OK, let’s get our cards on the table right away:
we’re dealers, and we think that in most cases, you will do much better
buying from a dealer than at auction. Our objections to buying at auction
are based on the simply fact that, by their nature, many auction practices
work against a buyer’s interests. We believe that, from a buyer’s
perspective, dealers trade more fairly than auctioneers.
In the last couple of months Business Week has started
to poke its nose into our business, particularly the fine art end of it.
This is bad news for all of us.
But first some facts. Investment bankers are poised to
move into the art market in a big way. Ariel Salama, the Global Head of
Private Banks at ABN-AMRO, predicted in April that $30 billion of private
equity would move into art funds in the next ten years. Three billion a
year? Is there really that much art sold each year? And if there is, how
much will be left over for public museums and collectors after the three
billion-worth has been sucked up into the investment machine? Business Week
tells me that there are plans to launch six new art investment funds in
the first half of 2005.
I’ve just finished reading “The Art of the
Steal,” Christopher Mason’s account of the Christie’s-Sotheby’s
price-fixing scandal that resulted in jail terms and multi-million dollar
fines. Underneath its fascinating story of greed and machinations at the
top of the art and antiques market lurks a subplot that I, at least, had
not picked up in reading the press accounts of the trials. Behind the collusion
lay an explicit and strategic attempt to squeeze dealers out of the top
of the market. The Christoby’s collusion was, in part at least, an
alliance of auctioneers against dealers.
So Eldred’s, a well-established, honorable, and honest
firm of auctioneers is facing a law suit for doing business as usual. The
story, in case you haven’t heard it, goes like this.
With the stock market behaving like a bear
on a bungee cord, it seems a good moment to revisit that old, old question
-- are antiques a good investment?
Every year since 1968, the Antique Collectors'
Club in England has published an index of the selling prices of good, mid-range
antique furniture known as the Antique Furniture Price Index (AFPI). The
index of prices in 2001 has just come out. We thought you'd be interested
in its main findings.