The Artful Collector: REAL Questions and Answers from a Dealer’s Archive – Just One Example

Customer’s query [verbatim question and answer, by email 2008]:


Do you feel the piece that I just purchased was well worth the price? I am asking because I am getting this for a gift and just wanted to get an opinion. Looks great and the artist is very collectable.

My response:

You know, of course, that kind of question is one that puts any art dealer in a “conflict of interest” position. What should I say, “no, the piece is really worth only $50, so you overpaid?”  🙁  But you asked for my opinion, so I’m going to give it to you.  The short answer is “you can rest easy” – but the reasons I would say that take longer to explain, are very important for you to understand – and come from more than 35 years of collecting and 18 years of selling, this kind of art.  So I hope you’ll accept them in that light.

1.  One of a kind artworks and “collectibles” are very difficult to give as gifts – but when they are successful as gifts, the pleasure they bring easily can surpass anything you might have bought in a store.

Feel free to fill this empty picture frame with any original work by any Pre-Raphaelite painter.  Or, I could slip you my little short list of "faves"  and you could surprise me with your choice.
For my next birthday, feel free to fill this empty picture frame with any original work by any surrealist or Pre-Raphaelite painter. I promise not to trade it for a sweater.

The difficulties, as you’re probably aware, start with the recipient not being able to take it back to the store and exchange it for a sweater.  🙂 If you are giving art to a seasoned collector, with already well-established tastes, you run the risk that they will not share your tastes.  It’s like giving perfume to a woman, very hard to know how the scent will interact with her body; could end up smelling like soap.  If you are giving art to an amateur, neophyte collector, they may not appreciate what they are looking at, be “clueless” as to its beauty or artistic worth. The best outcomes, in my experience, are when the art would have special meaning to the person getting it, and when they never would have been able to (or would have thought to) acquire it on their own.   For that reason, any unique gift is “worth the price.” 

2. One of a kind artworks – by definition – do not (strictly speaking) have “comparables” – hence when buying them directly or indirectly (as through me) from the creator, and giving them as gifts, you need not fear being judged by how much (or how little) you’ve spent. Practically speaking, it has only the value it can command on any one day, based on a “willing buyer” and “willing seller” who come to mutually acceptable terms. On some other day, it might have sold for more, or less. The closest you’ll come to “comparables” is others “like it” but never exactly the same, and “similar” has little influence on the value you or the recipient of the gift have placed on it.  To them, it may very well be “priceless”.  Or something fit for their next garage sale. (!)  For that reason, what you paid is immaterial.  

If this is what the recipient will be thinking about, you're better off with a gift card
If this is what the recipient will be thinking about, you’re better off with a gift card

3. That’s right, It doesn’t matter what you paid for any gift you give to someone.   If you are getting something as a gift for someone else, something that you know they will enjoy, the “market value” of the gift is irrelevant.  If it does matter, you may want to re-think your gift-giving motives.  Especially if you are spending money on gifts you can’t afford.  Perhaps needless to say,  if the person receiving the gift will not appreciate or recognize the time or money you’ve spent, without you having to tell them, or them looking it up on eBay, that’s another reason for re-examining your gifting plans.

4.  There are no “sure things” when it comes to art.  It is not an investment.  Having said that, anything having to do with TSR™, D&D™, the Grandaddy of RPGs (role-playing games), will likely remain of value to those who grew up with that cultural icon.   It’s like the Lone Ranger to those who grew up in the 50s.  Moreover, it’s a global phenomenon.  Everyone knows about D&D™….whether they know the name xxxx xxxxxx  or not.  So you really can’t go wrong on something like this. . . it’s too recognizable.

5. At the same time, it’s also too minor to worry about.  Because, put another way, in the scheme of things, $200. is worth a few drinks, 2 dinners at a good restaurant, with a babysitter for the kids, in any big city.  It’s two rounds of golf.  It barely pays for one tiny 4th rate hotel room in New York.  It’s two hours at a spa.   It’s two gas tank fill-ups for your SUV.  It’s the price of a decent pair of shoes, which have no value after you’ve put them on your feet, eBay notwithstanding.  It is the price of a so-called “limited edition” print from Greenwich Workshop, an edition “limited” to maybe 2500, which cost them all of $2 each to produce, and $100. to advertise and market.  And which can’t be sold on the secondary market.  It is, therefore, considered bupkis to spend on “original art.”  It is a throw-away purchase, an “investment” (if you must call it that) of little consequence, an impulse buy for a Sunday afternoon at a crafts festival.   If you are not considering your $200. gift in that light, you should be spending $20. and banking the remainder.

In other words, and putting it succinctly, you are asking the wrong questions, and worrying about the wrong things.  Even if this is “highly collectible” and doubles in price (hurrah!) on the next go-round . . . what, you’ll end up with art now worth dinner for four????   Get a grip.  This is fun art, yes, and well-painted for the price, by a known artist, and well worth what you paid for it . . .  as close as you can get to a “sure thing” in terms of it always being worth MORE than any stupid Greenwich print . . . but Heritage Auction Galleries are not going to be begging you for a chance at putting it into their next illustration auction any time soon.   Maybe in ten years, if they can also get your St. John’s at the same time.  haha.

regards, Jane


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