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Art and Collectibles Auctions Go Internet

by Sandra Lee Stuart (09/08/08).

Buying and selling art and collectibles online has galvanized art-world business transactions for the better.

In the Stone Age days before the Internet Revolution, you had to travel to auctions. Otherwise, you had to buy and sell locally. Long-distance communication within the art world depended on phones, letters and faxes, and information about upcoming auctions or one-of-a-kind items could be gleaned only through dealers, other collectors, trade publications and trade shows.

Ahh, the age of snail-mailing when you often missed superior art and collectibles because you found out too late they were available.

Now, thanks to the Internet, you can get the latest updates from a whole swath of auction houses, stumble across treasures you would never have encountered in your area and do business with anyone anywhere in the world. It is quick, cost effective and with search-engine researches, just a click away, satisfying.

Be cautious

As in the nonvirtual world, collectors should take precautions when making a purchase online. Use due diligence. Check the seller’s online reputation and record of previous and ongoing sales. Does he/she have plenty of positive feedback?

Research, research, then research some more

Research artwork and collectibles thoroughly. This can’t be said enough. Find out everything you can about the item—when and how it was made, what its past online or regular-sales history was, the background of the artist and his/her career. Consult art experts, art historians and art dealers before you buy.

Examine the photographs of the item and ask for closeups of details if necessary. Check signatures and labels.

Description once-over—better twice-over

Read the item’s description carefully. Is it an original work or a reproduction? Is there a clear mention of condition and of any repair or restoration work? If it is described as “original,” “antique” or “rare,” is this claim backed up by valid documentation—receipts, sales records, art catalogs, published news articles, etc—and by the opinion of reputed experts?

Always check where this documentation originated, and contact the experts personally to verify the claim. Ask the seller for names and addresses of previous owners, if any, and contact them to check on provenance.

Back up dealings with the seller

Get answers to any questions you have before you bid, and save all e-mail correspondence with the seller. Also keep a record of chats, phone calls, faxes, etc.

Make sure there is a written, money-back guarantee. If after you buy and get an expert appraisal, the work doesn’t measure up to the seller’s claims, you should be able to return it and get your money back.

And don’t forget shipping charges and policies.

Pay with a credit card. Then you can dispute the charge if you are not satisfied with the purchase.

Other things a buyer should know

Bidding at online auctions is fast. Many people engage in auction sniping, and the only way you can win against such bidders is setting up sniper software of your own.

If “exceptional” collectibles are bunched with ordinary ones that have similar descriptions or are offered at exceptionally low prices, either the seller is clueless or making inflated claims. Be cautious. Watch out, too, for low-priced “exceptional” items with few or no bids. Given the abundance of well-informed buyers, such works are usually inundated with bids.

Following this advice, you should be able to successfully buy and sell art and collectibles online.

WorthPoint—the premier Web site for art, antiques and collectibles

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