How to Read Auction Records
(a little knowledge is a dangerous thing)
Many collectors believe all they have to do is “google” some auction records and they can find out what their similar painting or print is worth.
Deciphering auction records is extremely difficult and takes many years of experience.
The auction houses list title, medium and size, but nothing else. There is a great deal of important information you need, to be able to compare your “apple” with their “apple”.
(1) What was the condition of the auction item? Restored, dirty, cut down, damaged or better than yours. A portrait of a restored face is not worth much.
(2) Was the auction item authentic and accompanied by a formal appraisal? Was it even signed? Was the signature real?
(3) Was this an example from the artist’s best period or their worst? Were the colors faded or better than yours?
(4) Was their subject more desirable? A painting of a beautiful young girl sells better than a portrait of an ugly old woman. Both will be listed as “Portrait of Lady”.
(5) Did the auction item have a distinguished museum exhibition record, while yours is unknown to art historians?
(6) Did the auction item formerly belong to a famous collector? Jackie Kennedy’s paintings brought over 4 times what they were worth if they had been owned by a nobody. The auction records do not show this.
(7) Was the auction record a “fluke”, a result of two overly enthusiastic bidders trying to out-do each other?
(8) Was the extenuating circumstances not reflected in the price realized? (There were several auctions in New York City on 9/11.)
(9) Do all experts agree the painting is real or just some? There are several Rembrandt etchings not recognized in all the reference books.
(10) Is yours illustrated in the definitive catalog of the artists work or completely unknown? Buyers don’t like unknown works.
To think auction records are a “blue book” of values is wrong!
An expert appraiser makes a graph of prices realized on similar items and charts on medium average price and carefully studies these going up or down. They then factor out or in the ten variables mentioned to a weighted scale based on their personal previous computer models.
An experienced appraiser doesn’t pull values “out of the air” based on gut feelings. He carefully calculates a value based on solid evidence and historical research.
The more experience an expert has the more accurate their values. The Chicago Appraisers Association has been doing such valuations for over 40 years. Isn’t this the kind of background you want for your appraiser?