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The business of art collecting

How to turn your hobby into a good investment, leveraging on the new opportunities offered by online worldwide auctioning.

I started my passion for art collection during the year 2008 when the collapsing of the financial markets taught me the hard way that investing real money in evanescent financial entities such as stocks or forex exchange, was simply not worth it: they have no beauty, no perfume, no flavor, but they do leave you with a bitter taste when they drop 70 or 90 percent without a warning and a rationally explicable cause. Watching real money just vanishing without a trace made me think that it would have been a better idea to buy something concrete, which I could look at, touch, hang on a wall or put on a shelf of my library, and on top of that, bring me good feelings.

This is what an artwork can primarily give to a collector: the feeling of ownership and, if the buyer is an esthete, the pure joy of the vision of beauty. The great thing is that all these good feelings could also come with a discrete financial return if the artworks you are buying are artistically and/or historically valuable, because their value would increases over time. So yes, art collecting is an investment and follows the same rules of the financial market, but it is just more rewarding in terms of material feelings and less volatile in economic value; especially if you diversify well your interests into both contemporary art and antiquities. Contemporary art has the highest potential returns while antiquities are more stable and less risky. Somebody could argue that artworks being material assets are not liquid but it is fundamentally wrong: if for the financial stocks there are the stock markets, for art works there are the auction houses.

Buying art at auction can be as fun as a game, in fact you are competing against other buyers to secure for yourself a particular object, and as challenging as treasure hunting, as you never know when the item you like will come up for sale. Therefore you need to keep searching and looking on various auction sites on a daily basis if you do not want to realize with horror that the art work you were searching for so long was just auctioned and sold the day before (believe me it is painful). Before buying at auction you should also be sure of what you are bidding on. I would advise you to bid on an item only when you are reasonably sure to know what it really is. Asymmetry of information is the main risk, and at the same time the best opportunity, offered by the worldwide auction market, whose backbone is made by hundreds of thousands of small and medium auction houses, a great part of which cannot offer the holistic expertise and customer support of the market leaders. What could look like a great deal, may turn out to be just be a copy of, a follower of, a manner of, a circle of… and so on.

What I am trying to say is: be aware to bid within your field of expertise; this is the first rule of safe and rewarding art auctioning. Auction houses are very difficult when it comes to returning an item because you discovered that it is not what you thought you were buying. Therefore, ask additional pictures to those available, pretend a detailed condition report and, when available, ask for a certificate of authenticity and the provenience. To know where an artwork comes from is both interesting and useful for any collector: a painting that was hanging for a few centuries in the house of a noble family may give you an extra flavor when you look at it hanging in yours.

So buying at auction can be both fun, challenging but also time consuming. If you are an expert collector the rewards can be big in terms of money savings, compared with a comfortable purchase at an art gallery. This is true for any antique and modern artwork (design furniture, painting, print, lithograph, sculpture), silverware and even jewelry, because most galleries leverage their expertise on a specific art field to buy at auction and then resell at three to four times their purchasing price with the justification (sometime well deserved) of offering a full guarantee of authenticity, which is sometimes hard to find in the auction market.

I collect 18th century neoclassical etchings, mainly the Views of Rome made by the Italian architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi and its teacher Giuseppe Vasi. I started buying them in art galleries in Rome, the city where I used to live and whose millenarian architectural beauties stimulated my passion for neoclassical architecture. From 2008 I have bought them at auction, browsing among the offers of several auction houses around the world, which are now easily reachable from my desk, thanks to the booming of online auctioning services. Scanning the entire worldwide auction market for a specific artist or, even worse, for a list of artists, was however a very time consuming work.

Tired of browsing for hours in search of an art piece I created Lot-Art.com, a free platform for searching auction’s lots worldwide from a single place. Presenting the most comprehensive, up to date list of worldwide lots online, Lot-Art is currently the best auctions browsing tool available on the web where art collectors & dealers can easily browse through hundreds of thousands of Live, Sold and Aftersale lots from a single portal, avoiding lengthy multiple searches on different sites.

Join us at Lot-Art.com to be part of this innovative project!

Your feedbacks and comments are welcome, please contact us.

Francesco Gibbi
Founder, Lot-Art.com