eBay Authenticate

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Fellow appraiser Kathi Jablonsky, ISA CAPP sent me an article from the Antique Trader on a new eBay program to boost confidence and credibility when bidding on high dollar items. The program is to start later this year with designer fashions. I would assume if successful it will be expanding into other categories. Click HERE to visit the eBay Authenticate page.

The Antique Trader article is skeptical of how the program will work and there certainly seems like there could be numerous issues and concerns over the authentication process.

The Antique Trader reports
EBay is about to jump into the quagmire of product authentication. A few weeks ago eBay announced the roll-out of their eBay AuthenticateTM program. The idea, they say, is to “boost consumer confidence, especially for higher-end transactions.” The program is set to begin later this year (2017). The proposed eBay authentication (eBay Authenticate) is a three-step process:

eBay AuthenticateTM Steps

• Sellers or buyers opt-in to the program (for a fee, of course)
— When an item is sold, it is shipped to a third-party “expert” for authentication
• If the item is determined to be authentic, it is shipped to the buyer. If the buyer subsequently determines that the item is not authentic, they can return it and receive a refund of twice the purchase price.

For now, eBay Authenticate seems to be focused on designer fashion accessories. But, celebrity collectibles, autographs, and other memorabilia are achieving record prices at auction.

Authentication services for many of these items already exist. Will eBay attempt to roll these into the program as well?

As you can imagine, eBay sellers aren’t thrilled about the new program. Some have even claimed that it will create a higher level of fraud than now exists.

Said one eBay seller: “I see thousands of obvious fakes listed every day, many of them higher value items. If I can now buy those and get twice the money back, I should be able to make a good 6- or 7-figure income each year.”

I’ve read reader comments on this program across a half-dozen websites. Often-repeated seller concerns about eBay Authenticate include:

What About….What If….

— How are the “experts” chosen?

• Will there be enough authenticators for the size of the market?

question_mark— Will there be shipping delays due to slow processing by authenticators?

• Many sellers are themselves experts in the products they sell; how are disagreements between seller and authenticator handled?

— What if an item is damaged due to poor packaging by an authenticator?

Perhaps eBay will address these issues before the eBay Authenticate program rolls out.

New Program, Familiar Situation

We know that eBay has a credibility problem; it always has. They have struggled to overcome this issue for the past twenty years. The website The Counterfeit Report [http://bit.ly/2lcWBAb] claims to have received over 2,000 counterfeit products from eBay sellers representing over 400,000 eBay listings. Counterfeits weren’t limited to designer fashions; fakes included auto parts, iPhone chargers, over-the-counter drugs, electronics, sporting goods, children’s toys, and fragrances. Some of these items were deemed to be dangerous.

The essential flaw is, of course, the trustworthiness of the buyers and sellers themselves. Let’s face it: Fraud is rampant. It’s rampant not just on eBay, but everywhere. In 2015, the U.S. Customs Service confiscated $19.5 million in fake NFL merchandise. In November 2016, four persons were arrested for selling $1.5 million in fake designer handbags and jewelry from their homes and beauty salons.

These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.

Seriousness of Scam Scenarios

An Arlington, Virginia, preschool teacher was recently sentenced to thirty-three months in prison for perpetrating the same scam that strikes fear into the hearts of eBay sellers: buying a genuine item and returning a fake for a refund. The Arlington woman had designer handbag knock-offs made for her in China and Hong Kong. She bought genuine bags at Neiman Marcus and TJ Maxx in twelve states, using sixteen different credit cards, and then returned the fake handbags to the stores for a refund. The real ones she sold on Instagram and eBay. The scam cost the retailers more than $400,000.

And eBay proposes to give fraudsters double their money back? No wonder sellers are concerned. For crooks, eBay Authenticate could be a license to steal.

What gives me pause is the skill level of the authenticators. Even when objective analysis standards are applied, well-meaning authenticators (and sellers) may disagree. The owner of a well-known collectibles auction house recently said to me: “The entire authentication business is a scam.” Is eBay offering a scam as a solution to scams?

