Rinker on Collectibles: Fun Reads with Antiques and Collectibles Themes

I was aware of Barbara Shapiro’s “The Art Forger” and had it on my “to read” list. Available in paperback from Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing (ISBN: 978-1-61620-316-0), I sprung for the $14.95 plus tax and acquired a copy.

In the course of preparing the annual “Rinker on Collectibles” summer reads column, which focused on cozy mysteries with antiques and collectibles themes, I encountered several additional antiques and collectibles theme novels that fell outside the cozy mysteries category. I acquired and read them as well, enjoying every moment. As winter approaches, instead of settling down for a long winter’s nap, find an easy chair, sit back, relax and read one or more of the titles.

While my wife Linda was attending the July 2013 Davenport University Board Retreat in Petoskey, Michigan, she stopped at Horizon Books in Petoskey to buy a bed-time read. Hoping that “A Dance with Dragons,” book five in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga, was finally available in paperback, I searched the shelves but did not find it. The young lady behind the counter informed me that the title still was only available in hardcover. Being cheap (the truth will out in the end), I told her I would wait.

“What other titles might interest you?” the young lady asked.

“Anything with an antiques and collectibles theme,” I replied.

“Have you read Barbara Shapiro’s ‘The Art Forger’?”

I was aware of the title and had it on my “to read” list. Available in paperback from Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing (ISBN: 978-1-61620-316-0), I sprung for the $14.95 plus tax and acquired a copy.

The book is historical fiction, a genre of which I am fond. During the evening of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves dressed as Boston police officers and claiming to be responding to an alarm entered the museum, locked the two night security guards in the basement, and stole 13 works of art, including Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee” and five works of art on paper by Degas. The stolen art has never been recovered.

“The Art Forger” tells the story of Claire Roth, a talented but frustrated young artist who supports herself by copying famous paintings. A local Boston gallery dealer brings Roth what he claims is a stolen Degas painting (as fictional as the story) from the Gardner heist. Since Roth is painting a copy, the gallery owner assures her that she is not violating any laws. Further, he tempts Roth with the promise of a one-person gallery show when the forgery is completed. It is an offer that Roth cannot refuse.

“Provenance: How A Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art”

The book chronicles in detail the process Roth uses to create the “fake” copy, a copy so good it could pass as the original. The forgery techniques described in “The Art Forger” are a “how-to-do-it” guide for future copyists and fakers, not necessarily a comforting thought.

I recommend reading Laney Salisbury & Aly Sujo’s “Provenance: How A Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art” (Penguin Press, 2009 / ISBN 978-1-59420-220-9) before reading “The Art Forger.” “Provenance” chronicles the dealings of John Drewe, an art dealer who convinced John Myatt and other art forgers to create “new” works by old masters and contemporary artists and then provided impeccable provenance for them. Roth identifies with Myatt and the other forgers, often reflecting on their techniques and activities in the pages of “The Art Forger.”

A back story involves Roth and an ex-lover, also an artist. During her lover’s depression, Roth paints a picture which the lover passes as his own and which is eventually purchased by the Museum of Modern Art. When Roth reveals that she painted it, a committee of art experts rules against her.

The cast of characters in “The Art Forger” include starving artists, gallery owners, museum curators and directors, the Paris impressionists and Gardner family members and artists associated with them. The plot twists are numerous. Roth winds up in jail; but, to borrow one of Shakespeare’s titles, all’s well that ends well.

Robin Williams, born in England, is the owner of Hampshire Antiques, Ltd., in Vancouver, British Columbia. Hampshire Antiques specializes in paintings, collector’s items, and movie rentals.

Williams is the author of two novels, “The Road to Reno” (2012) and “The Portland Payoff” (2013). The first was published as a Grandville Island Publishing imprint. The second is self-published as a Hampshire Antiques, Ltd., imprint. Information about both novels is available here.

Although the characters are fictional, they are drawn heavily from Williams’ own experiences. Frank Ball, owner of Regency Antiques in Vancouver, is the central character. Catherine Chan, the manager of Ball’s downtown store in “The Road to Reno,” and Colin Fisher, an art expert, are the secondary characters.

Like “The Art Forger,” there are no dead bodies in “The Road to Reno” and “The Portland Payoff.” A strong storyline and a wealth of insights into the actual workings of the antiques and collectibles trade are what make these books fascinating. 

“The Road to Reno”

“The Portland Payoff”

Williams makes no attempt to hide the infighting, back-stabbing, semi-scrupulous nature of the antiques trade. His stories are filled with the good, the bad and the ugly. Gossip and rumors abound. Myth and reality blend together to create truth.

“The Road to Reno” has a buried treasure focus. Everyone in the trade dreams of the find or deal that will make them rich. In 99.999 percent of the cases, the dream is shattered. Yet, hope never fades, whether the search is for treasure buried in a barn floor or securing the exclusive rights to a major estate every dealer in the area has his/her heart set on acquiring.

Palmer/Wirfs’ July Portland Expo, one of my favorite antiques and collectibles shows, plays a central role in “The Portland Payoff.” Williams’ novels are excellent in pointing out that business survival in the antiques and collectibles trade depends on multiple income streams. Frank Ball and his Regency Antiques crowd are hustlers, always on the move sleuthing out the next possible deal.

“The Road to Reno” and “The Portland Payoff” also show the increasing role of globalization of antiques and collectibles. In addition to the obvious Canadian-American connection, Frank Ball also does business with a Japanese investor and his daughter.

Williams’ novels have a Jonathan Gash (John Grant) quality in terms of an accurate look at trade practices but lack a charismatic central character such as Lovejoy. Williams’ choice to set his novels in the present is a plus. How Frank Ball and his crew react to the consequences of the 2008-09 Great Recession provides practical lessons for current and future dealers.

“Yarn to Go: A Yarn Retreat Mystery”

The cozy mystery genre is becoming specialized and sophisticated. Antiques and collectibles is only one of the many sub-genres. Others include animal themes, culinary-cooking themes, holiday themes, hobbies themes and more. The hobbies theme subdivides into golfing, knitting, quilting and teddy bear cozies. Occasionally, some of these have an antiques and collectibles component.

Just for fun, I read Betty Hechtman’s “Yarn to Go: A Yarn Retreat Mystery,” a Berkley Prime Crime imprint of the Berkley Publishing Group (ISBN: 978-0-425-25221-5). The novel had everything one expects—an idyllic historic setting (California’s Monterey Peninsula), a reluctant amateur female sleuth, the appropriate dead body (in this case more than one), plenty of theme details, a background boyfriend (in this case two potential rivals), a host of supportive and obnoxious secondary characters, and quality writing. Expect dessert chef Casey Feldstein turned reluctant yarn retreat manager and knitter to stick around, no reflection on the quality of her sweets.

All the titles are available on Amazon and other bookstore websites. Set time aside and read them. It will not be wasted.

Are you familiar with antiques and collectibles theme novels about which I have not written? If yes, e-mail the name of the author and title to harrylrinker@aol.com.

Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site.

You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2013

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