Saturday, January 3, 2009

Reader Feedback

In response to our column, "Commodity Futures (or the Risk of Commodifying Antiques)", which you can read here, we got the response posted below. We thought we'd put it up here and get your thoughts!

Email from 12/30/08:


Guys, guys, guys--I am the author of a new book, Three Steps to Investment Success: Buying the Right Art, Antiques, and Collectibles, which you no doubt noticed on line but certainly failed to read.

I am an ISA Certified appraiser and have been a full time art and antiques appraiser for the past nineteen years, as well as having been a dealer and degreed in Art History. I suppose that I'm one of those 'experts' (maybe I should talk to my attorney?) that you dismiss so blithely in your sloppy and perfunctory article advising buyers of art and antiques not to utilize any clear strategic financial thinking when making purchases. (I'm sorry, YOUR qualifications were...?).

Your article recycled the same old illogical slogans and platitudes current in the industry for years, parroting the typical art and antiques trade 'party line' about 'buying what you like' and 'buying the best that you can afford' (why should anyone bother to 'buy the best' that they can afford one might initially ask, if that doesn't coincide with what they really like?). You sort of weave in and out of financially considered art and antiques buying, unsure of the logic of your arguments and ultimately appearing not to have carefully analyzed what you are talking about. The results of such ideas are predictable: clients with collections of expensive and ultimately valueless junk who have done nothing but 'buy what they like', buyers who interpret consideration of the 'best' that they can afford to what carries the highest price tag, an overly emotional commercial process, and ultimately an ongoing negative picture of the art and antiques industry in the minds of the rational buying public.

Guys, talk about a yawn; you might as well have saved effort and ink in you determined quest not to offer anything actually useful to the collecting public. Certainly your stance is not one which anyone could characterize as useful, enlightening or innovative in any respect.

Scott Zema
Ark Limited Appraisals, Inc.


Hollie and Andrew said...

This is our response to the email:

First off, thanks for reading. We appreciate being able to put thoughts out there for discussion. Second, we didn't get the sense from the tone of your email that you were really interested in a response, but felt we should offer one anyway. We understand that we may have said some things that you disagreed with, but as professionals, we hope we can be more open to discussion and disagreement.

You question our qualifications. Andrew has his master's from the Winterthur Program of Early American Culture, and he is a certified appraiser and a licensed auctioneer, who has worked at both Cowan's and Garth's auction houses. He's published articles in The Magazine Antiques, American Furniture, The Journal of Advanced Appraisal Studies, and other antiques-related publications, and he has lectured at Winterthur and Williamsburg, among other places. Hollie has a master's in library science, has worked as a reference librarian, and currently does editing and marketing for the Prices 4 Antiques online database, training library staff and patrons in using the database. She's also worked at Cowan's as their consignor representative. Aside from our academic qualifications, we do the usual - attend shows all over the country, talk to dealers, pick up new academic works, etc.

We feel we may be coming at this from a different point. While you question our qualifications, which we hope we've addressed to your satisfaction, we also question the qualifications of dealers who freely advise young people to invest in antiques, often encouraging them to buy the trendiest objects at the highest prices. And, frankly, we also question the qualifications of a number of appraisers, when certification from some organizations is easily obtained with a free weekend and $600. Many people, without the years of experience and stability you have, offer values and information on data that they have researched in only the most cursory fashion, and then years later, buyers-turned-sellers have unrealistic expectations based on the financial assessment of a hobbyist who said whatever would make their customer happy.

And, perhaps it's "overly emotional" of us, but we also hope to encourage people to cultivate an interest in antiques from something other than a financial perspective. In working closely with clients over the years (some of whom come armed with hefty expectations because of appraisals), we've seen countless people suffering from financial disappointment, and many of them were not collectors with "collections of expensive and ultimately valueless junk," but rather solid middle market purchases that have been marginalize in what we perceive as a marketplace obsessed with price, but not necessarily with quality. People who spend years loving their collection should remember the satisfaction collecting gave them and have reasonable expectations. People who spend years allowing others to assemble investment portfolios have a different set of expectations, rightfully so. We don't feel we encouraged people "not to utilize any clear strategic financial thinking." Our intent was to encourage a perspective other than a financial one. People do collect for other reasons; personally, we collect from a standpoint of academic interest and aesthetic pleasure. Meanwhile, we've sold major collections from great well-respected collectors who have been kept very happy by those "platitudes," who bought what they loved, didn't worry a lot about the money, and went away happy with the sale results.

We don't believe we ever encouraged people NOT to think about money. Of course, no one should overpay or sink excessive amounts of money in things with no resale value, but we believe that the focus on dollars and cents ONLY is detrimental to the business long-term. It becomes a passionless pursuit, unless money is your hobby, which isn't the case for most of the collectors we know. What we offered was our opinion as columnists, based on what we see and encounter every day in our jobs. We continue to advocate for buyers to educate themselves, to pursue what gives them pleasure and to not become so obsessed with a bottom line that they lose all sense of why they started collecting in the first place. Unless they started collecting with the bottom line in mind to begin with, and that's not a position we tend to promote, because it's not one that reflects our perspective.


Andrew & Hollie

P.S. We'd be pleased to read your book if you send us a copy. Our library consortium doesn't have a copy, and we'd donate it to them after reading.

Andrew Davis Photography said...

A very good response to a rather snarky letter. I think this guy needs to work on his reading comprehension-you simply state that the phrases "buy what you like" and "buy the best you can afford" are two common terms in the business, not that you necessarily were promoting this view. As a very young collector (just turned 25), I find the idea of buying the 'right' Art, Antiques and Collectibles to be a major deterrent to purchasing. I think a major portion of getting young people to buy antiques is to encourage them to trust their taste and instincts, and worry less about investment value. Unfortunately, certain individuals in the antiques world seem set on taking the fun and emotion out of buying antiques, in the interest of treating objects as little more than an investment vehicle.
I think the main premise of your article is right on-for the most part, antiques appreciate in value at about the pace of inflation. The main reason it makes As long as books such as Mr. Zema's continue to be published, there will continue to be individuals who are disappointed by the returns on their investment in the antiques market, much as many of those who were promised huge returns in the real estate market were let down when their homes failed to reap huge profits. The truth of the matter is all investments will fluctuate in value-there is absolutely no class of investment short of a CD or savings account that I know of that has never decreased in value.
Also-this guy doesn't have a degree in economics, so he isn't exactly qualified to write about investments, is he?