In an article in the Miami New Times on autograph fakery, writer Jake Rossen makes the point:

“… independent experts…all have the same problem: They sometimes get it wrong. While the specialists say their services have cleaned up an industry rife with fraud, critics say their ‘expert authentication’ is little more than pseudoscience used to generate millions in profits at collectors’ expense”

More Concerns and Questions

Unfortunately, consumers don’t know any of this. For the most part they think that the opinions of “experts” cannot be disputed, just as they think that an object’s value is inherent and appraisers will always reach the same value conclusion.


There will be eBay buyers who won’t buy without “authentication” and sellers who won’t opt-in to the program. Other sellers may feel obligated to participate in eBay AuthenticateTM  fearing that they will lose sales if they don’t.

Me? Not in a million years. I already offer a no-questions-asked refund on my eBay sales. I’ll never agree to give someone double-their-money-back. Let them buy somewhere else.

In My Opinion…

eBay Authenticate is an honorable effort, and I applaud eBay for their attempt to improve their credibility. But, this program will go the way of so many other eBay “improvements.”

Are these programs inherently bad? Is eBay simply a flawed platform? No, not at all. The core issue is that some people are just crooks. Crooks are out to make a fast buck, and they don’t care who gets hurt in the process.

Reputable sellers want to make money as well, but not at the expense of their reputation.

Ultimately, online transactions are between a buyer and a seller. They should communicate with one another, just as they would in an offline transaction. EBay and PayPal do the best they can to police a colossal marketplace. Most transactions go smoothly; but some don’t (just like with offline transactions).

We’ve all heard phrase caveat emptor (buyer beware). More appropriate to the eBay AuthenticateTM program is still another Latin phrase: caveat venditor (seller beware).
Source: Antique Trader


Layoffs at Paddle8

About a month ago I posted on the insolvency of auction platform Auctionata and the spin-off from Auctionata of Paddle8 (click HERE for the post).  New investors in Paddle8 are currently anonymous, but the new ownership direction is having an impact on employees at Paddle8 with artnet news reporting that 25 employees have been let go in a restructuring.

artnet news reports
Welcome to the new normal at Paddle8.

Following news of an anonymous new investor in a January announcement, artnet News has learned that 25 employees at the online auction house have been let go, including Anna Hygelund, head of postwar and contemporary art.

It’s just the latest round of layoffs to take place at the company, which launched in 2011.

The anonymous investment allowed the company to back out of a May 2016 merger with Auctionata, which inside sources described as an acquisition by the larger, German firm. The combined company named Thomas Hesse its new CEO in September; two months later, Auctionata co-founder and former CEO Alexander Zacke left the company. In January 2017, Auctionata filed for insolvency, accompanied by the announcement of Paddle8’s buyback.

Paddle8 was founded by the Phillips veteran Alexander Gilkes, startup maestro Aditya Julka, and merger and acquisition specialist Osman Khan. In three rounds of fundraising in its early days, Paddle8 raised $44 million from 13 investors, including boldface names like British artist Damien Hirst, London dealer Jay Jopling, Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos, and New York/London dealer David Zwirner.

The consolidation of the two companies followed close on the heels of the demise of another online auctioneer, ArtList, which folded in July 2016 after two years. (artnet has operated its own online auction business since 2008.)

“There has been a new round of layoffs as part of the streamlining process taking place since we separated from Auctionata,” a press representative for Paddle8 said in a phone interview. “We will reveal more details about the deal soon.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Leslie Edwards, director of client development and client services, was let go. According to a press representative at the company, she left prior to the layoffs.
Source: artnet news 


Art Market Crime

The NY Times posted an article on the lack of transparency in the art market and relates it to art crime and money laundering due to the amount of dollars involved in many transactions.

I have only posted part of the article, to read the full article follow the source link below.

The NY Times reports
When you sell your home the paperwork details the sale, including your name, and the title search lists the names of the people who owned the property before you. But when someone sells an artwork at auction — even something worth $100 million, much more than your house — the identity is typically concealed.

Oh, the paperwork might identify the work as coming from “a European collection.” But the buyer usually has no clue with whom he or she is really dealing. Sometimes, surprisingly, even the auction house may not know who the seller is.

Secrecy has long been central to the art world. Anonymity protects privacy, adds mystique and cuts the taint of crass commerce from such transactions. But some experts are now saying this sort of discretion — one founded in a simpler time, when only a few wealthy collectors took part in the art market — is not only quaint but also reckless when art is traded like a commodity and increasingly suspected in money laundering.

