Perhaps it was dear old grandmother’s favorite painting, but it doesn’t do for you or your walls what it did for Granny. Maybe it’s that old rocking chair that your ex-spouse left behind after the divorce-a pretty piece of furniture, but it doesn’t help your memories or your back. Maybe it’s that strange vase from great-aunt Betsy’s attic that was doled out to you when the estate was settled and now rests in your attic. Or it might be some piece of art that you yourself bought five years ago, but your tastes have changed and now you don’t know what you ever saw in it in the first place. Or it might be something that you are still fond of but, times being what they are, you’d rather have the cash.
At any rate, you are one of many who has an artwork or some other artifact with which you would like to part company-and hopefully at an enhancement to your bank balance. While there seems to be plenty of advice available about buying artworks and antiques, there is precious little guidance to be found about selling such things. So here are a few basic tips on how to achieve a pleasant disposition of your unwanted art. There are three ways to do it.
The best piece of general advice is the same that would apply to buying an island, selling a commodity futures contract, renting a llama, or engaging in any other such activity for which you don’t possess expert credentials-find someone who does. To avoid getting burned, always deal only with reputable, established institutions.
The first method of sale actually requires a certain amount of expertise of your own. If you personally know the worth and authenticity of the object and happen to have suitable connections in the appropriate market -either a knowledgeable collector-friend or a reputable art dealer-then you can simply sell it yourself for a mutually agreed-upon sum, obviously the fastest and easiest method of transaction.
However, assuming that in most cases of “attic art” you are yourself unsure of the market value of the item or cannot find a dealer willing to risk a full and outright purchase with only speculative resale possibilities, you can try the second approach-placing the article on consignment with a dealer. In a typical consignment, the dealer (preferably one specializing in the general class of objects to which your piece belongs) agrees to try to sell the object for you within a certain length of time. The dealer’s commission is then agreed upon, usually a set percentage of the sales price, meaning that the dealer would attempt to get the best possible price for your piece. Terms of the consignment contract usually should provide for a minimum sales price with which you would be satisfied and a maximum time period of effort on the part of the dealer. Because the risk involved on the part of the dealer is so much less when he takes an article on consignment than when he buys outright, he will usually be able to place more money in the owner’s hands this way. For example, since some dealers will buy outright for only half of what they guess they can resell for, but will take only a ten percent commission on a consignment sale, the cash return to the owner could be as much as 40 percent more of the final sales price.
But even the consignment method is a somewhat limited option for you the seller. Dallas has very few galleries that resell articles, either by consignment or outright purchase. And those few will do so much more readily for collectors with whom they have worked extensively in the past. The two most likely gallery outlets for consignment sale of high quality paintings and sculpture (especially contemporary works) are Atelier Chapman Kelley at 2526 Fairmount or Delahunty Gallery at 2611 Cedar Springs. But again, the emphasis is on quality or previous dealings with the gallery. For specialty objects, any approach is going to be haphazard, trial-and-error at best. There are several galleries in town that have shown an inclination toward consignment sales (see box) and are worth a try. A telephone inquiry is the logical first step. If they can’t help you they may be able to suggest some place that can. But essentially the question will come down to the compatibility between the quality of your item and the general quality of the work in that gallery. The process is unpredictable. Furthermore, this scattershot ap-proach doesn’t guarantee that your object of interest will find its maximum market value.
Which brings us to the third and most interesting option-sale by auction. In this case, especially since Dallas has no major art auction houses, the novice art seller might as well go right to the top and turn to the country’s largest and most prestigious art auction firm, Sotheby Parke Bernet, for assistance. SPB’s main offices are in New York and London, but they have established a branch in Houston which will make appraisals on your artwork or object and, amazingly enough, will not charge you for this service.
