The Artful Collector: Collecting Strategies Part 2 “Whatever It Takes”

Rich men (I am going to fall back on the male gender because most of the collectors in the field of illustration art and books are male) don’t let scarcity stop them from getting what they want.  That’s what money is for. Put another way: When they see “sold” signs on paintings in my catalogs, or I tell them “sorry, this one sold last week” what they are thinking is “ok, fine.  I’ll just offer the owner double the price he paid, and it will be mine.”

How can you tell if your collecting strategies are like those of a “rich man”?

Do the words “PRY IT LOOSE” hold any meaning for you?

At the farthest extreme, perhaps….Rich Men think nothing of approaching the winner of an auction item immediately after auction close . . . even before the new owner has taken possession of a piece . . . with an offer substantially higher than the winning bid. We were once approached by another collector, in just this way, immediately following our winning bid for the lovely “Mausoleum” bodysuit pictured here (Guernsey’s auction, “The Ackerman Sale” 1987).  Sidenote:  we weren’t interested in parting with her so soon!

The hunt is everything, and money is ammunition. Even very rich men, however, cannot always negotiate their way to owning what it already in the hands of another rich man. Or, let’s say, one who has no need for more money, but who (like the “Rich Man”) takes delight in the ownership of rare and beautiful objects. 🙂

Bodysuit worn by actress Bobbie Bresee in the 1983 film "Mausoleum"
Bodysuit worn by actress Bobbie Bresee in the 1983 film “Mausoleum”

All it takes is for an owner to say “no”.  But you may be surprised to learn how difficult, and how rare saying “no” can be. Because, surprisingly often, those tactics work.

Put on the spot, and with the promise of profits, an owner’s comfort in these situations is typically viewed as their problem, not yours (the hunter).   Because while of course it’s desirable for the seller to be comfortable in selling – for most buyers it’s not a requirement – It’s just a means to an end.  That’s why so few collectors will refuse to deal with people they dislike, for example. Push come to shove they will deal with any scoundrel, so long as he’s got the goods.

I’m actually a rarity among dealers because I have turned clients away, refused to do business with them, if I don’t like their motives.   As a private dealer I get to choose who I do business with, and I don’t need the money that badly.  But very few people are like me.  They’ll take anyone’s “green.”  Didn’t you ever wonder how and why stolen goods and rarities dug up by huaqueros in Peru get in the hands of ordinarily honest people in Los Angeles?  They didn’t set out to deal with crooks.  In fact, they’ll tell you they don’t want to deal with crooks.  They just want the statue, dagnabit.  And it just happens to be, currently, in the hands of a crook.  That’s why the most commonly encountered response when I say “seller is reticent, exotic, difficult”  is not “oh, well then let’s just wait until he’s ready” but rather “what will it take?”  😉

What I want to hear is patience.  What I usually hear is “tell him I’m a really nice guy. Tell him I’ll give it a good home. Sweet talk him.  Tell him anything you like.  Just get him to sell it to me (sell it to me for $x).  Just pry the damned thing loose, and then sit on it until I can scrape the money together…I’ll make it worth your while.”  And if the buyer has a bit more experience there are little added touches, instructions like “better get the thing out of NY as soon as you can, use any pretext you like…” or “get your hands on it for me so no one else can….so it’s safe…so you can tell me if I’m crazy or not, for paying this much for it”

Well, I can’t ever do that….tell a collector they’re crazy.  Because this is all craziness, in one way or another.  Who am I to judge a person’s passion?  I’m a faciliator.  Not your conscience.  Plus, I’ve indulged in my own craziness from time to time….what collector hasn’t?

If you are ready to make an offer that you think would get an owner’s attention, feel free to make it.  Preceded of course, with whispered words of endearment.  Just be prepared for “no.” Because these dealings are sensitive, and you must proceed with caution, and calculation.  Like taming a skittish horse, or catching a trout with a colorful lure….there are techniques, moves, methods that must be tailored to the potential seller.  And you may only get one chance at it.

I realize the above may seem ruthless, callous, imperious, etc etc.  What can I say?  If a market reaches a point where the number of scarce and rare objets d’arte are already in private collections, or public institutions, and the number of great works are not coming to market frequently enough to satisfy one’s urge to “collect,” what can you do but throw money at it? Great pieces may still turn up from time to time, but what if you’re not willing to wait?  And you know where they are located and who owns them?  You can wait for auctions to bring those pieces to market, but then the pent-up demand can result in a feeding frenzy, with rare items fetching explosively high prices – even higher than you would pay to ‘pry them loose.”

Are there other ways to deal with the problem of scarcity, rarity and supply for some collectibles?  Oh, yes!  And you don’t have to be rich . . . Just tune in for my next blog!

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1 Comment

  1. For some strange reason, this post made me think of that lovely movie. "How to Steal a Million", with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole…. 😀

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