“The art market is an ideal playing ground for money laundering,” said Thomas Christ, a board member of the Basel Institute on Governance, a Swiss nonprofit that has studied the issue. “We have to ask for clear transparency, where you got the money from and where it is going.”

The debate about anonymity in the art world has intensified over the past year, fed in part by the release of the so-called Panama Papers, which detailed the use of corporate veils to conceal ownership, dodge taxes and enable crime, its authors say. Now various expert groups, like the Basel Institute, are coming forward with ways for dealers and auction houses to curb secrecy and combat money laundering. In a significant change, Christie’s said last week it has strengthened its policy in recent months and now requires agents looking to sell a work through the auction house to tell it the name of the owner they represent.

“Where it has concerns, Christie’s declines the transaction,” the company said in a statement.

The stakes have risen alongside the soaring value of art, with an estimated $63.8 billion worth of sales in 2015.

In one current money-laundering case, United States authorities have accused Malaysian officials and associates in a civil complaint of converting billions of dollars of embezzled public funds into investments like real estate and art. Masterworks by Basquiat, Rothko, Van Gogh and others were purchased, many at Christie’s, according to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors. Later, a Cayman Island company owned by one of the accused launderers took out a $107 million loan from Sotheby’s in 2014 using some of those artworks as collateral, authorities say.

Another recent dispute seems to reveal that auction houses themselves do not always know whose art they are selling. In this instance a collector has accused Sotheby’s of selling his $16 million painting by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec without knowing who actually owned it.

The Toulouse-Lautrec work, “Au Lit: Le Baiser,” consigned for sale at Sotheby’s in London in 2015, depicts two women embracing on a bed. The Swiss dealer who brought the work to Sotheby’s, Yves Bouvier, signed the standard paperwork surrounding such a sale, which requires the consignor to indicate he or she either owns the painting or is authorized to sell it. After the sale, he was given the proceeds.

But the real owner was a trust controlled by Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire who had been using Mr. Bouvier as his art adviser. Mr. Rybolovlev agrees he had authorized the sale but says Sotheby’s should have checked who the real owner was before turning over the money.

“It is extraordinary that such a rare and high-value work could have been sold at auction without the auction house knowing the identity of the true owner,” Tetiana Bersheda, a lawyer for the Rybolovlev family office, said in a statement.

Actually, experts said, it’s not that rare. “Do auction houses know who the principal is?” asked Amelia K. Brankov, a lawyer who specializes in the art market. “I don’t think they always do.”

Mr. Rybolovlev, who himself has used offshore shell companies that obscured his ownership of art, is now engaged in a sprawling legal battle in several courts with Mr. Bouvier, over matters that include the money from the Sotheby’s sale.

(Mr. Bouvier, who is also a leader in the international art storage business, said he has not turned over the money because, he said, Mr. Rybolovlev had told him to keep it to partially settle a debt from another transaction.)

Sotheby’s declined to comment on whether it believed Mr. Bouvier to be the owner. But it says it knew him very well as a customer and that he had represented to them that he had the legal right to sell the property. As to its policy of learning the identity of ultimate owners, Sotheby’s said it takes a risk-based approach — sometimes requiring disclosure depending on the specific facts and circumstances of each situation.

Auction houses live off the fees they earn for brokering sales, so it makes sense that auction houses would both value and trust customers who bring in a lot of business like Mr. Bouvier, who bought hundreds of millions of dollars of art at sales. 
Source: The NY Times 


Guarantees, Loans and Advance Arrangements for London Sales

The Financial Times has a short, but interesting post on an art investment firm which has obtained a $100 million credit line to advance immediate payment against auction house guarantees. So in addition to advances, sellers can also get immediate cash advances against the guarantee.

The Financial Times reports
As the London art market prepares for its auction season (beginning February 28), the spotlight is on the guarantees used to encourage wary sellers. To add to the suite of financial incentives, the art investment firm Willstone Capital has obtained a $100m credit line from the New York hedge fund Allegiance Investment Advisors, and two other investors, to include advancing immediate cash against an auction-house guarantee. Olyvia Kwok, a dealer and the founder of Willstone Capital, says that this overcomes an average two-month wait for funds after work sells. Her firm’s fees begin at 1 per cent a month, for a minimum of six months, and there is also potential to take a cut of any price achieved above the guarantee level.

