RE: Selling fine art collection
I am considering starting to sell my B&W collection for the purpose of raising money for an early retirement (I simply cannot wait until 62 or 64). It is a good collection. I have work by Brett Weston, Morley Baer, Roman Loranc, Paul Caponigro, Connie Imboden, George Krause, William Clift, John Wimberley, Jay Dusard, Oliver Gagliana, Brad Cole, Rolfe Horn, Don Worth.
Probably the highest priced items will be some of Lorancs' work where the negatives have been retired. I have other items sold out in their print size.
My question is how to go about doing it. Obviously, there is eBay. The plus there is that I keep almost all the proceeds. I don't know if people will pay nearly $10k for a print, though.
Another way is to consign to a gallery. They have relationships with collectors and they could get very good prices. However, they keep a very high percentage, like 30-50 percent depending on the gallery. Plus, unless they are a very well established place, they might not give you your money very easily.
I haven't dealt with auction houses. Has anyone? There is a place in S.F. that places auctions on eBay, but I can do that myself.
If anyone has any idea, I would appreciate hearing them.
Also, does anyone have any idea what the Loranc prints that are retired might go for? I have 4:
Bare Trees by the River 16x20
Franciscan Church 16x20
Night Storm over Kesterson 11x14 (most likely the only one ever sold in this size)
Two-Hearted Oak 16x20
I also have some good books. Michael A. Smith Landscapes, Vol 1&2 (like new) now sold out - the last copy went for $3500. Also, I have The American Monument by Lee Freidlander in fine condition.
I have another little gem, not worth a ton but people would love to get their hands on it. I have The Eternal Body, 1st Ed HB by Ruth Bernhard. The thing about this book is that the dust jacket is not faded. With almost all copies of this book, the dustjacket has badly faded but this one is fine. I have other rare books that I can likely sell on eBay and get a good price for.
I would appreciate advice on divesting this collection. If the retired Loranc prints are likely to appreciate even more then I will hang onto them. Just to give you and idea of what his work has done, I bought 3 of the 4 above around 2002 for $650.00 each. Even Microsoft stock did not appreciate so much when it was splitting every 18 months.
Thank you in advance for your advice and information.
I would call Sotheby's and Christies to inquire. It sounds like you have enough of a quality collection that they may be interested in adding them to a contemporary photo auction. Also try Bonhams and Swanns. They both do a robust business in photography. To try and determine value, it would be worth your while to purchase a subscription to Artnet.com, where you can search galleries and auction results.
Reggie, I'm in somewhat the same situation as you (although need to maintain, rather than start retirement), and after considering all those possiblities, have concluded that the NY auction houses (Sothebys, Christies) are by far the best way to go right now.
(PS, wish I had some Lorenc prints. Seems to me that retiring one's negatives is a foolish thing to do.)
Your best bet in getting top dollar for what you have is to go to a reputable dealer and have them sell it for you. They know their client's desires and will be able to put them in front of interested parties. As you have noted though, you will be paying them at the very least 30% of the total sales. The same will be true for the auction houses if you can get them interested. A lot will depend upon which images you have as well. It does sound as if you have several that will have value, but the actual sales of these will be the hard part. As with anything, they are only worth what the market will bear. If there are several out there on the market available, it will be hard. It is not like people are lining up out there trying to buy these.
Contemporaries such as Cole. Horn and Loranc will probably not do that well for you. Those IMO would be better if you kept them and passed them on through your family. Even the retired images will not have appreciated that much. Take for instance retired Michael Kenna's that people can't get near their value as set by his galleries when selling on eBay. Again it will depend upon which images you have. Your best bet will be to contact several dealers, let them know what you have and go from there. You will get a quick idea of their value in doing this. If a dealer seems excited by what you have and is interested in meeting with you and looking at the collection, you've probably got something. If they seem somewhat indifferent, don't bet your retirement on selling the collection quickly. If you'd like names of some reputable dealers that may be able to help, PM me and I will give you some suggestions.
Best of Luck!
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Where are you located? In addition to calling auction houses, you might consider consulting with a private dealer specializing in photography. My understanding is that you could sell the collection in bulk to the dealer or you could ask the dealer sell it for you on commission. The advantage is the ability to set a price yourself, and not leave it up to an auction. That might also be the disadvantage
You may find it better to sell the most valuable items one way (for example, an auction) and the other items differently. If the collection is valuable enough, you may want to consult an independent appraiser as well. Another thought: I would ask the gallery owner(s) from whom I bought the work to either help you dispose of it or recommend someone.
Another recommendation, which applies to most collections - unless your collection is 100% 1st-quality 1st-tier pieces, it would be better for you to move the collection as a whole, instead of trying to sell each piece individually to the "best market" for each individual piece. If you try to do it that way, you may end up getting stuck with some works for a long time that have value but are not in vogue and thus unsellable.
Excellent suggestions, all.
FWIW, I wouldn't bother with eBay for the prints. However, you may want to consider listing the books there. Unlike the prints, the books are a bit more of a "commodity" and eBay may be a good outlet for liquidating them. I understand there is a fairly active market in photographic books on the site.
But before listing them on eBay, do a little research - see if any of them have sold recently and for what amounts etc. You're talking about your retirement here - so you want to maximize the liquidation values. If ever there is a time when the saying "Haste makes waste" is appropriate this is one of them.
Although a great suggestion Scott it is actually much more difficult to do this way unless the collection is top-notch as you say. However, many small institutions or museums that didn't start collecting photography until recently have shown the interest in going for complete collections from private collectors. This is why you would want to get with a good dealer on this as they have access to the "grapevine" and know who to approach. I do know of one such collection that I have worked cataloguing over the past couple of years. The seller only wants it to go as a whole, but unfortunately most interested parties do not want it all as it contains many contemporary photographers whose work is readily available. Some from the 60's and 70's have fallen off the artistic map so to speak and have no real value on their own. Not meaning any disrespect, but this might be the case with some of Reggie's collection and a good dealer will do the research needed to get the full value out of each piece. However, it is unlikely any dealer will buy the collection outright as suggested by another poster.
Originally Posted by TheFlyingCamera
One more question, please. One of my Loranc images, Franciscan Church which is sold out and retired, does not have an edition number on the back. All of his other prints are numbered. It doesn't state 'Artist Proof' or anything else - it is signed of course. Does this have any bearing on selling the print? Could it mean it is a print he made before he started numbering them in an edition? Any bearing on value?
Thank you for the feedback so far. I have checked out Bonham's. They are very upfront about their fees, policies, etc.