BUYING AT AUCTION IS NOT ALWAYS STRAIGHT FORWARD

AUCTIONS MAKE MISTAKES BUT HAVE CONDITIONS OF SALE FOR REMEDIES

For thirty odd years i bought and sold art at auction. i learned the business in practice with no help from anybody and advice from anybody. such advice is too expensive and at times i needed it but it was nowhere to be had.

thus, what my blog provides here is as valuable as any advice you might get of a paid professional for advice and guidance, when you buy at auction!!

 

no such issues when you buy from ther artists directly, like most of our stock is:

 

Elefterios Venizepos, painted by Vasilis Zenetzis in 2004

 

 

 

Guarantees of authenticity at auctions

Christie’s and Sotheby’s have earned the trust and confidence of their customers by offering guarantees of authenticity of five years on art they sell. Guarantees at other auctions can vary from two years at larger auctions, to months, weeks or no guarantees at all at smaller auctions.  It is therefore imperative to read the conditions of sale for every auction you intend to buy or sell at.

The five-year guarantee at the major auctions reads as follows:

“ If a purchase is proven not to be genuine and not by the artist stated, then, provided the painting is returned in the same condition as bought, we will refund the purchase sum but not any expenses incurred because of the painting.”

That I already knew well. The Harpignies had cost an additional £1500 in expenses to restore, frame and ship to New York and back to London. That was a hefty loss and a very serious lesson to learn. Knowledge and experience gained cost high sums of money, but unfortunately there was no other way to carry on trading.

The experience gained from the Harpignies trade was invaluable and well worth remembering:

·         The value of a painting dictates a proportionate restoration expense that should not exceed 20% of the final selling price.

·         Buy from auctions with guarantees of authenticity.

·         Major auctions as well as smaller ones make mistakes of attribution, thus great care should be taken when buying to ensure authenticity.

Auction houses honour their guarantees and legal responsibilities.  The Harpignies was returned to Christie’s. The verdict of the expert could not be questioned and the investment of £2200 was returned promptly.  The expert in charge, who was a good friend by then, apologized for the unfortunate event and promised to help financially with illustrations of paintings in future sales, so that I could recover some of the expenses incurred on the painting.  I appreciated this and time and again illustration charges were waived.  As a result of this good will and my friendship with the expert in charge, Christie’s were to make some serious money in the future from my business with them.

The expert was actually to help more than that later and when the difference between his opinion and that of others was in the tens of thousands of pounds. For that I am still eternally grateful to him.  He was indeed a good businessman, and in helping me he helped Christie’s business too. Well done to him! Major auctions are sympathetic and understanding to their clients’ needs and problems. They try to help as much as they can and within the interests of the business they work for. However exceptions also exist, which will become apparent in later entries.

The most important lesson with the Harpignies purchase was loud and clear and it needs to be repeated and expanded: 

·         Experts are human and thus can make mistakes. They have an opinion, which at times, even though rare, might be wrong.  Nobody is infallible.

It is also important to note that: 

·         There are experts on individual artists and they should be consulted before works of art are catalogued. Unprofessional cataloguing? No! Careless and quick cataloguing!

·        Dealers make mistakes too or at times they gamble on a painting as being authentic or by a certain artist. I did not gamble in the Harpignies case. I made an investment relying heavily on Christie’s attribution, which happened to be wrong.

I concluded that I had to make sure myself that what I invested in was well researched and checked many times before it was purchased.  If in doubt, I never paid my hard earned money. Even after I had bought something, I still carried on the checking to make sure everything was in order.  Fakes are mushrooming all over the art world and one has to be one million percent sure that what is purchased is the genuine article.  Keep your eyes open and tread cautiously as in rare cases such mistakes might be deliberate.  Fake is not just banana skins you skid and fall on. The Harpignies case was a small skid by the summer of 1987, but by 1990 things would become much more serious. The Knoedler Gallery case in New York in 2012-13 is a case of millions exchanging hands for possible fakes.

 

Have I always followed my own advice and learnt from my own mistakes? Are you joking! I am human, I am stubborn and most of all I repeat mistakes, which as the ancient Greeks used to say:

 

“ To commit the same mistake twice is not a sign of a wise man”

 

When buying at small auctions the guarantees are for a few days if any offered at all. My advice, if you are to spend significant amounts, read the conditions of business of the particular auction. it might save you plenty of money!!