Loan and advance arrangements can also be made through the auctioneers directly, as well as through other niche firms. These add to a growing trend for owners to shift their risk. This month, Sotheby’s revealed that it would be selling Klimt’s “Bauerngarten” (1907, estimated at about £35m) as the star lot of its high-stakes Impressionist & Modern art auction on March 1. Catalogue symbols show that this carries an irrevocable bid — a form of guarantee that means a third-party has promised to buy the work — and that Sotheby’s has an (unspecified) ownership interest in the work.

Guarantees are limited to a handful of blue-chip works and are not particularly liked by the market, not least because the exact structure, costs and beneficiaries are kept under wraps, plus they arguably distort true demand. But they are not surprisingly popular with sellers who are prepared to exchange some of their possible upside for the ability to secure cash from an illiquid asset. Whether or not works of fine art, rather resistant to rational investment strategies, can absorb such pass-the-parcel products remains to be seen.
Source: The Financial Times 


Impressing Collectors

The Huffington Post has an interesting article on what current artist can do to make a strong impression to collectors, beyond the quality of the work. Although not appraisal specific, it might be of assistance when appraising and coming to terms on current regional gallery offered art.

The Huffington Post reports
There are ways in which meeting a new collector is similar to applying for a job: An artist wants to show expertise and an agreeable personality; presumably, the artwork itself would reflect competence and achievement, but it is not uncommon to indicate that, like a job reference, others have regarded the artist’s work highly as well. This is the reason that clippings of past reviews or feature articles are put out for visitors to an exhibition to peruse. It may not even matter whether or not the write-up is favorable, just that the artist’s work has drawn the attention of a publication that saw some previous exhibit as important enough to publish a review, although as a practical matter most reviews in all but a tiny number of periodicals are quite positive.

Beyond reviews, artists may wonder what else a visitor wants to know, what might add to their prestige. Perhaps, having received an art degree (Bachelor’s of Fine Arts, Masters of Fine Arts) from some noted art school or university art program might seem significant, although it is not clear how important this information is to prospective collectors (potential employers might be interested in whether someone graduated from college) and, besides, so many other artists have the same degrees. Having studied with a particularly renowned artist may have greater standing with collectors.

Signature Letters?
An artist’s prestige may also be suggested through the use of “signature letters” at the end of the artist’s name. A form of nonacademic credentialing, these letters that follow artists’ names refer to the membership society to which they belong. Both the American Watercolor Society and National Watercolor Society divide their members into two levels. The National Watercolor Society has both associates and signature members—the first group may join without jurying, the second requiring acceptance into the society’s annual exhibition and then an additional jurying of three more paintings—while the American Watercolor Society has sustaining associates and active members. At the highest levels, members are permitted to include AWS or NWS after their names for professional purposes. The National Academy of Design also has two levels of membership, both of which include signature privileges: The first is an associate member (ANA), who is proposed by a current associate and approved in an election by at least 60 percent of the entire associate membership; the second is an academician (NA), who is chosen from the associates and elected by 60 percent of the academicians. Unlike the national watercolor societies, no jurying of individual works of art or acceptance into past or current annual exhibitions is part of the entry process.

Signature letters have no specific value. To be a signature member of the Florida Watercolor Society, allowed to use the society’s initials (FWS) after his or her name, for example, one must have been accepted into three of the society’s juried exhibits. There are two other levels of membership to the Florida Watercolor Society that do not permit the use of signature letters: The first is associate membership, which can be anyone who is a Florida resident and pays the membership fee, and the second is participating membership, enabling one to vote for officers, policies, and venues for the society’s annual juried exhibition, and these artists must have had one painting in a juried show. Other societies, on the other hand, allow anyone who pays the annual dues become a member and use the group’s signature letters.

