General Belief is that The Major Auctions Do Not Offer Bargains!
With thirty- two years of experience inside auctions and the biggest ones of London, I can categorically say that such a belief is unfounded. My stories in the blog not only rebuff such an assertion but also support he view that bargains can be had in any auction as long as you know your onions and follow auctions closely.
The story I am going to have as a a new entry today happened in London and when the painting in question was indeed a bargain as catalogued.
Ghika Celebrations Second Time Round?
1st December 2000, Christie’s South Kensington – 18th October 2001 Sotheby’s, London
Ghika encore? Why not? Was it a bargain? At one thousand pounds it was! Some artists are lucky for some and unlucky for others! The Nicolas Hadjikyriacos-Ghika gouache at Christie’s South Kensington in December 2000 was a good size, with an interesting provenance and exhibition history. Estimated at £1000, but easily worth three times as much in a Greek sale, made it another excellent investment opportunity. My appetite for another Ghika was exceedingly strong after the miraculous one of 1997.
Brimming with confidence that this Ghika was mine to have, no matter what, I dreamed of profits. How was that? I honestly don’t know. Christie’s South Kensington is a saleroom of crazy sales, so nothing should be taken for granted. There was immense confidence, confidence coming from the Exter sale and the money from it. I viewed and checked the work closely. It was in excellent condition and although of a dark grey colouring it was still attractive and a quality work for sure.
There was no need to worry about selling any Ghika work at auction in London or in Greece privately. He was a hot property. Investing in the Ghika was obligatory for any art dealer at that price. It was a banker investment provided the buying price did not reach a prohibitive level. A Picasso is a Picasso and a Ghika is a Ghika. There was no doubt in the value of the piece and the popularity of the artist.
Therefore, no downside! Invest was the decision with only one serious worry. How much would I have to pay? Could I buy another Ghika at a reasonable price three years after the first one and twelve years after I had bought two drawings in Athens for fifteen hundred pounds each? Having the cash from the Exter sale boosted my confidence, but it would not drive me mad to pay any silly price. I researched everything to be absolutely sure about prices, quality and trends, although I had many of these facts already stored in my memory bank. The current auction sales pointed to a possible sale of about £5000 – 8000 in a Greek sale. More importantly Ghika was always a solid seller, with nearly no unsold art at any auction.
I needed the desirability factor because by 2000 the Internet was a lot more popular and sales of any artist were on view immediately on certain websites. Greek investors were becoming more selective and had started to go for what was fresh on the market. That was another negative development, but at the same time positive, as I’ll explain later.
I requested a phone bid and stayed away from the saleroom since I had to be at school. Teaching and the art business were co-existing successfully and bidding on the phone had no negatives. It was almost like being at the auction. I could have been on the other side of the planet – there was no difference at all. Nowadays, we can even bid on the Internet live, while the auction is in progress. It’s easy and brings the auction room into the comfort of our domestic or professional settings.
Worried and impatient before the sale, nevertheless optimistic and determined, I had made up my mind. The Ghika had to be bought, one way or another. I was prepared to go over my limit, although I hoped I did not have to enter a bidding war, which was the ultimate aim of Christie’s South Kensington in estimating a Ghika work so low.
· Auctions estimate works of art lower than their real value in order to attract buyers and have them bidding against each other.
· Try to avoid being part of such bidding wars; in most cases I got involved in such a situation I regretted it.
· Be firm and stick to your pre-auction top bid, no matter how much you wish to own a piece of art or artist.
Three o’clock. Afternoon already and teaching was over! I carried on with my schoolwork impatiently waiting for that phone call. Come on ring! Have they forgotten me? Minutes later my mobile buzzed, and after confirmation of what was to happen in a minute or two I waited patiently for the Ghika sale to commence. I was in control, but still as nervous as always before a purchase or sale, a fact I cannot deny even today!
“Six lots away from the Ghika, Mr Constant,” Christie’s assistant informed me. The auctioneer proceeded fast with the earlier lots but all I could hear was a bothersome voice. I was not interested! I was focused on one item and one name. Nicolas Hadjikyriacos-Ghika, the Greek master of the twentieth century.
“The Ghika is coming up now, Mr Constant. One thousand we have, are you bidding?”
“1200 is yours, 1400 against us, Mr Constant.”
“Sixteen hundred, please.”
“Eighteen, twenty, twenty-two hundred against us.” The pace was fast and furious. Is somebody trying to intimidate me in order to drop out of the bidding war?
That was already beyond my maximum bid of £2500 (including commissions). No thinking. I was in the grasp of auction fever, but I was buying the biggest name in Modern Greek art. Should I have stopped? No chance here.
“Twenty-four hundred to you, Mr Constant.”
“Twenty-four hundred, still twenty-four,” and I can hear the auctioneer searching for another bid.
“Bring the hammer down youuuuuuuuu!” I screamed, covering the mouthpiece. “Bring it down! Come on!” Luckily there was no further bidding, the gavel came down and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I wiped my forehead and like the calm after the storm I was back to schoolwork.
What a crazy world made up my life. Art and education lived and thrived together and could be served equally well with no problems. A scholar and businessman in one!!
“Yours at £2400, Mr Constant.” Unfortunately, the total cost was roughly £3000 when another 20% on commissions and VAT were added. Commissions! I hate them! Too high! As a buyer there is no room for negotiation especially in the lower price bracket, so negotiating a better commission rate at the selling end is imperative.
Even though the Ghika cost more than I had planned, I was happy with this new victory. I had fought off the competition with a £3,000 bid, the threshold the other bidder was not prepared to cross. Unbeknown to me, a good friend was the underbidder. What a small world!
From Christie’s South Kensington London to Sotheby’s London
Could I double my investment within a year and also justify one of the reasons for selling the Exter just a month earlier? Raise capital and re-invest. The Ghika was destined for Sotheby’s Greek Sale. There was no problem consigning the painting by such a well-known artist with the new team of experts. They were all smiles, full of praise and sweet honey. With an estimate of £6-8000, the drawing appeared in the October 2001 catalogue, well illustrated and with all its history of provenance and exhibition. I expected a sale close to £10,000. The Greek market was steadily improving, Ghika was as popular as ever and so I was very optimistic. Who wouldn’t be?
Once again, I stayed away from the sale in the hope that my absence would bring me luck, but honestly school had priority. Besides, Sotheby’s were more than trusted to do the selling on my behalf. Strangely enough there were no worries or anxiety on the day. The finance from the Exter had given me a psychological lift and boosted my confidence. Furthermore, the Greek market was moving swiftly in the right direction, faster even than I had forecast a few years earlier.
The Ghika sold for £6,800 plus buyers commissions. I already knew that it was possible to make money from door to door in the eighties, but this had happened in the noughties! The experience was significant and taken on board.
· Trading between the two biggest auction houses in the world in London was possible even in the new millennium.
· There was no need to change country to sell, no need to worry about such matters when trading a very collectable artist.
· A hot artist sells anywhere under normal trading conditions.
· Greek collectors were not concerned about freshness on the market as long as the name was desirable and the quality obvious.
The proceeds from the Exter sale had made this purchase, sale and profit of £3000 possible within the year. I was determined to continue with such solid, easy to liquidate investments, but was Greek contemporary art a solid enough investment at the level of my operations? Could I invest in other contemporary art as well and prosper in my quest to fulfil my rags to riches dream?