 

 

TRIBUTE TO MY BIRTHPLACE

    ART IS LIBERATING AND AN EXPRESSION OF ALL EMOTIONS THAT

CANNOT BE EXPRESSED IN WORDS

I DECIDED TO WRITE SOMETHING ON CYPRUS BECAUSE THAT IS ME, THAT IS MY INNER SOUL, THAT IS MYSELF IN ALL ITS WEAKNESSES AND ALL ITS STRENGTHS.

THE IMAGES OF CYPRUS I USE HEREWITH ARE JUST ONE SMALL SAMPLE OF THE ISLAND OF CYPRUS AS I SAW IT THROUGH THE EYES OF THE ARTISTS I COMMISSIONED TO PAINT MY COUNTRY, MY BIRTHPLACE, CYPRUS!! 

ARCHBISHOP MAKARIOS

 

 

CLIMBED ON A TREE IN FRONT OF THE PANCYPRIAN GYMNASIUM I WENT TO, I WATCHED HIM ARRIVING FROM EXILE TO LEAD GREEK CYPRIOTS TO INDEPENDENCE AND FREEDOM!!

 

CYPRUS AMD MY PEOPLE

EVERY NATION SI PROUD OF ITS PEOPLE THAT BROUGHT TO TODAY ITS TRADITIONS, ITS CUSTOMS AND ITS HISTORY. CYPRUS IS VERY UNIQUE IN MANY WAYS AS ITS PEOPLE ARE DISTINGUISHED EASILY FROM OTHERS.

 

 

 

THE PEOPLE ARE THE HEART OF CYPRUS BUT THE LAND IS WHAT SHAPES US ALL AND MAKES US ALL WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE ARE:

 

HELLENISM AND CHRISTIANITY LIVE TOGETHER ON THE ISLAND FOR 2000 YEARS

 

SAINT NEOPHYTOS MONASTERY, NEAR PAPHOS CITY

 

OLD NICOSIA NEAR GREEN LINE

 

OCCUPIED BY TURKEY FAMAGUSTA OR AMMOXOSTOS

THE BARBED WIRES OF TURKISH ARMY NEVER STOP GREEKSNESS BEATING IN

THIS DEAD CITY IN EUROPE.  FOR HOW LONG EUROPE? FOR HOW LONG WORLD?

 

THE ISLAND OF APHRODITE HAS NEVER BEEN TURKISH, IT WAS OCCUPIED FROM TIME TO TIME BY TURKEY BUT NEVER TURKISH. TODAY IS ONCE AGAIN OCCUPIED IN ITS 38% BY TURKISH TROOPS BUT GREEK LANDS AND CITIES NEVER STOP TO BE GREEK IN SPITE WHAT TURKEY CLAIMS AND TRIES TO DO IN CYPRUS.

 

PETER CONSTANT

 

 

 

 

 

ART CAN BE YOUR SECOND PROFESSION OR SECOND JOB!!

            TWO JOBS AND I MANAGED

 IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE WINTER ALL THE TIME! SPRING FOLLOWS WINTER AND LIKE THIS FAMILY, THE THAWING OF SNOW LEADS TO PASTURES EVER GREEN!!

IT IS ALL UP IN THE MIND, IT IS ALL ABOUT DETERMINATION AND WILL POWER. I NEVER STOPPED TO THINK WHETHER I COULD DO IT BECAUSE I WAS INSIDE IT DOING IT. IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO STOP AND THE DAILY STRUGGLE AND BATTLEGROUND OF BUSINESS HAD TO BE FACED AND SOMEHOW SURVIVE IT.

IT WAS NOT EASY BUT NOTHING IN LIFE COMES EASY. IF IT DOES, THEN FORGET ABOUT IT. IT IS NO CHALLENGE, IT IS NOT IMPORTANT AND SOONER THAN LATER YOU GIVE UP ON TI. LOOK INTO YOURSELF, LOOK INTO YOUR LIFE AND DECIDE. CAN I DO THIS JOB I AM EMBARKING UPON , DO I HAVE THE TOOLS TO DO IT AND DO I LOVE IT ENOUGH 

 

THIS IS IN BRIEF MY STORY WHICH PERHAPS CAN BE A BEGINNING FOR YOU!!

