Art Picks From eBay, Number 9; eBay Art Bidder Tips

This is the ninth in our instructional series of articles that focuses on how to dissect and analyze the ways that works of art are sometimes described for sale on the internet auction site, eBay. eBay does not actively police their auction offerings, but rather depends on emails from dealers, collectors, experts, buyers, and potential buyers to notify them of problems relating to particular works of art. Any seller can describe any work of art in any manner that he or she chooses, and as long as no one complains, that art sells to the highest bidder. As a result, eBay and similar online auction sites are among the more dangerous places for uninformed or inexperienced collectors to buy original art.

This installment's auction item is described below. credits the seller, by way of eBay, as the source of all of the following information and images. comments and questions appear in red italics throughout the eBay seller's description. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are as they appeared in the original for sale listing. at no time implies, makes, or intends to make any claims or express any opinions regarding the authenticity of any works of art that appear in this series.

Seller's headline:

Major Collection signed prints-Hopper-Benton comment: The title states that the item up for auction is a major collection of signed prints by artists like Benton (probably Thomas Hart Benton) and Hopper (probably Edward Hopper).

Seller's description: This book is dirfferent than the one I saw at Powell's in Portland, Oregon.


Photo comment: The seller is not offering a major collection of signed prints, but rather a copy of a book of reproduction illustrations of prints called A Treasury of American Prints, edited by Thomas Craven and published in 1939. This is a common book and can be purchased online from out-of-print book databases for as little as $15-$20.

The seller states that his copy of the book is different in some way from a copy that he saw at Powell's (a large bookstore in Portland, Oregon that sells new and used books).

Seller's description continued: It looks like to me that they had some of the 100 etchings and lithographs signed by the artists. comment: The seller states that some of the etchings and lithographs in his copy of the book look like they're signed by the artists.

Seller's description continued: Some are signed in pencil under the plate signature and some have not been.


Photo comment: The seller states that some of the signatures in his copy of the book are pencil-signed, but does not say which ones.

A number of the reproduction illustrations in A Treasury of American Prints include the signatures of the artists as parts of the illustrations. In other words, the signatures are reproductions just like the prints. For example, if the seller had compared the two signatures from his copy of the book (shown above) with the ones in the copy of A Treasury of American Prints that he saw at Powell's, he would have seen that the copy at Powell's (and all other copies of this book) contain those exact same reproduction signatures.

Seller's description continued: I tried to erase part of one signature and it did come off. comment: The seller does not say which signature he or she managed to partially erase. Hopefully, anyone who bid on this book asked the seller which one it was. It certainly was neither of the two that are shown above.

Seller's description continued: The list of artists that are represented in this book reads like a whos who af the best. Edward Hopper, John Sloan, Thomas Hart Benton, John Sloan, Ward Grant just to name a few. comment: Who cares? Anyone can buy books all day long for a few dollars each that "represent" artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, Warhol, Rembrandt, da Vinci, and any other famous artist who ever lived.

Seller's description continued: Who know what this book is worth, we don't usually deal with signed prints so will set a low reserve and let the bidders of ebay find the right price. comment: The above statement does not make much sense. If the seller supposedly saw a copy of the book at Powell's, a bookstore, that copy was most likely priced. If it wasn't priced, the seller could have asked one of Powell's employees what the price was.

From studying this and other of the seller's auctions, both completed and in progress, this person appears to have a basic knowledge of art, most likely enough to realize that pencil signatures of famous American artists have value and most likely enough to figure out how much a print that's pencil-signed by a famous American artist is worth. For example, from reading this item's description, the seller appears to know what the phrase "signed in the plate" means (a phrase commonly used among print dealers and collectors). In several other item descriptions, the seller cites art auction records, which indicates that he or she most likely knows how to research art prices. Why, one might ask, did the seller not check art auction records for selling prices of "pencil-signed" prints by the same famous American artists that are included in this book?

Seller's description continued: This really is a great find. Please as questions. comment: Note the profusion of spelling and grammatical errors throughout this description. Also note that large words like "lithograph" and "represented," the words in the item's title line, and important information like "I tried to erase part of one signature and it did come off" and "Some are signed in pencil under the plate signature and some have not been" are all spelled correctly.

Sold for $615 with 23 bids. Stay tuned for our next "Art Pick from eBay."

divider line

Current Features

Services for Artists and Collectors


  • artbusiness on Facebook
  • Artbusiness on Twitter
  • Artbusiness on Instagram