Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fooling with the Faux, the Fake and the Forgery

Would you be able to tell which of these is the real Picasso, just by looking?

What are the chances that the Picasso print you paid the big bucks for at auction is the real thing? Was it Sherman who wrote that note that's the centerpiece of your Civil War collection, or maybe Sherman Schwartz, the master forger? Do you know how to research the provenance (ownership history) of an object of art or memorabilia, preferably before buying it?

It's not just a matter of a few frauds out there that you might stumble onto. The burgeoning forgery industry has become so vigorous, according to
an article in Art Business News, your chances of acquiring the genuine article are sinking below fifty percent!
  • If it was marketed through Hong Kong, its likelihood of being original is something like 25%, according to research by Smithsonian Magazine.
  • The FBI says some 70% of the signed memorabilia in circulation is bogus.
  • The International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) concluded that a disappointing 10-20% of the works they've researched were the real thing.
Scary, huh? Looks like your options are to 1) jump into the cesspool and trade in faux because "everybody else does it" and if you were fooled, the next guy can be fooled, 2) avoid the art market entirely, or 3) Smarten up and learn to do your own research.

Call me Pollyanna, but I glimpse a silver lining in this dark cloud. If you put as much energy into researching a piece (admittedly a boring enterprise for most of us) as you do in hunting it down (the exciting part), and you come up with proof of its authenticity, you have a shot at an investment that will only become more valuable as the fakes continue to flood the market. You can't always count on the information a dealer provides. It's not in his best interest to open that can of worms, lest he turn out to be humiliated or, worse, get a reputation as a purveyor of fakes.

Here's a good place to start your own detective work: Nicholas Forrest, founder of the Art Market Blog has provided a list of reliable resources for researching provenance that could come in handy if you're planning to bid on a particular item at auction, or see an item on the market that you've been looking for. A few hours' research can make a big difference. And who knows? You might even enjoy it. Thanks, Nick!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Let's Go to a Show!

One of the (literally) coolest places to be in Arizona for the Fourth of July weekend is Flagstaff, at 7,000-foot elevation near the 12,634-foot Humphrey’s Peak,  surrounded by pine forests. And that’s where Wanda and Robert Jones are hosting their 22nd Annual Arizona Antique Show at the Coconino County Fairgrounds. Wanda says booths for this popular show are already sold out, and they’re expecting some 5,000 shoppers at the gate. 

Wanda has been broadcasting a regular segment on “Your Life, A to Z” on Channel KTVK, Channel 3 for the past few years. They also produce shows in Phoenix (still to come, Nov 15-16 and Dec 13-14 at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, and Yuma. They're by far the largest antique shows in Arizona, well worth the trip.  

And if shopping 'til you drop isn't enough reason to head for Flagstaff, that same July 4 weekend is the 53rd annual Flagstaff horse races, also at the Fairgrounds.
Almost any antique dealer in the Portland, OR area will tell you the biggest event of the summer will be July 12-13 when Palmer/Wirfs puts on their Antique & Collectibles Show at the Portland Expo. Many stores will close for that weekend so everyone can spend a day or more (the $7 admission covers the weekend) wandering among the 1800 booths shopping for everything from vintage toys to estate jewelry, from vintage clothing to armoires. Too big for a single hall at the Expo, the July Palmer/Wirfs show fills Halls C, D and E, and even spills outside to a huge courtyard outside Hall D. I recommend if you’re going with a friend, take walkie talkies! 
If you're on the East Coast, the Brimfield, Massachusetts mega-fair tent city extravaganza, actually 23 antique fairs in one, is July 14-19. That's right, almost a whole week. Nobody can do it justice, even on roller skates, in a mere weekend. It's the largest antique show in the world, according to one website (there are several). From its beginning in 1959, the Brimfield event has grown to cover a one-mile stretch of Highway 20, each individual show placed on a field owned by one of the neighboring landowners. The town of Brimfield has sanctioned specific dates for each event, one in May, the one in July and the last will be Sept. 8-13 this year. But in spite of the town's efforts at unity, there are pockets of anarchy. Some fields will keep different hours and dates in addition to the official ones, advertised independently. Some allow dogs, others strictly forbid them. Some fields, such as J&J are considered "premium" and charge admission of $5-$6, while others are free. The website mentioned above has a database that may be useful for those looking for specialty items and an active chatroom 
where fairgoers compare notes. 
While on the subject of antique events, I've discovered another blogger on Blogspot who's focusing on antiques and he recently posted on the Randolph Street Market Festival, an urban and somewhat upscale event that used to be called the Chicago Antique Market. Daryl Lambert has probably attended thousands of such events in his 40 years as a collector, author and dealer, and he has this advice for staying focused and avoiding burnout when you're surrounded with antiques: 
Remember to take your time as you approach each booth at a market or flea market, and see if you can pick out the better pieces from a distance. As you practice, you will be able to eye the items that are of interest, and the other items will quickly pass from your eyesight.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Antique Roadshow's Internet Freebies

Living in Mexico, lacking satellite TV (maybe next year), I haven't seen "Antiques Roadshow" in quite a while. But the popular show has a very informative Internet presence as well, available without subscription or fees, including a handy glossary of terms that could at least get you started talking like the cognoscenti ("people who are especially well-informed on a given subject").