 

The story of the amateur investor began for real in London in October1983, but the seeds were sown years earlier in Athens, Greece. Narrating this incredibly amazing story of stories, I must declare my gratitude to Lady Luck from the very beginning! I am a lucky person to be alive having survived illness at an early age, airplane scares, emergency landings and the battlefield of war; a lucky person who entered the world of art a complete ignoramus, penniless and on a wing and a prayer. 

Everything became possible with luck and hard work, without which it would have been impossible to break into the serious art market the way I did. Luck, hard work and accumulated knowledge enabled me to make investments which returned significant sums regardless of whether I invested from home or in the auction room in countries as far apart as the UK, the USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Australia and the Far East.

Art has never stopped evolving from time immemorial, never stopped impressing itself upon the human race in a very deep, subsconscious way. Art has always attracted us like a magnet and has represented Man through the ages to today. How could I escape such a pull? I visited art exhibitions as a young student, I admired paintings in major museums and I loved the whole ambiance of art. In all those early, formative years of my life and until I got married, I never managed to buy a single work of art. It was a struggle to survive, a constant battle to lay the basic foundations for the future, let alone spend money on a painting.

Something inside me clicked as early as 1967 when in the company of an artist friend. He kindly painted for me two small ceramic paintings, the first I ever owned, and I regret I no longer have them. It was years later that I invested in my first painting together with my wife in 1979.  It was auspicious, but there was no way to even suspect that, a few years later, I would be involved in art in such a professional manner and with so much at stake.

Calling myself a collector and investor of art today, from an absolute novice in 1983, took many twists and turns that I was never prepared for nor anticipated. Nevertheless, I always faced strokes of luck and unlucky turns stoically and decidedly. I took successes with great satisfaction and failures as part and parcel of the process of becoming a better investor. I made do with no money in the beginning and persevered in adversity and hard times. Even when the worst financial situations affected the business and the world, I carried on, changed tactics and direction and survived.

Starting with 19th century fine art in 1984-85 and trading at auctions all over England and the United States, I learned the basics of buying and selling art at auctions and acquired invaluable knowledge of how they operate.  I became qualified enough to face the auction experts, with their individual agendas and their strengths and weaknesses, on a level footing. Soon enough I moved on to contemporary and impressionist art, which rewarded me handsomely. Being well informed enabled me to invest in top names before others scented the prey. Observing very closely how the markets performed eventually led me to Russian and Greek art, when many others were oblivious of the possibilities and rewards in those two emerging markets.

Being highly motivated and determined to learn a new trade I devoted myself to the art world and unconsciously fell in love with it. I learned the business of trading and collecting art the hard way and the expensive way. There was nobody to give me a piece of advice, nobody to warn me of the traps of the trade, the dangers of the trade. I gradually became a competent trader/investor, via this unorthodox, expensive route. With a hard-working ethos on my part and the essential investments I made in myself, in catalogues, magazines, indexes, art literature, computers and finally the Internet, I gradually completed the journey from a complete beginner and amateur to a skilled art investor. I utilized successfully all the experience acquired over time, and in spite of the upheavals of the last thirty years, I am still standing and trading successfully. To add spice to my trading activities, I also managed to earn introductory commissions from the two major auction houses of London, Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

I had my first lucky break at the top auction house in the world, Sotheby’s, in 1984, where experts and seasoned dealers failed to identify the bargain that enabled me to step onto the ladder of high priced investments. It was possible to buy bargains repeatedly at major and minor auctions over the years and expand the business from a ten-pound note in October 1983 to hundreds of thousands of pounds today.

In spite of the many successes, I also faced serious financial problems, which I had brought upon myself in the process of trading. I made serious mistakes with some bad investments and simply lost my way at times, although never direction and ultimate target! I became an addicted art collector.  I consider art to be a great vehicle for accumulating wealth and a lot more fulfilling than stocks, shares, gold or property.  Throughout the thirty years of this art venture I was still employed as a teacher and the two jobs co-existed with no issues. Teaching supported art and art supported an art lover to fulfil his dreams and passion.

