Never Say Never at Auction
The plentiful experiences acquired at auction over the last 32 years made it possible for me to have rules to set down and follow nearly rigorously. Over the years from 1983 to today, these rules and practices proved great money earners and I advise anyone aspiring to get involved in art to take note of them and follow them, if possible.
My new entry today is all about buying at auction and selling at about 2000% profit within about 18 months. All info correct, all info genuine and true, which can be corroborated with auction sales and results. Be back later in the evening for more.
(Greek, [1918-1995] One of the best Greek sculptors of the second half of the twentieth century. Worked most of his life in France where he was the friend of the most renowned sculptors of the day. Respected and collected both in Greece and France. Auction price range £10,000 – 50,000)
10th December 2002, Rosebery’s, London – 18th November 2003, Sotheby’s London
The new millennium had started very well in spite of Exter’s disappointing sale. The Ghika, the Dyf, the Thon and the Lanza trades went some way to justifying the Exter sale. They proved great short-term investments with excellent returns varying between 100-1000%. Such returns were exceptional and extremely hard to achieve with any other sort of investment over such a short time.
Attending auctions is important, visiting and viewing auctions is paramount.
The South London Galleries of Rosebery’s were never a hunting ground for me. However, their small advert in the Antiques Trade Gazette in 2002 raised my curiosity and so that Sunday morning in December 2002 I drove to South London to view their sale of fine art. The money in my pocket was looking for a home, it was looking for bargains others could not find and identify. The twenty years’ experience was invaluable. I knew where to look, what to look for, what to invest in and more importantly how much to pay in order to generate good profits. With a little bit of luck, hard work was always rewarded I already knew.
I had become the art investor with the golden touch.
It took me ages to get to Rosebery’s auction in spite of my wife’s navigating skills, but I was used to getting lost on various trips in England and in France, especially Paris. No satellite navigation in those days and I am really bad at reading maps and following instructions! Frustrated, in a fury and ready to explode, we finally arrived at Rosebury’s and my mood changed immediately.
On entering their rooms I forgot the anger and frustrations of a few minutes earlier. I was home, in my element, viewing what I loved most. Art! Happy days readers! It is no exaggeration. There were many paintings I liked and especially a pair of small paintings of the Cȏte D’Azur by Lucien Potronat. I still own a lovely painting of his and you remember the one Stacey-Marks bought off me in 1987.
What interested me most however were the Greek items in the sale. I did not expect so many pieces in such an auction. The estimates of a couple of paintings I liked left little room for profit, but I had lost nothing in visiting the auction. Keeping in touch with actual paintings and prices is absolutely vital, so I did not regret the trip.
Apart from the paintings I spotted an interesting unsigned bronze sculpture. I kept looking at it curiously and even though I could see art, craftsmanship and a desirable subject in the piece, I found it too modern for my taste. Besides, I was not convinced about the reference to the artist. It was not signed and the provenance was not solid or clear in the catalogue entry. The auctioneers mentioned the name of Coulentianos, but no concrete evidence. I decided to ask the expert in charge why they had mentioned this name. I had nothing to lose and perhaps knowledge to gain.
“The lady who owns the sculpture bought it at the artist’s exhibition here in London,” he informed me.
Provenance! Exhibition! These thoughts reverberated in my head!
Yuhuuu! I did not expect that story and immediately my attitude towards the piece and its possible real value changed. That had not been mentioned in the catalogue and such information made a significant difference to me. By the time I descended the stairs from the galleries to the reception area to leave the auction, I had made up my mind to leave a written bid, (the auctioneer will execute this bid on your behalf when you cannot attend an auction). What’s meant to be is meant to be, I whispered to myself. Luck being on my side, I will buy it at my own price.
The low estimate was £350 and that was my bid. Usually I don’t believe in leaving bids of such low level, if I’m seriously interested in something, but buying at the reserve had happened for me at other auctions. Why not at Roseberys? Remember the low after-sale bid at Sotheby’s for the Ralli? The lucky lady, my wife was with me once again, perhaps …
Thus, I left a bid and then completely forgot about it, thinking there was no chance of acquiring the small Coulentianos statue. Life carried on and I didn’t even check the sale’s results. Three days later, an invoice of £399 arrived from Rosebery’s informing me of my new investment. Costas Coulentianos, Mother and Child had been sold to me at the reserve. Needless to say I was very happy with the new acquisition and addition to my collection.
But, who was Coulentianos? I knew nothing about his art or auction prices. The challenge was to find out who he was and what his auction market had been. Twenty years on and I was still learning the trade. Is there an end to education in art investment? Honestly? No!
The Greek encyclopedia of artists I had invested £80 in the 1980s proved invaluable once again. The information on Coulentianos was substantial and positive, a fact that made me feel even better about the sculpture. The bronze beauty was mine and it felt great, even before it came home. I liked it much more because of the price! How funny was that? Had I paid a significant sum, I would have hated it, perhaps. No, I am not just a merchant. I love and enjoy art, but yes, I love a bargain, I love a successful trade and that was how I felt on that day.
