Posted November 5, 2002

Davenport's Art Reference & Price Guide, 2003/2004 retains its title as the best, fastest and most comprehensive artist index available anywhere-- including over the internet. This twelfth edition contains basic biographical and price information on over 240,000 artists-- 15,000 more artists than the previous edition. Each artist listing includes data, subject to availability, like the artist's full name, birth and death dates (when applicable), nationality, specialties (painter, sculptor, etc.), subject matters, auction prices, price ranges, notations of specific auctions where the artist's art has sold, references to books with additional biographical information, and approximate sizes of listings in those books.

The great advantage of Davenport's over other art reference books and online databases is that you can find out almost instantly whether an artist is known and whether or not his or her work has sold at auction. Without the book, you would have to repeatedly look up the artist in multiple art reference books, databases, and price resources hoping to find information. With Davenport's, you find the name fast and then find out where to go next. The best part about the index is that it provides data on numerous obscure and minor artists, many of whom are listed hardly anywhere else.

Improvements to the new Davenport's include extensive updating of many artist entries, particularly the oldest ones. Over three times as many auction sales are now being accessed for price information as compared with previous editions of the book. Prices quoted for new entries and recent updates tend to be more representative of the average range of an artist's selling prices than the higher end (price data in older entries tends to be more representative of higher-end sales than average ones). A feedback form is now located on the inside rear cover of the book that should be used by anyone who has proprietary knowledge of current prices for any artist, whether or not they're listed in Davenport's.

Davenport's users should be aware that the price information related to a number of artists is, in some cases, outdated, and, in other cases, is approximated with price ranges rather than documented with actual auction results. As previously stated, the publishers updated thousands of older entries for the 2003/2004 edition. The final notation at the end of most artist entries is a date in brackets like [1996]. A bracketed date indicates the most recent year in which a listing was updated.

While an artist's basic biographical information changes little or not at all from year to year, his or her price information often does. In extreme instances, some artist listings in Davenport's have not been updated in over ten years, so always check that bracketed date to see how fresh the price information is. Entries that lack bracketed dates are also older and may be outdated, so relying on their prices could be risky.

As for hyphenated price ranges found in a number of artist listings (such as 300-700), these were used when no auction sales data was available and can be even more misleading than outdated auction results. All price ranges were approximated by previous editors of Davenport's and are, at best, educated guesses as to the value of particular artists' art. According to Davenport's current editor, Lisa Reinhardt, artist price ranges are in the process of being updated with actual auction results, but due to the huge number of artists in the index, this process is expected to take several years. Reinhardt also adds that price ranges are no longer used; only specific sales results will be included from now on. Additional instructions on how to use Davenport's can be found on page 27 of the book-- read them.

In spite of its minor shortcomings, Davenport's continues to improve and is still the most frequently used artist reference in my library-- and I've got just about every artist dictionary, encyclopedia, index, price guide, who's who, CD-ROM, and online database at my fingertips. When someone asks me a question about an artist whose name I'm not familiar with, Davenport's is almost always the first book I check. My personal recommendation is that if you can afford to buy only one art reference book, make it Davenport's.

Davenport's Art Reference & Price Guide, 2003/2004 edited by Lisa Reinhardt, Gordon's Art Reference, Inc., Phoenix, AZ, 2002, hardbound, 2133 pages, 9 by 11 1/4 inches, $199.

Available from Gordon's Art Reference, Inc., 306 West Coronado Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85003-1147 or call 1-800-892-4622 or order directly from the Gordon's Art Reference website.

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