uninitiated. I always suggest that prospective collectors spend time learning about art, going to openings, asking lots of questions from reliable dealers, looking, looking, looking.  It might be wise to start collecting with good brick-and-mortar gallery dealers that have been in business for many years.  Whether your area of interest is contemporary or traditional, you will find such dealers in most major cities.  Go to gallery night openings.  Meet artists or go to experts’ lectures hosted by the galleries.  Go to vetted outdoor art fairs where the artists are there to meet and buy from directly.  All of these activities are fun and put you in the same room with the art and with experts who adore talking about art.   You see the works in person…see the surface, the scale, different media, different styles and price ranges.  You get a chance to figure out what style you like and ask questions from dealers who care about their reputations and who will answer any questions you have, dealers who represent a stable of living artists or dealers who have storerooms of art in their inventory. 

Relying on Certificates of Authenticity

I cringe a bit whenever a new client proudly mentions that all the pieces in their collection have Certificates of Authenticity.   A COA is a piece of paper provided  by the print publisher or gallery to the buyers of each print.   At their best, these are documents that accurately state the print’s title, artist, medium, number in this edition, a breakdown of the tirage-the total number of prints made and how they were marked, publication date, publisher’s name and other salient information about the print.  At their worst, these documents are written with tricky and/or inaccurate information and are provided to naive buyers in order to paint a layer of respectability and security over the sale of fraudulent or ‘decorative-only’ reproductions by well-known artists.   

**Note: Certificates of Authenticity are not the same thing as a Letter of Authenticity provided by the recognized and accepted expert or panel of experts on a given artist.  A Letter of Authenticity might be requested by a collector from such an expert when there is some question of the authenticity of a piece. These can be time-consuming and expensive to obtain and are only necessary in a limited number of cases.  Another topic for another time. 


Buying “Celebrity”

I call this a costly “mistake” because in the course of many years in the business, I have been on the selling end of these pieces and have seen the frustration of collectors when the realization hits them that the artwork in their collections will only bring a tiny percentage of the amount of money they spent.   That being said, if you like to go to well-publicized events at galleries in Hawaii or Las Vegas and have your picture taken with an actor who has taken up painting, then go for it.   However, if the actor’s work is exclusively carried at one gallery, be aware that what you are buying is a nice memento of a celebrity appearance. The same can almost always be said of artists whose work is sold through their own chain of galleries.   The high prices can only be sustained as long as the galleries are being run and the gallery staff has been given an updated price sheet from which to quote. Since the artists are exclusive with one gallery, if a client wants to buy new work, the price is whatever the gallery quotes.  However, these galleries are not interested in the secondary market at all.  They have new products to sell.  Should you decide to offer any pieces from your collection for sale, you will generally be hard-pressed to find a venue to do so.   When the actor dies and can no longer make those appearances that drove the pricing, the value is likely to plummet.  Getting 10% of the original purchase price from an online auction is the likeliest scenario.   

Not Engaging an Independent Guide/Consultant/ Appraiser Soon Enough

I was recently called to a new client’s home to do the onsite inspection for an insurance appraisal.  Insurance companies normally require an independent appraisal of artwork prior to the owner taking rider coverage on the works.  This appraisal’s purpose is to provide an independent inventory, report of current condition and estimate of the cost to replace the artwork with comparable pieces should losses occur.    I had been told that he had a collection of 40-50 items needing appraisal.   Sadly, what I encountered was a large collection of expensively framed reproductions by well-known artists.   Since the value of art itself was essentially poster level, my advice to the client was that he should not engage my services for an appraisal. I charge hourly fees and I could not, in good conscience, ask this potential client to pay for the time it would take to photograph, describe and list a value for these pieces. 

By the way, each of the pieces in this collection came with a Certificate of Authenticity (See Above) and each of these COAs was written with language specifically intended to deceive the buyer.  Had he called me after only a few purchases,  a few short connoisseurship “lessons” would have saved all the subsequent expenditures.   

Collecting art should be engaging, fun and fulfilling. But finding out that you have been duped can be infuriating, especially since in many cases, refunds are difficult or impossible to obtain. We at Signet Art are at your service! Let us be your guide to collecting great art. We help our clients buy well, sell well, appraise accurately and avoid costly mistakes.