Because the staff of Sotheby Parke Bernet consists of experts in every field of art and antiques, they have established over the years a glowing record for “discovering” valuables that the owners thought worth little or nothing. A pair of pewter chalices that had been serving as philodendron planters brought their green-thumbed owner $8,000 at auction after she decided to have SPB check them out. In another case, a small picture originally bought at a junkshop by the owner’s father was found to be an original German Renaissance painting worth $590,000.
While your unwanted art item may turn out to be worth $1.98, you have little to lose in taking advantage of the SPB appraisal service if you suspect that the piece is worth more than the cost of a postage stamp and a few photos. The first step is to send SPB professional photographs (80X10, black and white). In the case of a painting, include both an overall shot and a detail shot, if possible. In the case of an object, include shots from all sides. Send the photos together with dimensions and any other pertinent information in asking for an appraisal. Within seven to ten days, SPB experts will reply with an identification and with an estimation of what the article would bring at auction-based on current market value -and when the appropriate auction will next be held.
If the item indeed proves to be valuable and if you decide that auction is the best possibility for sale, you must then arrange to have the article delivered to the SPB offices. The SPB sliding-scale commission ranges from 12 1/2 to 25 percent of the actual auction sales price. This highest bid price may, of course, be higher or lower than the original staff estimate, but there is seldom a great deal of variance between the two. There is, though, a safeguard for the owner known as the reserve system; it’s designed to protect against an item’s going for a lower selling price than the owner feels he can accept. SPB officials will provide further information on this or any other aspects of the auction process. In contrast to so many specialized institutions that deal with a public largely ignorant of their workings, the people at SPB could not be nicer, more patient, or more cooperative. Sotheby Parke Bernet Galleries, Inc. is located at 5015 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77027; phone number (713) 623-0010.
Listed below are galleries that mightbe interested in your art object. Eachis listed with its area of special interest or expertise, but the most important single criterion is quality. Keepin mind that we’re talking about artobjects, not assorted junk. These areart galleries, not pawn shops. Butdon’t be timid-if you’ve got something that intuition tells you might beof some value, give the appropriateplace a call. You’ve got nothing tolose by trying. And maybe a fortuneto gain.
Atelier Chapman Kelley 2526 Fairmount, 747-9971. High quality sculpture and paintings, especially contemporary.
Ciro’s 3237 McKinney, 745-9464. A specialized consignment shop. Every thing-paintings, art objects, antiques, jewelry, plants . ..
Delahunty Gallery 2611 Cedar Springs, 744-1346. High quality sculpture and paintings, especially contemporary.
Dupree Gallery 420 Northgate Plaza, Irving, 252-8481. Local and regional art.
Erwin Antiques 2909 Sale, 528-2417. All antiques.
Lee Ethel Gallery 3115 Routh, 742-4091. Paintings, sculpture, bronzes, ceramics, jewelry. Especially works by contemporary, living artists-Southwest region.
Fairmount Gallery 6040 Sherry Ln., 369-5636. Prefer paintings, also ceramics and sculpture, some prints.
Folk Art 2727 Routh, 742-6495. African and Latin American art.
Hartman Rare Art Inc. Fairmont Hotel, 748-3847. Quality Oriental objects.
Michele Herling 2800 Routh, 748-2924. Pre-Columbian and primitive art (New Guinea, Africa).
McCulley Fine Arts Gallery 2539 Cedar Springs, 744-0762. American Western paintings.
Old England Antiques 4311 Oak Lawn, 522-8451. Antiques, mainly English furniture.
Betty Rhodes Gallery Arnold Square, 13410 Preston Rd., 233-2512. Paintings by local and regional artists.
Roughton Galleries 125 Turtle Creek Village, 528-8500. All art objects and paintings.
The Samplers 6615 Snider Plaza, 363-0045. Primarily antiques-prefer primitive, rural; some hand-made items (nothing of very large size).
Stewart Gallery 12610 Coit, 661-0213. Original paintings by Southwestern contemporary artists.
Turn of the Century Antiques 2711 Fair-mount, 742-4406. Antiques, primarily American. Special interest in beveled and stained glass.