Insurance, A Necessary Evil and Ally!

Insurance Saves My Bacon

The hanging of the exhibition was going brilliantly and fast in May 1992. One after the other the paintings hang up beautifully and then.

Bang and boom came down a heavy landscape in an ornate frame.

I turned round from the ladder I was hanging another painting to see…

It was a disaster zone where the heavy framed painting coming down crashing. Exactly underneath it was a beautiful abstract, alabaster sculpture of a good Swiss artist. It lay in ruins broken into four, five pieces. The 80 cm high alabaster was indeed beautiful and the £1200 price tack to is was very conservative. Gone and broken was my misfortune.

I thought it was, until I reported the event to the owner of the gallery I was holding my exhibition in. He was not worried. We will claim it from the insurance he stated matter of fact. A few weeks later I collected the insurance money and forgot the whole issue until now, I am writing about it.

If that was the only case of needing insurance? Let me assure you it was not. We might feel a little aggrieved when paying 1.5 % insurance when selling at auction but there is a guarantee in case things go wrong for one reason or another.

What other wrong things might happen?

Read my next part tomorrow. Plenty of things might go wrong and thus Insurance is a must!!

Stolen! What do you mean stolen?

I have not spoken about Christie’s South Kensington, London extensively yet because most of the paintings I had bought there up to 1988 were either too insignificant or unprofitable enough to mention. I started frequenting this auction as early as 1984 and made many purchases, albeit nothing spectacular up to this point of my story. However, the following story is unique and needs to be narrated because several lessons can be learned.

Otto Gebler

(German, [1838-1917] A well-respected and collected artist in Germany and elsewhere who painted animal scenes with sheep and cows. Auction price range £3000- 60,000)

17th March 1988, Christie’s S. Kensington – 8th April 1988, Dr Nagel, Cologne, Germany

The work by Otto Gebler had been offered for sale at Christie’s, King Street main saleroom a few months earlier but remained unsold with an estimate of £6-8000. I attributed that failure to post stock exchanges effects. The painting was then brought over to South Kensington, where it failed to sell again with an estimate of £2-3000. That was very strange because Gebler was an artist with very good auction sales in Germany and elsewhere.

Soon after in March 1988 that same Gebler appeared for sale a third time at Christie’s. Was it third time lucky? Yes, it was! I was the lucky buyer at a cost of £1000! It was a fine oil painting on panel, which on a good day in Germany could sell for £5000. Admittedly it was small, but it had what was required; a well painted, popular subject and in very good condition.

No sooner had I bought the minute oil painting than I shipped it to Nagel Auctions in Cologne. No procrastinating, no difficulties and no headaches at all. Sending it via the Post Office for a few pounds was easy as the painting was in total 30x20cm, including the flimsy, old frame. The consignment documents were sent and all paperwork was in place. The agreement was £3,000-5000 estimate with a reserve of £3,000 to be sold in April 1988. This was efficient, quick trading.

It was the second week of April, but no catalogue had arrived yet. This was not the usual German efficiency! Nearly all auctions have their catalogues ready two to three weeks before the relevant sale and consignors receive a copy together with a confirmation of their property for sale including estimate and reserve. By the third week I was seriously worried! Where was my catalogue from Nagel of Cologne? I waited and waited in vain. Worried, frustrated and puzzled by the event, I decided to phone the auction. The telephonist / receptionist had no idea who I was and there was no Gebler of my description in the sale! My worry increased tenfold, by which time I was passed on to one of the senior directors. That alerted me to a serious problem, but what was it?

“I am Peter Constant, sir. I cannot get a satisfactory answer to my problem. Can you please help me?”

“Mr Constant, I am afraid I have some bad news for you.”

“What bad news?”

“Your painting was stolen from our gallery!”

“What do you mean stolen? Where is my painting? What happened?”

“Please, do not panic,” the manager reassured me calmly. “Your painting was insured for £3000, at the reserve you set, and that you will get within the next month. Mr Constant, your property was a small painting. Two robbers rushed into the gallery and took your painting and a small carpet. We chased them for some distance and we got the rug back but not the painting. It was so small and light that they got away with it. I am so sorry to disappoint you!” He was genuinely apologetic.

“Yes, yes, I see,” I mumbled. But, I was happy and relieved! The insurance sum was plenty enough for me! I thanked him for the information, but I was not sorry for the theft. I was so relieved they would pay me at the reserve, a handsome profit on my investment in less than three months. I put the phone down and sighed with relief. Thank God it was stolen! No worries about it being sold or not! Life teaches us many lessons daily and this was a lesson I took on board even more seriously after that event.

· Unsold art should be respected.

· Have a reserve on your consignments.

· Insure your property for peace of mind with the auctioneers’ insurance or your own.

· Have peace of mind by insuring your valuable art, even though it is an expensive policy.

All auctions of mention insure anything consigned to them for fire, damage, theft etc. This is a necessary expense passed on to sellers although in many cases resented by them. The proceeds from the insurance came in by the end of May and the bank account was bulging in the thousands. For the first time since late 1986 my bank account was looking healthy, and that after a major financial disaster. My stock was substantial, but I still lacked that one important major item. Would I find it and bare the account to the bone?

Finishing my blog today I can only add with certainty.

Insurance is a must in order to avoid tears and losses!

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