Some exceptionally high rewards over the years took place and returns of 500% and 1000% occurred on many investments. Some gambles were taken, but it was mostly knowledge and experience that tipped the balance to tremendous successes.  Luck, as I have already affirmed, also proved pivotal in everything I traded.  I attribute to Lady Luck the biggest successes I ever had, but I moved my little finger too.

The economic conditions in the world have always been uncertain and constantly changing for all of us. Being involved in art, knowing in depth another trade while working as a teacher and making money from home was satisfying and lucrative for me.  I would imagine many people would love to imitate that. Through the stories of this book I provide the knowledge, the tools, the Alpha to Omega of trading in art to enable them to do so.  Make a note of these tools and advice, and perhaps this is the story you have been waiting for to spur you on and get you started in fine art trading as a challenging profession or recreation. I started at point zero. I did it with no knowledge and little money. I did it with hard work, luck and love for art.  It is possible for you to do the same and much more easily today in the comfort of your office or home with the Internet and all the other aids I refer to.  This book will hopefully be your ultimate tool and companion.

Art is a multi-billion dollar business ever expanding and ever attracting new investors and collectors worldwide. You might think it is impossible to break into this world, as I thought in the early eighties. Yet, the impossible happened, the unimaginable took place, and a penniless ignoramus in 1983 achieved a dream of dreams.

 

PETER CONSTANT

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR AND KEEP THE FAITH ALIVE!!

              BARGAINS, ART INVESTMENTS AND FUN!!

 

ONE OF FIFTEEN PRINT REPRODUCTIONS BOUGHT FOR ABOUT 20.00 IN THE 1980S

YES, FRAMED NICELY!!

 

LORD BYRON

WHENEVER I SAY TO SOMEBODY THAT ONCE I WAS AN ART DEALER WITH ALL THESE WONDERFUL STORIES, THEY CHANGE ATTITUDE, THEY LISTEN AND KEEP LISTENING TO THE NEVER ENDING STORIES OF INVESTING IN ART AND OF COURSE THE REWARDS. MOST OF THEM ARE ALREADY IN MY BOOK RAGS OR RICHES BUT SIGNIFICANTLY IS THE REVELATION THAT I STARTED WITH NO KNOWLEDGE ABOUT ART OR ART MARKET AND ENDED UP LEARNING ANOTHER TRADE, ANOTHER LIFE JOB THAT BRINGS EVEN TODAY PLEASURE AND HAPPINESS, IF NO MONEY!!

 

First auction investments - ignorance is bliss!

Late October 1983, Lewes, Sussex

Three days before attending the auction at Lewes in October 1983 I visited my bank and insisted on seeing the manager for a temporary loan of £2000 there and then.  I was a newcomer to England and knew nothing about how loans were made and how one approached the bank manager for a facility. However, I had the audacity to demand to see the bank manager, at that moment and on that day, which happened luckily!  He was a gentleman in his fifties who, I assumed, saw many people like myself.  I explained my problem quickly and in a few minutes he addressed me warmly, smiling and with concern, “ Mr Constant, I do not know you. You are new to our bank. You have two accounts with us. One has two pounds in it and the other one zero.  I cannot lend you any money. Go and do whatever you wish to do with antiques and auctions and come back in six months.  If I see the progress I expect in your accounts in this business idea of yours, I will lend you £10,000, not just two.”

I was disappointed, to say the least!  I was extremely angry with the man. How dare he tell me that and reject a request for such a small loan?  It was a setback! There was no money from anybody.  I had to do it with my own funds. Perhaps it’s better like that, I admitted to myself.  Make it on my own, like I always did. That was it!  No thousands of pounds to invest in antiques! No loans! No overdrafts and significantly no bank to hassle me about what I was doing with my own money.

It was the last week of October and my friend and I made our way to Gorringes auctions in Lewes, East Sussex.  We had the same passion, the same goals and ambitions! Buy antiques for profit, whatever took our fancy and looked good. Both of us had no idea about antiques or art; we were naïve and adventurous but we were not aware of that. Were we rich? Absolutely not! It was a struggle to survive and make ends meet for both of us - I, as a supply teacher, and he, as a property developer.

How ignorant we were!  How happy we were in our ignorance!  Nobody to ask for advice, nowhere to look for information, nobody to volunteer a bit of caution and a caring word; worst of all we felt we knew everything! If this sounds familiar, please be careful and carry on reading.