Prizes and Awards?
In another quest for professional standing, some artists choose to list on the biographical pages they offer visitors to their exhibitions or studios the prizes and awards they have won. All of these visual arts awards and prizes have far less value to the artist than an Oscar or Tony. It is not uncommon that someone is described as an “award-winning artist” without ever noting which award(s) the artist has won. That may be just as well, as few people would have heard of the particular award anyway. Receiving a Grumbacher medal does not assure a visual artist that a line of patrons will appear at his or her door the next day, or that the artist will appear on the cover of People magazine or be ranked among the top artists of one’s time. In fact, the most lionized and successful artists, whose works are featured in museum retrospectives or whose faces adorn the covers of ARTnews or Art in America are unlikely to ever enter the competitions that offer prizes and awards. It was not even much of an event, for instance, when a Jasper Johns won the top prize at the 1988 Venice Biennial, as his standing in the art world was already greater than that of the award.
Still, thousands of artists compete annually for awards and, for many, the awards and prizes area on their resumes is quite expansive. However, there is a wide range of opinion concerning to whom these prizes actually matter. On one end of the spectrum, there is a belief that prizes and awards do not matter at all. “Winning an award is nice when it happens for the artist,” Janelle Reiring, director of New York’s Metro Pictures gallery, stated. “It makes the artist feel good, I guess. It doesn’t make any difference to me or to the collectors I deal with. Our collectors are certainly concerned with what critics and museum curators think, but not at all with what prizes or awards the artist may have won.”
Source: Huffington Post


Hiring an Art Lawyer

The Clarion List just published an interesting post on four specific instances when a collector should consult with an attorney.  Of course the value of the work needs to be high enough to justify the additional expenses. Clarion List notes that collectors should look to attorneys when buying important works, when selling important works, when lending works and when defending a work, perhaps when a claim has been made against it.

Although not appraisal specific, having this type of knowledge base and understanding allows appraisers to discuss and refer additional services when consulting with a client.

The Clarion List reports
Sometimes, the only thing that separates a collector from a lengthy, pricey legal battle is some good professional advice. Hiring a savvy lawyer long before things get hairy can be one of the smartest, most proactive choices you can make to ensure that your art remains rightfully yours, that when you loan it out or bequeath it to an heir, the agreements align with your wishes. Lawyer Jonathan Freiman of Wiggin and Dana LLP offers a succinct explanation of when you should hire a lawyer: “buying, selling, lending, and defending.” These activities all involve risk, and a professional can help you better understand--and minimize--this risk. Of course, only some transactions / issues will merit the cost of working with one. If you’re buying a $500 photograph, for example, legal fees will probably be greater than the price of your work: not worth it. Freiman and Brooke Oliver of 50 Balmy Law P.C. offered more specifics about the cases they’ve handled and how collectors can best protect themselves in a variety of circumstances.

Here are four specific instances when consulting an attorney is recommended.


If you’re buying an artwork, a lawyer can draft or review your contract with the seller, advise on title insurance, and counsel you about provenance issues that might arise. Title insurance protects purchasers against chain of title and lien risks--with a policy, you gain a clear legal title to your artwork and prevent seizure of your works. Provenance, or the record of ownership for an artwork, is a crucial concern for collectors, as it can guarantee the authenticity of a work and ensure that nothing unacceptable (theft, expropriation, etc.) previously occurred with the work. “Lawyers can consult on a wide range of things and help a collector source other professionals,” says Oliver. “We know the most qualified people in the business.” Lawyers don’t generally authenticate or appraise work, or advise on investments, but they often maintain relationships with people who do. A knowledgeable, well-connected lawyer can offer aid far beyond the scope of his or her work. Freiman suggests using art title insurance company ARIS. “You’d never buy a house for half a million dollars without buying title insurance,” he says, “but there are plenty of people who buy paintings for half a million dollars without buying title insurance. And they should.”

Also... Oliver advises against buying on eBay, where you can’t confirm whether a work is authentic. She recounts a recent case for an artist client, for whom she removed over 100 listings of counterfeit sculptures falsely attributed to the artist. “Buying art online is really ‘buyer beware,’” she says. If you’re buying a poster online, that’s one thing. “If you’re buying even an expensive digital image or a stone lithograph or a silk screen, make sure you get a certificate of authenticity.”


If you’re selling a piece privately or if you’re consigning it to a private dealer, advises Freiman, you should have a lawyer either draft or review the sales or consignment contract.


If you’re loaning a work to a gallery for an exhibition, Oliver warns of an often-overlooked detail. If the dealer goes bankrupt while showing your work, creditors can attempt to seize it. Your art can become a casualty of a gallerist’s financial woes. Either ask the dealer to file a UCC1 (Uniform Commercial Code-1) statement indicating that you have a security interest in the property while it’s in the dealer’s hands, or file it yourself, with a lawyer’s aid.

