Collecting ancient art offers unique rewards. Not only can one derive tremendous enjoyment from one's collection while one owns it, but it is almost certain to appreciate in value. The limited supply and growing demand almost guarantees this. There are few other things one can own that provide such a neat win-win situation. In this section we provide some tips on how to collect, how to get the most out of your collection and how and what to buy that is most likely to provide both the greatest enjoyment and the best return on your investment.
Collecting antiquities and ancient art and coins has a long and illustrious history and there have been many notable collectors. The emperor Augustus was one of the first collectors of ancient coins we know of. US president John Quincy Adams formed a famous early American collection. Many American billionaires also formed famous collections, notably J.P. Morgan, Calouste Gulbenkian, William Randolph Hearst, J. Paul Getty, and Nelson Bunker Hunt. Nearly all of the great European national collections were first formed privately by kings and nobility who were often avid collectors. Lorenzo de' Medici, the patron of the Renaissance, was one of the most notable. Even the Catholic popes formed wonderful private collections which are now the core of the current Vatican collections. And many important scientists and scholars, such as Sigmund Freud and Desmond Morris, have also formed fine collections. In our own time many famous personalities such as Buddy Ebsen, Elton John and Tina Turner, to mention just a few, have also been avid collectors. Now it is quite possible to continue in this grand tradition by forming a collection of one's own.
Generally most collectors form collections according to some theme of particular interest to them. For example many collectors of ancient coins put together collections of portrait coins of Roman emperors and royal personalities, and collections of the 12 Caesars of Seutonius are especially popular. Other collectors of ancient coins assemble sets of coins of different mints of the Greek City States, or coins portraying famous historical and mythological figures, or ancient architectural depictions. In the area of antiquities the possibilities are almost endless and there are collectors who strive to assemble collections on almost every theme imaginable from Roman glass to Moche art. The best way to begin a collection is to buy what you like. Almost inevitably if one uses this approach one will find that one or more collecting themes begin to emerge on their own. At that point one can become more serious in developing those particular themes. It is difficult to go wrong with this approach. Examples of some popular collecting themes are ancient weapons, jewelry, various pre-Columbian cultures, Gandharan sculpture, Indus Valley pottery, Greek pottery, small bronze figures and Holy Land items with Biblical context. All of these are available beginning at very reasonable prices.
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Here is some general advice on what one needs to consider when purchasing ancient art. We can of course provide much more detailed advice to assist you with your collecting needs if you desire:
QUALITY: Artistic quality and 'eye appeal' are generally more important than rarity when it comes to investment potential as such items are the most likely to appreciate in value. Generally the finest pieces of all are most likely to increase the most in value. While we all can't afford an old master or impressionist painting, it does pay to buy the finest pieces one can afford. The flip side of this is that though they may not appreciate as quickly, items of great rarity can still be had at very modest prices.
CONDITION: Condition affects value, but not as much as one might expect. Many of the antiquities offered by the major auction houses have been repaired or have restoration, and this is not necessarily noted in the catalog descriptions and can only be truly ascertained by requesting a full condition report in writing. Nevertheless such pieces often command top dollar in the bidding. As long as most of the piece is original, eye appeal and quality are more important than repair. The general rule is that value depends on the amount of the piece that is original and unrestored. Expert repair is generally acceptable and even to be expected in items this old.
PROVENANCE: Collectors of ancient art are only the most current stewards of objects with long long histories. The provenance, or ownership history of a piece of art, can be a fascinating topic in itself, but unfortunately the provenance of most objects is not known. Provenance has some importance in buying, and a good provenance certainly adds some value. We have been fortunate enough to offer pieces from a number of notable collections. Nevertheless provenances can be easily overstated or even faked. Thus our recommendation is that the piece itself is the most important consideration when making a purchase. If one purchases a good piece, one can't go wrong.
AUTHENTICITY: Unfortunately there are fakes and forgeries on the market, especially on public venues where anyone can sell such as eBay. The intelligent collector's best protection is to always buy only from reliable and established dealers who have the experience necessary to spot fakes and who offer full lifetime guarantees for all the pieces they sell. Unfortunately such unlimited guarantees of authenticity are something even many of the major auction houses do not provide. And a certificate of authenticity is only as good as the establishment that issues it.
BUDGET: Nearly all of us have limited financial resources and need to know how to best collect what we can afford. In this respect it is important to consult with a knowledgeable expert who can assist in developing a collecting plan based on realistic expectations that will fit your budget.
EXPERT ADVICE: We have been providing expert advice to collectors since 1984, and we will be most happy to assist you with impartial advice and suggestions on all your collecting and investing needs in the field of ancient art. There is ordinarily no charge for informal advice. For services that require a substantive effort there may be a nominal charge. We would be happy to help you put together a collecting plan to fit your interests and budget. Please direct your inquiries and questions to Edgar@EdgarLOwen.com.
You may also contact us at Edgar L. Owen, Ltd., PO Box 714, Lake Hopatcong, NJ 07849, USA. Telephone: 973-398-9557.