Researching 101

Whether you think you found a gem in your Granny’s attic or you are searching for the piece of your dreams and don’t want to get ripped off, at some point you will want to do some research.  For sure the internet has made researching items so much easier but you need to use your head and good sense to come out on top. Provenance makes or breaks value so the more you know, the better you can make decisions.  

I found this piece, NOW WHAT? 

Makers Marks, Tags, Stamps, Signatures.  All of these tell a story. If you are fortunate to have a piece with any of this information, it will greatly help you in your quests!  There is a great community of enthusiasts and collectors who have vast knowledge of makers, designers and their works who post blogs and updates.  Start your searching on google, Facebook, Instagram and my favorite, Pinterest.  There are many ads and catalogs posted either for sale or just as a reference.  These are valuable resources! 

Now what do most people ask first when they post in a group to crowd source provenance? HOW MUCH IS IT WORTH? The short answer, nothing if no one wants it. Half the battle of reselling your items is getting it to the audience who does want it and is willing to pay market value to get it.  Any legit retailer, myself include, has overhead which needs to be included in the selling price.  We are trying to cover expenses and make some money on top of it.  If this job was easy, everyone would be doing it.  It’s hard work and in 4 years, I am still not making much of a profit nor contributing to my personal finances so keep that in mind when you support the retail industry.  If anyone is getting rich doing this at this stage, i’d love to meet them! 😂

Let’s talk about some great places to start sleuthing.  Google and Google Image will pick up large auction house listings, first dibs and other online sales.  Use this as a start but be leery of claims unless there is significant proof of provenance.  There are a lot of false claims coming from the highest end markets.  

Ebay can be a great place as well and always remember to search current listings and then go one step further by clicking ADVANCED followed by checking the box for SOLD listings.  This will get you realized sales.  I also consider the source because there are many facets to retail.  Ebay does attract collectors so an in demand item may realize for top dollar, however, a lot of large items are PICK UP ONLY so to me, that seller it not really experiencing the full national market which can affect his price.   

Once you think you have figured out the origins of your piece, you can move forward into other realms.  I love Pinterest for this and have found many original ads and catalogs there.  Ebay also has been a great source for this.   

Art specific items can be fun.  I have found info in the American Art Archives of the Smithsonian, local art museums have libraries as well.  I did find a search engine (worldcat.org) covering libraries and the art museums around the country are also in the search.  I have twice used resources at the Philadelphia Art Museum and it is easy to reserve, make an appt to view and then you sign in at the desk and get a visitor’s pass.  This pass lets you spend time in the building perusing the current exhibits before you leave as well!  Parking in the residential area behind the museum is free for up to two hours!  Also note that you may even find a published book or exhibition catalog! Some leads do not amount to much but you will find out more as you go along.

 Exhibit catalogs and resources I perused at the Philly Art Museum researching Marie Cuttoli and my Fernand Leger tapis which to date is my most valuable find. 

Exhibit catalogs and resources I perused at the Philly Art Museum researching Marie Cuttoli and my Fernand Leger tapis which to date is my most valuable find. 

Pay sites?  I have paid for day use of ask Art and the like.  Not that impressed and most of the info was publicly available anyway, Sotheby’s and Christie’s are searchable direct.  

Print or Original?  One trick to help you determine if you have a print is to use a magnifying glass.  A print will show all the tiny dots in the ink from the printing process.  An original will not have the dots.  I started by checking a Picasso print I had so it was easy to see and then looked at my piece and it definitely was not a print.

 This auction had the piece listed as a lithograph.  It is indeed an original sketch. I have no reason to believe this artist made copies as of my research to date.  I would like to travel to Connecticut to investigate some more in the museums local to where she lived.

This auction had the piece listed as a lithograph.  It is indeed an original sketch. I have no reason to believe this artist made copies as of my research to date.  I would like to travel to Connecticut to investigate some more in the museums local to where she lived.

Sculpture.  Most reproductions of sculpture are plaster, possibly hollow and were big in the 70’s.  If you find signatures of NPI, FRANKLIN MINT, AUSTIN PRODUCTS, they are def reproductions.  If you tap them they will ring high in pitch.  The usually have felt on the bottom. Some are mounted to a board or base but many just have felt covering the hollow middle.  The 2 original sculptures I have are both mounted on a base.  The bolt that hold the piece to the base is visible under the base.  Each piece is made out of a material that is denser than ceramic and makes a dull less bright noise when tapped...reminds me of striking rubber.  In both cases, they are signed by the artist down toward the base on the side or back of the piece.  My Mankowski piece has copyright symbol after his name (B. Mankowski) but it was a series he made to sell multiple pieces.  The other sculpture I have from Bette Fast only says FAST.  She seemed to sell her work privately and was not widely represented.

 My two original nude sculptures. Each made of different composition materials but by touch and sound they are very similar and distinctly different than a plaster or ceramic reproduction. 

My two original nude sculptures. Each made of different composition materials but by touch and sound they are very similar and distinctly different than a plaster or ceramic reproduction. 

It really is interesting to see how the art world works.  I have seen relatively unknown local artists selling prints, copyrighting their works and making a living. They do not show up in internet searches but they were selling.  Buy what you love and find out what you can about it.  If you are lucky, you will be able to unravel some of the mystery!  

Happy New Year to all my friends!  I look forward to an even more exciting 2018!  Local peeps I will be having a clearance sale in my space at Fleetwood Antique Mall this month. 20% off everything, 10% off featured furnishings and Holiday items are all marked at least 50% off.  The mall is open until 3:00 New Year’s Eve. More items will arrive after I am done celebrating Christmas with family.  It is always the two weeks of Christmas for us! 👌😂🎄

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