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Vietnamese Antiques Take Big Euro Hit

by Sandra Lee Stuart (08/19/08).

A strange mix of art, antiques and collectibles news leads off with a multimillion-dollar miscalculation by the Vietnamese when auctioning a sunken treasure, followed by a collector who didn’t like paying for his artwork and finally, a 1938 Alfa Romeo takes Best of Show.

Call this the Big-Bucks-Oops Department

As the VietnamNet Bridge, an English-language online news site, tells it, Vietnam discovered a ship about 10 years ago that had sunk between 1727 and 1735. Remains of its cargo included thousands of what-are-now antiques, some of them precious Chinese pottery.

So far so good. The Vietnamese provinces of Ca Mau and Binh Thuan got the go-ahead to sell the trove. So what do they do? Decide to auction 76,000 pieces at Sotheby’s in Holland, that’s what.

Now that all the figures have been added and subtracted, the decision doesn’t look like such a great idea. The auction brought in 3 million euros—that’s$4.4 million. Then the Dutch income tax was subtracted. Now we’re down to $3.7 million. And of course, there’s the 20% that goes to Sotheby’s, the fees for protection, maintenance, etc. In the end, the Vietnamese saw less than $1.5 million.

It’s felt that Vietnam could have held the auction on its own turf and would have pocketed a lot more money.

$1-million doorstop

Are you, by any chance, missing a Picasso or two? Maybe a Giacometti?

This might be good news then. A large stash of stolen art has been located reports The Guardian . This bizarre theft story unfolded after the death of one William M.V. Kingsland. (He claimed the M and V stood for Milliken and Vanderbilt.)

Kingsland died without a will, and it was ordered that his collection of 300 art pieces be sold at auction. That’s when things got strange. A representative from one of the assigned auction houses went to take inventory in Kingsland’s Upper East Side Manhattan apartment and found artwork crammed all over, even under the bed. A Giacometti sculpture valued at $1 million was serving as a doorstop.

A gallery owner, who bought a John Singleton Copley portrait for $85,000, decided to check its provenance and discovered it had been stolen from Harvard University.

Other pieces were checked and came up also stolen. Then it was found that Kingsland had been living a lie. In rubbing shoulders with New York blue bloods, he claimed to be a Harvard graduate, been married to French royalty, lived in a fancy Fifth Avenue apartment. He was, in fact, the son of Jewish refugees from Europe who lived in the Bronx, not exactly blue-blood territory.

The FBI is looking for the rightful owners of the purloined pieces.

And the winner is . . .

A beautifully restored 1938 Alfa Romeo. And the competition is . . . the 58th Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

As The New York Times notes, “owners don’t just take the muscle car they owned as a teenager and give it a shine” when they enter this crème-de la-crème event.

The Concours is definitely for serious collectors of classic cars who can afford authentic restoration. That’s authentic down to knowing that Phillips-head screws weren’t used before the 1930s, so they better not show up in a 1926 Rolls-Royce.

Restorers search out original brochures and manuals, photos of the car being manufactured, the tools that were used and pictures of the first owners. The more documentation the better because the judges want proof that the restoration was done accurately.

Oh, the owner of the winning Alfa? That would be Jon Shirley, who was the president and CEO of Microsoft. Guess he can afford having megapricey collectibles if anyone can.

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