Tuesday, February 19, 2013

West Palm Beach Antique Festival

So this guy, 30 something, comes in my booth at the December show and wants a price on a Nautical painting that I have in inventory. Nice size, 14x24, and in perfect condition, dated 1954.

It's not by a highwayman, but by another African-American artist from Miami, locally famous, by the name of Joe Selby (1893-1960), a listed artist whose subjects were the ships and yachts that docked at the Miami city pier between 1921 and 1959.
I give the guy full disclosure, as I will often do, tell him I paid a grand for it and I'm asking $1500.00.
Selby has auction records for similar things from $950 to $3500. I have printed them out to show potential customers as proof if they don't know me. So, I think it's reasonable for me to price it at that level, all the while expecting some sort of counter-offer.

Well, it's way too much for this guy, so he passed on any further meaningful conversation. He studied it for 10 minutes, though, and left only to come back to the booth to gaze longingly at it another 3 or 4 times during that show.

Then he comes back for the January show. He's decided, at this point, to get his tongue wagging, and decided to teach me all about the Selby market.

He really likes it, wants it, but he "informs" me that Selby's work from the 50's are worth no more than, say 4 or 500. He thinks I'd be smart to "cut my losses" and let him buy it.

Naturally, knowing better, I tune that out and tell him I'm still asking 1500, but that price is not carved in stone. But I'm not going to take a loss on a recent purchase, especially when I'm comfortable with the pricing structure.

So, his next idea is to offer a trade.

Now, I LOVE trades, and consider them, from my point of view, the opportunity to make a profit twice. Once on the outgoing inventory (in theory, anyway) and again on whatever I get in trade when I sell the new piece.

So I answer, "Sure. What do you have in mind?"

He's got a 24x36 Sam Newton painting on upson. Naturally, it's wonderful, etc, and his wife will kill him if he lets it go, all that sort of posturing nonsense to make it sound very desirable.

I tell him, "I think we can make some kind of deal, I just have to inspect it". He agrees with that, and off he goes.

Now it's the February show, he shows up and says he's got it in his car, so I tell him to bring it in, which he does. It's in a nice big box and I'm hoping it's one of the gorgeous ones. I have probably bought and sold 400 to 500 of Sam's paintings since 1995, so I'm ready for anything. It could be worth 300 or 3000. I can't wait for him to get it out of the box.

Out it comes, and it looks just like this, only stretched out to 36 inches:

A scene repeated many times by all three Newton brothers (and all the rest of the highwaymen) in every imaginable size. It's pretty, yes, but most collectors already have one, a blue river moonlight with a couple of cabbage palms and some rudimentary dock remnants, there are so many of them, and its value is close to entry level for a decent Sam in perfect condition. If I owned it, it would be for sale at about 750, or half of my Selby asking price. This determination at first glance.

Then I pick it up, angle it in the light, and I see evidence of scrapes, paint loss, and clumsy attempts at cleaning dirt off.  Now, I'm thinking, "condition issues, sell at 500 max" if I had it.

Then I check the signature. It's a genuine scratch-in, done in the 60's or 70's in wet paint, and it clearly reads, "L, Newton".

Wait.....what? "You told me you were bringing a SAM Newton. This is clearly signed by Lemuel."

He ignores that completely and tells me it's actually by HAROLD Newton, and that he signed some of his paintings with an L instead of an H.

I told him that that was preposterous and proceeded to shamelessly state my qualifications for knowledge in the highwaymen market, and specifically my expertise regarding the Newton brothers and their work.

Now this is a guy, who I suspect has seen, besides the 8 Sams, 4 Harolds, and the one lonely Lemuel I have available in my booth at the time, maybe a couple of dozen highwaymen paintings.

He elaborates that "a couple of respected knowledgeable highwaymen dealers have told him that H signed some paintings L".

Of course, I know that can't be true unless these guys are "THOSE KINDS OF DEALERS" who are smart enough to know that Harold's work is the most valuable of the three brothers (and the rest of the group as well) and just happen to have a Lemuel or two for sale while they're spinning their yarn.

So, I think he just made that story up to cover his first lie, or maybe his mistake, that he was bringing a Sam to try and trade.

Rather than call him a liar, which would be counter productive to any possible business, I simply told him that  "those" dealers either were misinformed, certainly not knowledgeable or flat out lying to him.

However, since I felt disrespected that he didn't believe me, but insisted that they were experts, and he believed them, I decided to risk being disrespectful back at him by saying, "Well, those guys are FULL OF SHIT".

Now, Jim Fitch told me almost a decade ago, when I sent him a draft of my first article to be published in Antiques and Art Around Florida, and asked him his thoughts, "Profanity is never acceptable".

In this case, I respectfully disagree.

The next West Palm Beach Antique show is in a couple of weeks. I can't wait to see if this clown shows up, once again to lovingly gaze at the painting he so badly wants.