Buying art for me has always been a major challenge, but unlike shares the returns can be much greater and the satisfaction and enjoyment of the art incomparable. It is like a chase, a race to the line with the reward being much more than money. It’s a win all the time!
The new addition to my collection happened unexpectedly. I could not wait to have the piece home and by the end of the week I had the sculpture sitting pretty on my working table. It was only then, studying it well, that I began to appreciate the beauty of the piece. Only then did I realise how good the artist was and what a great investment I had unknowingly made. Lucky? You don’t say!! Standing at about 55cm high, the bronze sculpture portrayed a mother holding her child up in the most tender and loving way, expressing the global bond that connects any mother and child. Needless to say, I grew to love this modernist work immensely!
Another sculpture by Coulentianos in my collection
Excited and hugely happy, I started an in-depth research on the artist’s auction value immediately. It was time to educate myself in this new sculptor after the discovery of the Thomopoulos sculptures seventeen years ago in 1986. The results of my research were very encouraging. Coulentianos was selling well in France, was well respected in Greece and was collected by prominent collectors and investors.
More than that, I realised that, even after twenty years in the art trade and a lot of experience behind me, I was still a learner, an avid learner.
Never undersell your property even when the offer is 500% profit
I got used to the Mother and Child sculpture and loved having it on my working table. It was an inspiration and a tribute to motherhood. Mothers and babies, mothers and fathers are always very close to us but more so the older we get. The sculpture was a tribute to mother in my eyes and it filled me with gratitude to my mother and my parents.
In early 2003 I had a friend visiting me on a different business issue. He was impressed by the sculpture, which he recognised immediately as a Coulentianos. He made me an offer of £2000, which I rejected straight away. I quoted three thousand as a friendly price, but he did not show any interest at that price range.
Do not get me wrong. Two thousand pounds was a magnificent offer for a £400 purchase, but by that time I knew pretty well that Coulentianos was worth at least five thousand pounds and possibly more. Thus, as a unique and valuable piece, I could not sell it at that good offer, even though it had cost me much less.
Later that year in early August 2003, I made the decision to enter the sculpture in The Greek sale at Sotheby’s, London with an enticing estimate of £2-3000. I never asked or argued for a higher estimate because I was absolutely convinced it would sell far better. A low estimate usually attracts bargain hunters, who might end up paying above the odds because of auction fever and the adrenalin flow of a few split seconds. I wanted a bidding battle for the piece as I could afford to create that situation. It was a calculated gamble I hoped would pay off.
Sotheby’s published lavish catalogues for their Greek sales at that time and that of the Greek sale of November 2003 was no exception. The image of the sculpture, illustrated on a whole page, was impressive. Although not much information was given about it, the quality of the piece was evident. I expected a good sale and anything close to £3000 would have justified my refusal to sell for £2000 eight months earlier. However, being the greedy investor I was, I hoped for a sum close to £5000.
In 2003 I was a full-time employee as well as a full-time art investor. I had no difficulty in doing two jobs at the same time, but that meant I was unable to be present at the auction. At about 1.00 pm and just before going back into class, I made the call to find out the result. Did my small gamble pay off or was I to be disappointed? I was relaxed and confident but nervous too. What a kaleidoscope of emotions! Experience of twenty years had taught me to expect anything, but the benchmark was clear-cut too in Coulentianos’ case.
“Lot 111 of the Greek sale, how much did it go for please?”
“It sold for £7,500, sir.”
It was clear, loud and clear. I hung up, sat down in the classroom, feeling completely drained and almost in shock. That was too good to believe. It was too good after the great results of the Thon and Lanza sales in 2002. I had doubts, I could not believe it and so I had to make sure that I heard well and they heard well the lot number I was inquiring about.
A few minutes later I made a second call and confirmed the result. Coulentianos had sold for £7500 and I had paid, like a stingy miser, the miserly sum of only £400. Was that really a return of 1700% over a year? Yes it was; about £6500 pounds profit after expenses. I looked up skywards thanking my heavenly protectors. Once again my instincts and experience were right; the small outlay had returned me another substantial sum. This sum was to help me invest in more Greek art in preparation for the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Was that a stroke of luck or knowledge? Making the time to visit the auction on that Sunday, yes Sunday, and asking the expert the right questions had proved extremely rewarding. The successful investment proved once again that we stand to make excellent money if we:
· Visit auctions, ask questions and find out more about the items we are interested in, there and then. Nothing to lose, but on the contrary much to gain.
· No bid is too low. Nobody knows what might happen in an auction!
· Never undersell property regardless of how much it cost to purchase. We might never be able to buy a similar piece ever again.
· Have faith in the markets we are concentrating on and they should reward us time and again.
The few investments I have mentioned here reflect the opportunities one might have when visiting small auctions. The purchases I made at these small auctions and their subsequent sales at major ones were extraordinary. Any profits in the thousands of pounds and at 500-1000% I consider miraculous.
Opportunities at small auctions always exist. They are waiting for investors to grab them and make the most of them. The advice to all readers is to go out and try to find that piece of art that will make the difference in your year, in your life.