I had £210 in my pocket, my own hard-earned money. That was all the money I had in the bank. Yes, the total amount I had left from one month’s work and I took it all out to invest in antiques about which I knew nothing!  Aren’t I glad I had no more money to spend!  Wasn’t that bank manager wise! Was I so clever or that naive?  I can say now, with no shame, “I was very ignorant and naive.”  I had no idea about antiques or art.  My knowledge was absolutely nil, non-existent!  Yet, I was going to invest the only money I had in the bank.  Irresponsible, to say the least!

Prices in those days were low compared to today.  Computers were rare, the Internet non- existent in any form or way for research.  The only thing that helped me was a good eye for spotting beautiful things, which by the way most of us can do.

The drive to Lewes was pleasant. The conversation was about the items we had planned to buy.  Soon enough we arrived just outside Lewes.  High up above the town the narrow road slowly descended under a golden canopy of trees to reveal the picturesque town of Lewes nestling in the distance.  As we approached I couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of this town and its surroundings.  The old centre with its narrow streets, historic houses and quaint small shops continued to delight as we drove through. 

We eventually stumbled on the auction house as we made our way through the winding main street of Lewes.  Gorringes auctions looked unimpressive from the outside. The premises spoke of an old house and an old auction business.  Inside was no different.  Furniture crammed the rooms downstairs as well as upstairs, and displayed throughout, wherever there was space, were vases, pots, porcelain, paintings, jewellery, books, wine and what else. A mixed sale of everything!

Where do I start? Which items do I target?  Where was the edge?  Where was that extra something, that special knowledge in me to make this new passion work?  I had no idea, not a clue!

The auction prices of most items in that first auction were way beyond my means and my pocket. In spite of that I managed to buy a pair of vases, two pictures, a Chinese bowl, and I cannot remember what else. Oh, yes, a large Arab/Greek looking bronze tray, which I still have. It cost me two pounds, dear readers. I still treasure it. My friend did exactly the same thing and we generally spent good money for things nobody else wanted to buy. That, of course, we did not know in our naivety. We spent the whole day at the auction and after paying for our purchases we started packing them happily into boxes for the trip back to London.

The auctioneer did know about prices and the value of items.  On approaching us he stated jokingly and somewhat concerned, “ Hi chaps! I see you bought many different things. I hope you knew what you bought!”

Oops! The truth was starkly spoken!!

I looked at my friend, he looked at me while we were packing our purchases and in unison laughed his remark off and cursed him quietly in our own lingo! How dare he? What does he know?  Obviously, we thought the auction arena was just for us to roam and prosper, just like that.  That remark of the auctioneer was a wake up call. I knew nothing, I had no experience and I had to knuckle down and work hard, if I was serious about auctions and auction markets.

The auction baptism was fortunately not a drowning one!  The mish mash of vases, bowls, watercolours and oils proved worth the experience. I sold all those items, except the tray. I made a little profit, but the most came from a lovely painting I bought for £10 and sold for £60 soon after. I cannot remember the artist, but it was a very good return at that time. The pair of modern vases was really attractive. The same auction that sold the candelabra for me managed to sell them for £60 soon after, thus doubling my £30 investment, minus about eight pounds selling commission. I was really pleased with those results. It boosted my confidence and my belief that whatever looked pretty could make profits. It also partly covered my petrol and car costs to various small auctions in London.

It was an expensive business when catalogues cost one to five pounds each and any trip outside London cost a minimum ten pounds. It was expensive when buying and selling through auction with commissions and other expenses totalling about 20% of the trade. There was a family to feed and a household to set up. There were car expenses and personal expenses. Making ten pounds from time to time was not enough. However, supply teaching brought the money in and made it possible for me to pursue the dream that was just beginning to emerge and take vague shape - become a dealer and investor in antiques and art while still teaching.

It was a struggle but which beginning is not?  Nevertheless, the decision had been taken! Trade in antiques! Was making a few pounds per item sufficient enough to cover my costs?  Experience would tell me soon enough!  It was not worth my troubles unless I concentrated on one area and one area in depth.  Antique furniture was out of the question.  It was bulky, needed transportation and warehouse facilities, and prices, although good, were not exceptional. Porcelain, jewellery etc I did not find interesting enough.  Art, however, I loved.  It was easy to store and transport and most importantly the most promising and lucrative.  Although I was a novice, I concluded that:

·        There were plenty of art auctions worldwide which offered plenty of opportunities and the potential to make money. 

