Posted May 7, 2005

It's what we've all been waiting for-- Davenport's Art Reference & Price Guide, Gold Edition, CD-ROM. Finally, no more lugging that big fat book around. The best, fastest and most comprehensive artist index available anywhere-- including on the internet-- can now be accessed on your laptop wherever you are, whenever you need it. This CD-ROM contains basic biographical and price information for over 250,000 artists. Each artist listing includes data, based on 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 CD-ROM over other art reference books and online databases is that you find out almost instantly whether an artist is known and whether or not his or her work has sold at auction. Without it, 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, especially American, many of whom are listed hardly anywhere else.

The huge advantage of the CD-ROM over the Davenport's book is the search option that matches artist names with partial signatures. For example, if you identify the letters "Pi-as-o" in the artist's name, then you search the CD-ROM by typing in "pi*as*o" (typing an asterisk in place of each missing letter) and all artist names with letters matching the missing letters come up. I can't tell you how many times I've paged through the Davenport's book in attempts to fill in missing letters in partial signatures-- sometimes looking at thousands of names before finally making a match. What a huge pain in the posterior anatomical vicinity that was! But no more.

Be aware that Davenport's price information related to a number of artists is, in some cases, outdated, and, in other cases, is approximated with price ranges rather than documented with actual auction sales results. 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.

Regarding the hyphenated price ranges found in a number of artist listings (such as 300-700), these are 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. 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 will take time to complete.

In spite of its minor shortcomings, Davenport's is probably the most frequently used artist references in my library-- and I've got pretty much 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.

Davenport's Art Reference & Price Guide, Gold Edition, CD-ROM, LTB Gordonsart Inc., Phoenix, 2005, $229.

Available from LTB Gordonsart Inc. (formerly Gordon's Art Reference, Inc.), 13201 N. 35th Avenue, B-20, Phoenix, AZ 85029 or call 1-800-892-4622 or visit Gordon's Art Reference online.

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