Bucks for Busts

December 2nd, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

We lesser mortals may gape at antiquities in museums, squinting at the plaques, straining to recall our history lessons, and generally marveling at the artistry of the potters and sculptors. Others know potential profit when they approach it.

In today’s FT Wealth maggy, the mindset of collectors, dealers and museums is the cover story. As it turns out, we have been distracted by the past few decades of tales of tainted treasures. Countries and some individuals have worked to get back looted, stolen or smuggled works. Folk concerned with the money aspect above all understand the implications.

For centuries, museums and rich collectors rubbed the spoils of Colonialism and conquest. They’d haughtily proclaim they were the rightful, righteous guardians of treasures that would be lost otherwise.

As others began to track the routes of various statues and such, they found less honorable provenance for many. We’ve been slowly learning of various artifacts and art returned to wronged owners.

The business angle? The FT turns to Christian Levett, a hedge-fund founder whose museum displays his collection of antiquities. He says provenance is the key differentiator now.

For tax evasion or less nefarious reasons, ownership paper trails on many objects are scant or none. He claim to buy only with verifiable info. The dubious works are always at risk.

He figures, “What’s happened in the last few years is that the price of antiquities with a strong provenance has shot up, while those with a weak one are not really moving. A two-tier market of pricing has developed, and the sky is the limit for items with great provenance.”

Check the paperwork before writing that multimillion dollar check.

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