Q: I attended a collectibles show in a large unheated building on the outskirts of the city where I live. The quality of the merchandise was uneven, but some was pretty good. At one booth I saw a group of etchings by a known artist lying in a pile on a table. I expected to hear a reasonable figure when I asked the price, but was instead quoted top retail. I thought this was ridiculous, considering the circumstances, and walked away without saying a word. What do you think?

A: I would have probably done the same thing. In any segment of the art, antique, or collectibles businesses you pretty much have to know your place on the food chain. If you're selling a painting out of the back of your van or at the local flea market, for example, it should be priced less than if you're selling it out of your $50,000 a month gallery space on 57th Street in Manhattan-- even if it's the identical painting!!

Four of the most important aspects of selling art at top retail are proper presentation, credibility of the seller, access to the right client base, and service. To elaborate, the art has to be for sale at the right location and framed and displayed in a way that maximizes its dramatic impact. The gallery must offer a full range of services such as delivery, installation, appraisals, research, and moneyback guarantees. It must have an established track record of selling quality art to experienced collectors. Obviously, this is not the same as shuffling through a pile of etchings on a table in an unheated building.

Overpricing for one reason or another will always be a problem and will probably only get worse due to the increased amount of information available to dealers at all levels. In particular, price guides and the Internet are having a greater and greater impact. People can locate dollar values of just about anything in price guides, auction record compendiums, websites, newsgroups, databases, or mailing lists and compare it to what they have for sale. Unfortunately, they can't as easily locate or acquire the knowledge and experience necessary to understand why those prices are what they are and under what circumstances the merchandise must be offered in order for it to sell at those figures.

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Articles © Alan Bamberger 1999. All rights reserved.