Admittedly, the glossary is somewhat limited...only one word for the letter "N." But take a look, see how many terms you already know, and you might pick up a few new ones.

"Tips of the Trade" with articles on everything from Asian Art to Toys and Games is packed full of useful and interesting information, including historical background that always grabs my attention, and sources that can help identify the genuine article and rule out fakes. I could easily squander an afternoon on this section alone.

'Tres Personajes' by Rufino Tamayo. Image from a blog titled 'The Brooklyn Days: An Artist Wanders Around Brooklyn' which includes a short account of the painting's discovery in a trashpile on the street
Then there's a section of short videos of Roadshow segments. My favorite: the tale of a long-lost painting, "Tres Personajes" (1971) by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) that was dumped on a street in Manhattan and later sold at a Sotheby's auction for $1.049 million. It had been originally bought by a Houston couple, later stolen from a storage facility, and ended up years later between two garbage bags on the curb, to be found by a writer and admitted "dumpster diver," Elizabeth Gibson. She walked by, almost passed it up because it was too large for her apartment, then grabbed it a scant 20 minutes before the garbage truck arrived.

Don't Cast Away That Crusty Cast Iron!

A few of the many Wagner and Griswold cast iron cooking utensils at Susantiques in Aloha, OR

They're heavy and they're not exactly maintenance free, but well-seasoned old cast iron pans are considered indispensable by many cooks, and very much in demand by collectors, particularly brands such as Griswold and Wagner.

Sue Keith, of Susantiques in Aloha, OR, has been accumulating cast iron cookware for years, in various conditions, and recently she got some sterling advice on how to get off the black, funky crust that might otherwise be difficult-to-impossible to remove. A cast iron collector advised her to place the pan in a plastic bag with a rag moistened with about a cup of ammonia. She placed a box over the bag to contain the smell and left it alone for more than a week. Here's a photo of a Wagner skillet after this treatment, and before she scraped off the crust, cleaned it and treated it with Pam, producing an almost-new-looking, well-seasoned pan.

Here are some tips from Antique and Collectibles News Service for cleaning and seasoning cast iron:
1. Hand wash with hot water, and a sponge or a stiff brush, no synthetic detergents (non-fatty oil based soaps). Dry on the stove at low heat and then apply a thin coat of solid vegetable shortening or a spritz of PAM, wiping off the excess. Until you've used your pan a few times, avoid using it to cook acidic foods such as tomatoes or beans, and remove the lid after cooking so condensation doesn't remove the seasoning.

2. Rust may sometimes appear on cast iron, but it can be removed with steel wool or a wire brush, then re-season.

Here's a novel suggestion: lightly sand rusted surfaces and apply Coca-Cola for at least ten minutes. Wash with mild soapy water, thoroughly dry over low heat and apply the Crisco or Pam.

Now here comes the controversy: A&CNS says to place the pan in a cold oven, set it for 400 degrees and bake for 90 minutes. Sue, however, who has cleaned, de-rusted and seasoned a LOT of cast iron, says to skip the oven treatment. "I think it would burn them again. Just put on the Pam and rub with a cloth, or if removing rust, with steel wool."

3. Set your burner at medium to medium-high temperature settings, and don't place a cold pan on a full flame.

4. Store with lids off, upside down in a warm, dry place.

A Blog is Born

Twenty years ago our little 40-page free map guide to the antique stores of three counties in Northern California was launched from Petaluma as a sister publication to my monthly newspaper, Cochran's Art, Antiques and Collectibles.

The monthly (along with its 12 deadlines a year) has faded into history. But the map guide--still free but now 200 pages!-- has grown to cover the five western states, from Washington to Arizona. It's still the only free map guide of its kind in the US.

We may be focused on antiques, but we're learning to use the tools of the 21st century. A few years ago, we hatched a free-access subsidiary website (where you now find yourself, dear reader) and as of today, I'm starting a brand new blog.

Blogging about the antique world gives me lots of opportunities to indulge in what I enjoyed most about the monthly: researching and writing about antiques and collectibles, and interviewing people who are knowledgeable in the field. In a manner of speaking, I'll be reviving much of the monthly's best features without killing any more trees.

In our Comments readers can suggest specific antique subjects of interest, and I'll do my best to follow up. You'll be welcome to correct any mistakes and if you're so inclined, shower us with praise. We're starting an ever-growing bloglist and resource list with links that will cover everything from auctions and shows to how-to articles and news of interest.

The Internet made possible a way of life we at Cochran's only dreamed of a few years ago. One of our greatest pleasures has been sailing the coast of Mexico, and with the advent of e-mail, VOIP phones and fax, we moved ourselves and our publication South of the Border in 2006. Our home is now a five-minute walk from our boat, S/V "Bliss", in San Carlos, Sonora. Each year, when the annual Collector's Guide has been published and distributed, we'll continue our explorations, and you can follow along if you like, by visiting my other blog, 1st Mate. Welcome aboard!