Feb

15

Dr Artine ARtinianIn discussing the "returns" on collectibles, the dour are ignoring an important point. A "collector" derives utility from the process of collecting — whereas a speculator derives utility only from the P&L. For a collector, making money is nice, but learning about, acquiring, and possessing objects of beauty are the primary goals.

For many collectors, this is a lifelong process, and the pleasure that a collector derives from researching, handling, gazing at, and displaying his collection provides utility that is not at all comparable to a monthly account statement.(Does anyone hang a Vanguard S&P500 Account Statement over their fireplace?)

Truly great and rare collectibles only find their way back into the market after the "3-Ds" (death, divorce and despair) which is why the process of collecting really great objects cannot be rushed. When an important collector dies and his collection reaches the auction block, the provenance of being owned by this collector can actually increase the value of the collectibles (to the benefit of the heirs). With the exception of the 3-D's, most collectors voluntarily sell an object only to upgrade their collection (or if they lose interest), and the bid/ask spread in these circumstances can be quite reasonable.

Another observation about collectibles is that there is a dramatic premium associated with A+ quality objects versus A- quality objects. Invisible in-painting, hairline cracks, re-finishing, provenance can all increase/decrease the value of an object by more than 50%. Because there is little fungibility, a novice is often surprised why two seemingly identical objects command importantly different prices.

Lastly, it is simply wrong to make blanket statements about the dealer community. Some of these dealers are crooked. But many are erudite and informed, and are able to access rare objects which would otherwise remain invisible. They compete with the auction houses for merchandise and try to share their excitement with aspiring collectors.

Lastly, in my limited experience involving Early American art and my extensive experience trading Inverse IO's and PO's (and other esoteric financial instruments), antique dealer bid/ask spreads can sometimes be tighter than Wall Street dealer bid/ask spreads. The best spreads are realized when you use the dealer as an agent and not as a principal.

Pitt T. Maner III writes:

The nicest gentleman I have ever had the privilege to meet was the great collector and literary scholar, Dr. Artine Artinian of Bard College. For many years he lived with his wife on the ocean block of Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. Dr. Artinian liked to think of himself as a "boulevardier" or "flaneur" (in the best sense) as he made his daily walks down Worth Avenue to look in the many art galleries and antique stores. He liked most of all to sit in one of the vias near a French bakery and have a cup of coffee, smoke his pipe and enjoy conversations with the many tourists, shoppers, and local merchants passing by. He was incredibly intelligent but very easy to talk to; humorous, and always interested in what you were doing. He feigned a bit of good-natured, self-importance when in his 90s he would carry along with him a work or manuscript of fiction that made a veiled reference to him—it did not take long, however, to figure out that you were in the presence of a kind-hearted genius. If you were a good artist he made it known immediately that he was a "headhunter" and that he would trade you a small work of art or a manuscript from his remaining collection if you would paint him your self-portrait.

As a professor he translated many of du Maupassant's stories and works into English. He related to the local newspaper tales of his exasperating experiences trying to chaperone students on summer trips to France where invariably many complicated, amorous entanglements and "disasters" occurred. Parents were not amused. Chevy Chase was one of his students.

From his 1995 obituary (the entire text is very interesting if you have the chance) in the NY Times:

"There was Artinian the accumulator, so skilled a trader that on a professor's salary he assembled a collection of original letters and manuscripts that included the work of Maupassant, Flaubert, Zola and Proust.

The collection featured an unpublished manuscript by Proust, which Professor Artinian had discovered, with a dealer's help, in 1958. A handwritten study of the French poet and art critic Robert de Montesquieu, the manuscript was long presumed lost.

Professor Artinian retired from Bard in 1964, after selling part of his collection to the University of Texas. In later years, he also collected portraits of famous subjects, including Jules Verne, Marcel Marceau, Thomas Mann, the pianist Ignace Paderewski and the poet Rabindranath Tagore. "

My recollection is that many of Dr. Artinian's finds were made in Parisian bookstands along the banks of the Seine. Dr. Artinian made significant donations of art and literary items to the University of Texas and other colleges during his lifetime. He was a generous person but one can imagine that in his younger years he was an astute dealmaker and knew how to strike a good bargain. I remember he had a habit of having a very light meal (he called it dessert) for dinner— a fruit or other healthy snack.

There is no doubt though that Dr. Artinian's passion for collecting—along with his enjoyment of life, people and literature— and, of course, a wonderful wife contributed to his positive, upbeat attitude and long, interesting life. It is hard to put a price on that.

 


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