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Thursday, May 19, 2011

How to sell art successfully - part 2.

There is a wonderful vignette in Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirate of Penzance" where Frederic is deceived by the Pirate's old crone of a maid, Ruth, that she is the most beautiful woman in the world.

How could this be possible?

Raised by Pirates on a desolate coast, Ruth was the ONLY woman that Frederic had ever seen.  And when Ruth told him that she was beautiful, he believed her ONLY TO BE BITTER WHEN HE FOUND OUT THAT SHE HAD DECEIVED HIM.   Eventually Frederic meets a true beauty, Mabel, and they end up together at the end of the Musical.

So Frederic driven by libido ends up with a beautiful woman and dishonest Ruth ends up forlorn!

Today the single most powerful selling tool for any work of art is finding a way to give your potential client YOUR full level of knowledge about the art that you are trying to sell.  And part of that includes knowledge of your cost, provenance and all condition issues.

With the internet providing vast knowledge to collectors, it is the least any dealer can do.

When a map or Audubon dealer acts like Ruth and misrepresents historical importance, aesthetics, condition, rarity or provenance, he risks losing his client forever.  Not only will his client stop dealing with him, he will stop collecting maps and will turn to other ways to enjoy his disposable income.

During the last forty years only Pierre Joppen, Stephen Massey, Cathy Slowther, Selby Kiffer and David Redden have shown the highest levels of accuracy, knowledge, integrity and passion for clear provenance.   Amazingly three of the five people above all are experts at Sothebys.  What a GREAT company!

It is my great hope that Daniel Crouch, a dealer in London and Oxford will be able to take their place.

Standards have been ruined because people like Dudley Barnes, Richard Arkway and others like him stole vast quantities of maps in Italy and Eastern Europe and flooded the markets in London and New York selling stock for 25% of the wholesale prices at auction.  Librarians were at fault because they were lazy and not vigilant and hated admitting that material was missing.  Dealers in London went along because "everyone else was doing it."  And collectors made incredible buys assuming that they were "entitled" to pay 50% of auction prices because they were born with stars over their heads.

While all this rot was going on, my purchases were almost 100% from Sothebys, Christies, Swann and a few other auction houses.  Because of my fierce pursuit of map thieves mostly with Matt Mullen of the Lansdale office of the FBI all the other thieves wisely stayed away from me.  Imprisoning criminals like Andy Antippas, Lynn Glazer, Skeet Willingham and  Forbes Smiley scarred them away.  It has taken me 40 years to figure out where the vast amount of stock was coming from that made it impossible for me to compete.

But, like prostitutes and thieves, ill gotten gains rot the soul and twist the mind.  The money is squandered and lost and eventually all but the most sociopathic do something stupid and like Dostoyevsky's "Raskolnikov" they find a way to give clues to a detective to get themselves caught.

Matt always hated it when his truly brilliant and steady detective work would be questioned by me just as the judge would issue his sentence.  But it true - Glazer started arguing with the parking lot attendant at Dartmouth right while he was putting a stack of atlases stolen from the library in the trunk of his car!  When questioned the next day, the attendant fingered Glazer.  Smiley dropped his knife for cutting out maps from atlases.  Only real monsters like Barnes, Arkway and a few others never left clues.  And some of them are very good at covering up afterward like the dealer who bought the Ulm 1482 Ptolemy from the person who stole it from the National Library of Spain.  He brilliantly found a way to get his name expunged from all newspaper accounts only 24 hours after the actual thief was caught and exposed. Still cant figure out how he did it so fast.

The only way for map and atlas collecting to grow is for dealers to give provenance and develop a grading system.  Pierre Joppen's system is brilliant.   Insist on this.  Provenance is going to become increasingly important.

Our plans are to publish all of our invoices of stock bought at auction is being done to force this issue.

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