·        Profits from paintings were good, even though I had only minor experience of this myself.

·        There was a chance to buy that lost masterpiece or that sleeper nobody spots, the dream of every art investor! 

 

·

 

 

 

BaRGAINS ALL OVER THE WORLD!!

CAN I BUY A BARGAIN?

UNDOUBTEDLY ALL OF US CAN OBTAIN A BARGAIN OF ANY SORT, IF WE LOOK WELL AND SEARCH THE NET WELL. WE DO HAVE A FEW ON OUR SITE BUT PERHAPS EVEN BETTER ONES ARE HIDING SOMEWHERE ELSE, WHICH MAKES MY POINT MORE RELEVANT.

SEARCH THE NET!!

 

Oh brother, second time out the Internet excites!

Apostolos Geralis

(Greek, [1886-1983], Very successful figurative painter of peasant Greek women and men in their domestic chores. Auction price range £1500- 25,000)

16th December 2003, IEGOR Quebec, Canada - 10th May 2004, Sotheby’s London

How did I miss that paintings auction? My, my! It was supposed to be Christmas in a few days’ time, but for myself that was the time to hunt for a bargain, if there was one in Canada. Most people were getting into a festive mood, but I was still at work and looking for investment opportunities all done from home and all enjoyable. No time to waste. The sale was in twenty-four hours and I had just a few hours that Saturday to arrange bidding, if anything was of interest. The time in Montreal was about four in the afternoon.

One after the other the paintings were not for me. I was not disappointed, but then there had to be a Greek painting and a bargain somewhere. I felt it. I expected it. How was that?  Instinct? Hope? Stupid expectation? Who knows what it was! 

There! Once again, there was Geralis, this time the better-valued younger brother of Lucas, Apostolos Geralis!  What a lovely painting of a peasant Greek woman at 3000 Canadian dollars, or about £1500.  I liked the painting and loved the price.  I estimated the painting to be worth well over £3000.   I had to buy. That was my chance to buy a beautiful Apostolos Geralis and I was not going to miss it. First time once again! Excitement, thrill, wild thoughts of profits and riches! Greedy guts!

The arrangement to bid on the phone was set in motion immediately. No need to waste time, no research needed, no prices to be checked. I had everything in the memory bank.

Great expectations just before Christmas!  Another bargain purchase, an unexpected Christmas present from Canada! Another bout of anxiety, worry and suspense!  Was that my first purchase? Rather my thousandth one, but it felt like the first. Could I purchase another good Greek painting in the next twenty-four hours? Was I the only investor in Greek art? It was unbelievable. Either the whole world was asleep or I was daydreaming.  Was I the only one digging for treasure or was I perhaps digging a financial grave by investing 80% of my money in Greek art?  Which one was it? I was pretty sure at the time that it was treasure. I was one hundred percent sure of the rewards of investing in Greek art, but was I too full of myself and bullish? 

 

ANOTHER GERALIS IN STOCK WITH GREEKSINART NOW 

 

 

Sunday night arrived so quickly that I had no time to worry or fret about bidding any more.  Having splashed £25,000 on other purchases in October and November there was very little left to bid on the Geralis.  Nevertheless, I hoped that not too many people had seen the painting and that the reserve would be the winning bid.  The call from IEGOR could not have come earlier.

“Mr Constant,” the voice over the Atlantic, as clear as a bell, “two lots to the Geralis.”

Immediately the bidding started, I knew I was the only bidder and that the Geralis was mine. At £1500 the beautiful Apostolos Geralis was indeed a Christmas present from Canada. By the end of December the painting was hanging up on the wall at home and I was enjoying the art of an artist I had dreamed of buying for years.  A peasant Greek lady busy with the chores of the house filled me with pride and joy.  I deliberately stared and stared at the painting in admiration. I knew I had to cash it in soon and therefore I had to make the most of it while I could.  It was a short-term investment, a moneymaking exercise, which hopefully would work in my favour and assist me in my plans for the Olympics.