Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Quick Takes - What's Happening Now

* Federal Agents Reveal the Results of a 2 Year Sting: The Feds said 150 local, state, and federal law enforcement agents worked two years to bust 24 dealers that have been involved in selling prehistoric Indian objects that presumably were taken from federal lands. If people break the law, they should be accountable. However, this is a massive amount of resources to commit at a time when debt and government seems to be synonymous terms.

* Antiques Roadshow Painting Sale Halted: Sothebys Londona was ready to auction a Winslow Homer painting that has appeared on the British version of Antiques Roadshow when Simon Murray, the great, great grandson of Sir Henry Arthur Blake said no so fast. Apparently, the sale was halted after Murray contended that the subject matter of Homer's painting was Blake's children. Now the parties get their barristers.

* I usually list websites off to the side but with Errol Morris and his website there is something special here worthy of note. After 14 years on the Roadshow, I love a good story and Morris finds them. This is a great discovery thanks to my colleague and friend Mark Rasmussen ( . Check out Morris' opinion series, "Bamboozling Ourselves". Hope you enjoy it.

* The Atlantic City Roadshow several weeks ago was great for the Paintings table which enabled all six appraisers to tape twice. There were some exciting 6 figure finds that will make for some very exciting TV in your future. Unfortunately, the Ethnographic table met some terrific people but found few treasures. Doug Diehl did find a great Navajo Germantown blanket that he took to TV.

* Antiques Roadshow is experimenting with the tools for communicating ... namely Twitter ( and Face Book ( We are not sure how this will sort out but follow us on the floor and see what happens.

* I have commented on the auction market in my analysis of the Christies and Sothebys sales in Paris. My general sense is that more people are on the sidelines now waiting to see what happens during the next 90 days. It appears that many collectors and dealers want to get a sense of where they are with their collections before dropping prices in an effort to find buyers. Downturns mean appraisal and authentication work with offers to trade. Cash is king and the vultures are looking for opportunities. Remember the early 1980's in New York.. there will be sellers and there will be buyers. If the US auction houses and private dealers can come up with the material, the market will continue to be more attractive in the U.S. than Europe.

June Tribal auctions in Paris

The sales are over and now all we can say honestly is that it was a mixed bag. Clearly the material at Christies, Paris was inferior to the two small sales offered by Sothebys. However, Christies did not fair well with their modest offerings seeing 125 out of 322 lots failing to sell with a 39% buy in and gross sales of only 1,017,787 euros.. Not good by any standards... especially when some of the stars are included in the passed column. The major Maori figure which was also featured on the cover and ex Mert Simpson failed to break the estimate of 150,000 to 200,000 euros. The Luba bowstand that was not remotely in a league with examples considered for the Petrides exhibition failed with an estimate of 60,000 to 90,000 euros. In Lot 76 the well published Ishan door that actually was collected by Bob Armstrong in the 1960's also failed to sell. Sothebys began today with the Philippe Guimiot and Domitilla de Grunne collection offering 65 lots, 23 objects failing to sell and a gross of 2,407,400 euros. In lot 15 a very cool Fanti doll that must be considered one of the finest examples known sold for 55,950 euros ....undoubtedly a record for one of these. William Fagg visited us from the past when his determination that the fragmentary Yoruba housepost in lot 24 was carved in the mid 19th century making it one of the earliest examples known. Some might argue that 29,550 euros was modest for such an important and imposing (ht. 106 cm.) object. Sothebys' star for this sale was the powerful elegant Chokwe pwo mask featured in lot 53 and selling for 420,750 euros. The big disappointments started with lot 19, the major Urhobo figure that was estimated to sell between 300,000 and 500,000 euros, which considering its fragmentary condition was very optimistic. In lot 26 a major but heavily eroded Bamileke figure was offered at 500,000 to 800,000 euros. The fact that it was owned by Jacob Epstein apparently was not enough. A Maori canoe prow head collected by General Horatio Robley in 1864 in New Zealand failed to sell at the low estimate of 250,000 euros. Many thought this head pre-dated 1840. The Sothebys afternoon sale failed to sell 22 out of 66 lots for a total gross of 3,601,500 euros. The very unusual Kwele figure offered in lot 87 with an estimate of 450,000 to 600,00 soared to 971,950 euros. Also important to mention was the superb Kongo ivory in lot 103 that sold for 360,750 euros. For those of us that were looking was a smashing success these three sales probably fell short of our expectations. It is reasonable to speculate that maybe Paris did not get as much support from the American buyers as they have provided in the past. Considering that maybe fewer folks are traveling and uncertainty might have some buyers sitting on their paddles, then maybe these results were still in these times fairly positive.