When consigning a piece to a dealer to sell, make sure the dealer has insurance and that your piece will be covered under it. “The collector should ask for the certificate of insurance and to be named as an insured party under the dealer’s insurance,” says Oliver.


Freiman often works on issues regarding title claims--claims that a collector or entity (museum, foundation, etc.) doesn’t really own the artwork. He cites as one of his most famous cases a dispute between Yale and the government of Peru over artifacts from Machu Picchu. He’s also worked on issues involving Roman sculpture, Asian jewelry, Irish historical documents, Italian paintings, Native American grave repatriation, and more. These “cultural property” matters, antiquities issues, and expropriation cases investigate the past terms under which objects were acquired. What if it turns out that one of your artworks may have been looted by the Nazis or seized by a Communist government? Or what if you believe that one of your own ancestors suffered such a loss?

For analysis, advice, and perhaps eventual litigation, a lawyer is crucial. When someone makes a claim to your art, says Freiman, the most important thing to do is understand the facts and laws as well as you can. You don’t want to rush into court or make any kind of decision about settling until you consult a lawyer. “How good is their proof and what other type of fact finding can you do?” he asks. “For all of these things, you definitely want a lawyer to start with. Some claims are legitimate. Some are not.” You can’t know how to proceed--whether to attempt to compromise, or alternately refuse to speak to the claimant--until you marshal the facts.

You should also be aware of the statute of limitations, which varies from state to state. For example, says Freiman, New York’s statute of limitations does not begin to run until a person with a claim makes a demand and the person with the object refuses. In Connecticut, in contrast, the statute of limitations begins when the alleged wrong occurs. These slight differences in state law will greatly impact your case.


Oliver has advised clients on shipping matters, which she believes are part of any good art contract. She warns, as well, that it’s difficult to get FedEx, UPS, or other delivery services to pay for any damage incurred during shipping. Condition reports will help collectors confirm that the piece they’re receiving is in as good of shape as what they paid for.

Freiman addresses issues that arise with copyrights. “Copyrighting gives you permission to make reproductions, put the image in catalogs, have tee shirts and mugs made with the image, whatever you want,” he says. If this is important to you, make it clear in the contract. If you don’t bargain for this right, the artist retains rights to the image. He or she can make lithographs or other works that resemble the work that you own. Negotiation with the artist might be necessary in the case of site-specific works as well: a collector and an artist might have different ideas about how long a piece must stay in the location it was originally designed for, or how to disassemble the work after that period.


So you’ve decided to hire a lawyer. Who should you choose? Freiman offers three simple considerations: specific experience, communication style, and price. “A lawyer should have experience doing the particular task that the client wants accomplished,” he says. Oliver agrees. If someone’s interested in collecting Southwest Native American pottery or rugs, for example, she says, “that’s a real specialty niche, and you would want somebody in that area who knows a lot about the trade and laws related to cultural artifacts.” She advises asking friends or acquaintances for referrals and checking Martindale-Hubbell, which gives peer ratings for attorneys. You can also discover firms on The Clarion List's database of art law firms or visit the bar website for the state where the lawyer practices to confirm that they don’t have any disciplinary action against them. Regarding communication skills, Freiman advises finding a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable, who keeps you in the loop, and maintains a flexibility that caters to your needs. You want a lawyer, he says, “who is putting herself in the client’s shoes, always asking whether this or that step is really worth it, giving the overall value of what’s at stake.”

Discover art law firms in your area on The Clarion List, the leading online resource for discovering top rated art service companies worldwide: www.clarionlist.com.
Source: The Clarion List


Fellow appraiser Claudia Hess sent me a link to an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on posthumous licensing of plates and molds by heirs and estates. The article notes that with some artists works the posthumous works can far exceed lifetime production, and the level of quality and value is variable.

A very good article for appraises to read, and to understand the differences between lifetime work and posthumous works.

The Wall Street Journal reports
Life after death can be common in the workshops of famous sculptors and printers. Sometimes, way too common.

For years after an artist’s demise, the same molds and plates the artist used to produce original works can be reused by their heirs or appointed licensees to continue in the artists’ footsteps, making copies indefinitely.

