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Cruise ship art auction tips

Because you have a right to my opinion

July 2008:   This New York Times article titled ?Art Auctions on Cruise Ships Lead to Anger, Accusations and Lawsuits? notes that a class action lawsuits have been filed in California and Florida against Park West Art Auctions at sea:

"It was very upsetting,? Mr. Maldonado said. ?I?m not mad about spending $73,000. I?m mad about spending $73,000 for works that I was told are worth more than $100,000 and are probably worth $10,000, if they?re even real.?

The article also notes that Park West admits that their cruise ship art auction sales are in excess of $150m/year, and that the cruise lines share in the profits.

?But Mr. Scaglione said the company posted between $300 million and $400 million in annual revenue last year, with cruise-ship sales by 85 auctioneers accounting for roughly half that volume. The rest comes from gallery sales in Michigan and special events like hotel auctions, he said.

Asked about his financial arrangements with the cruise lines, he confirmed that they receive an undisclosed percentage of Park West revenue onboard. They are also guaranteed ?a certain minimum against a percentage of the gross? that he compared to rent.?

Buying tips for cruise ship auctions

Despite the alleged shenanigans that go on in cruise ships auctions, (see below), it is possible to get a good deal from a cruse ship auction,  but you must do your homework.  First, NEVER buy your art in an auction setting.  If you approach the salesman and explain that you are scared of auctions, they will gladly sell you anything that you want.

If you see something that you want to buy from a cruise ship action, remember that they sell limited-edition prints, and there is no urgency to buy what you want when it comes-up at auction.  They sell the same prints every week, and they have more, trust me.

Evaluating authenticity and scarcity

Most of the cruise ship art auctions guarantee authenticity, so that's not an issue, but they don't always guarantee how many copies of their "limited editions" are in circulation.  Most of the larger cruise ship art auctions are very wealthy from decades of giant profits, and they have the financial leverage to commission specific works from known artists. 

Remember, the "fractional number" of the numbered editions is the specific number of the print, over the total for the edition, such that 55/750 means that this is print #55 from the edition run of 750 copies.  If the art does not specifically say that the plate was destroyed, it could be used in the future to water-down the value of your investment art.

But wait, you cannot assume that there was only one edition.  There may have teen 10 editions, meaning that your cherished "investment art" may not be as scare as the auction house would like you to believe.  The only exception is when the auctioneer warrants that the plate was destroyed after the print run.

Rare Rembrandt woodcut etchings

A perfect example of this principle is with the "original" Rembrandt woodcuts.  The cruise ship auction houses display them like they were in a museum, centered in a shrine as-if they were priceless treasures.  The problem with these investments is twofold:

  • Age of the art - The woodcuts from one of the classical "masters" implies that the paper is hundreds of years old.  Evidently, an "original" woodcut needs only be struck from the 300 year-old wood, even if the printing is being done in the back room, while-you-wait.  Art masters like Albrecht Durer (you can get his "originals" for under $5k) used extremely hard, dense woods, and pound-for-pound, ancient wooden plates are still stronger than steel, capable of being used for thousands of prints.
  • Autograph of the artist - Remember, "signed" DOES NOT mean that the artist autographed the print.  This can be outright deceptive in cases like the Dali prints, where the print is truly "signed", but somebody scribbled a phony autograph on the print border.  Unscrupulous auctioneers may say that the print is signed and the buyer is deceived into believing that the autograph is authentic.
  • Number of reproductions - Remember, you must never count-on the scarcity of the print.  It may be scarce today, but ten years from now after the master lithograph plates have been sold a few times, who know whether their future owner won't decide on a run of 100,000 copies?

Let's look at how to avoid paying too much in a cruise ship auction.

Appraising the value of cruise ship art

With the wonders of cruise ship communications, a quick visit to the Internet Cafe can allow you to compare the price of your art to related pieces.  You can search eBay completed auctions and see the real market value of any investment art.

This eBay search for limited edition prints shows many of the same artists that you will find on cruise ship art auctions (Peter Max, Picasso, Andy Warhol, Chagall). I'll save you some work and estimate the average value of each as of 1/11/2007:

Picasso print values

Here is the eBay search for "signed" (autographed) Picasso prints.  When I ran the search, prices ranged from $16,000 down to $200.   

Chagall print values

This search for signed Chagall print values reveals prices from $18,000 for a 21"x17" print, down to $200 for a hand-signed Chagall print.

Always print a copy of the eBay auctions as evidence of the for your price negotiations (remember, I don't recommend buying in a cruise ship auction if they will sell you the art privately).  

A savvy art collector may find a reasonable deal on a cruise ship art auction but many of the attendees of cruise ship art auctions are led to believe that they are being educated in art and I've see subtle coercion by cruise ship art auctioneers. 

Remember to be suspicious and verify any claims of fraud and scams on the web.  The internet is full of unverifiable claims and you need to carefully evaluate the comments about cruise ship art auctions.




Burleson is the American Team

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