Indeed, the posthumous output of some artists can greatly exceed the number of works they produced while living. What’s more, the quality of the posthumous work tends to vary—as do the differences in value.

So, for collectors of sculpture and fine prints, it is essential not only to know whether a work was created during the artist’s lifetime, but when and where it was cast or printed, and, if it is a posthumous piece, by whose hand.

Pinning down details about 20th-century and more recent works typically is not difficult because modern printmakers and sculptors have kept better records than their forebears, and tend to produce more limited editions. But for artists from the 18th and 19th centuries, it’s a completely different story. In many cases, numerous editions have been produced over decades, if not centuries, without much of a paper trail of what was done and when.

Take Francisco de Goya, one of Spain’s most treasured artists. Goya died in 1828 at the age of 82. In 1799, he oversaw the printing of a set of 80 etchings and aquatints known as “Los Caprichos,” or “Whims,” scenes mocking the ignorance and superstition in Spanish society. Only one edition of “Los Caprichos” was printed during Goya’s lifetime. But the artist willed the plates to the Prado Museum in Madrid, which has periodically leased them since that time to different publishers as a fundraiser. By 1937 there were 12 known editions. There is no record of how many editions have been printed since.

For most fine prints in general, earlier editions are the most sought-after, because they more closely reflect the artist’s intentions. Printing plates tend to wear out, producing less-distinct images over time; the lines cut into the plates get clogged with dried ink and need to be re-incised by someone else. Later, posthumous-edition prints no longer clearly reflect the hand of the artist, have less prestige and usually bring lower prices.

Prices range
An undamaged print from the first edition of “Los Caprichos” would be priced at $3,000 to $5,000, according to James Goodfriend, owner of New York’s C&J Goodfriend Drawings and Prints. Prints from the posthumous second and third editions, dated 1855 and 1868, respectively, “are very good and very hard to tell apart,” he adds, but sell for $1,500 to $2,000. Mr. Goodfriend says he sells prints from later editions, however, for $150.

“I only keep them around to show people what not to buy,” he says. The lines are not as sharp. The shading weakens or is uneven or has just disappeared.” Still, he says, “I see some people pay $800 to $900 for these things at auction.”

A principal source for identifying artworks is a catalogue raisonné, an annotated listing of all the known artworks by an artist. Catalogues raisonnés, found in museum and university libraries, provide illustrations that can be checked against an artwork. They also note when certain editions were produced, numbers of copies (if that information was available), which print publisher or foundry made the edition, changes made and the quality of the work.

Alice Duncan, director of New York’s Gerald Peters Gallery, recommends always asking for an artwork’s history of ownership, or provenance, and the date the work was produced, as well.

Art advisers will do this kind of research for a collector, but such help doesn’t come cheap. Advisers usually charge around 10% of the value of the art being acquired, though they may set fees on a per-hour basis. Wendy Cromwell, a Manhattan adviser, puts the hourly range at between $75 and $250, depending upon the experience of the adviser.

Casts off
To judge the value of good detective work, consider the works of an artist as well known as Frederic Remington. Posthumous sculptures attributed to Remington are so numerous that art dealers are particularly wary of their histories. Remington, who lived from 1861 to 1909, is famed for his lifelike depictions of the American West, particularly his bronze statues of cowboys and cavalrymen on horseback.

“Ninety percent of the things that say ‘By Frederic Remington’ I wouldn’t get near, and 90% may be a low estimate,” says Ms. Duncan, who says her gallery will only take on consignment Remington sculptures that can be proved to have been produced during the artist’s lifetime or by authority of his widow, Eva, who died in 1918.

After 1918, unknown quantities of “Remingtons” were produced as the foundry used by Remington himself cast more bronzes using his molds, and other foundries created their own molds using existing sculptures as models. The copies may look close, but when compared with documented Remington sculptures, the differences become evident.

Liz Sterling, senior vice president and head of American art at Sotheby’s, says the median price of lifetime casts of Remington’s sculptures are “several million dollars,” reaching a high of $5.6 million at Sotheby’s in 2008 for the artist’s 1896 “Wounded Bunkie.” Prices for estate casts, those made under Eva Remington’s authority, of the same pieces range from $100,000 to $1 million, she says, and the auction house does not handle castings later than 1918.
Source: The Wall Street Jounral