Throwing Good Money After Bad Art...
Canadian Robert Bateman is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, with his particular forte being wildlife, at which no one surpasses his mastery. His originals are fabulous.
Robert Bateman has signed more autographs than any other human being, living or dead...
He has made more money than any other human being from selling his autographs - his on paper copies of his images.
He has become a multi-millionaire by selling what he calls "Limited Edition Fine Art Prints," of hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands, of his autographed images copied as reproductions on paper.
He is probably the most successful artist at doing this, of any in history. Others have followed suit since.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been pleased to pay hundreds, sometimes over $1000 for his signature on paper copies.
Everyone has friends and relatives who have his autographed paper prints in their homes. Which brings up a good question: just how "limited" are these art prints when just about everyone has one or two or...
Right a bear splashing after salmon in a stream spooks gulls into flight. The original bill from 1997 is still attached when the painting went to auction during an estate sale in 2010.
We can recall in the early 1980s being enthusiastically told by educated biologist friends, who had just purchased two Bateman "prints," that "The gallery owner said these are an extremely good art investment. She said they're already worth more than we paid for them!"
In fact, despite the hype from a motivated seller they were throwing good money after bad art.
They paid $700-800 for each of their "Batemans" in expensive 1980 dollars.
Thirty years later they would be lucky to get 50 devalued dollars for them at an auction.
Likewise the gull picture was purchased by an eager buyer in 1997, as the original bill of sale shows, for $885.60. For a mere photomechanical reproduction, or calendar art...
Thirteen years later, the auctioneer got $80 for it, after pushing hard how much the bill said the copy had originally cost, or it would have gone for $40. "Look," he pleaded, "the frame must be worth $200 bucks."
There were over a dozen Batemans at this one auction, all in mint shape, in fancy frames.
(We have seen scores more at countless other auctions. In fact many auctioneers stock a few at every auction to "round out the offering.")
Below a Bateman moose with its bill of sale showing the owner paid $557 for it in 1999.
The auctioneer got $65 for it; the estate, minus the auctioneer's cut, maybe $40...
The moral: look at it for what it is - calendar art. Very nice calendar art.
Just don't look at it as an investment, no matter what auctioneers and gallery owners - all motivated sellers - will promise you. It will decline in value... Guaranteed. There are thousands out there... That's why... And they're only photomechanical reproductions, not real prints...
Faced with piles of "Bateman reproductions" an auction goer mulls his options: "Gee... Do I really wanna pay $60 for any of these?"
After all they're not Bateman's original acrylics, they're mass produced dupes. They're not even prints, though gallery owners constantly, falsely, refer to them as "Bateman prints." There is a big difference, and art experts repeatedly take Bateman and his gallery outlets to task over improper labelling of what they are really selling.
. (To see real prints click #10 through 17 on the title bar.)
The blow-up of the signature on one of these "Limited Edition Fine Art Prints" gives it away. They are mass produced and printed exactly the same way as calendar art, catalogue pictures, and postcards. Yet no one would consider paying $800 for any of those.
The uniform grid of tine dots across the entire surface of the print - all the Limited Edition Fine Art Prints have them, like postcards etc., a result of the four colour separation printing process by means of a screen to resemble what paint would look like if there was some there. There's none, only dots.
Right is the same uniform grid of dots that cover Bob Bateman's signature on one of his $1000 repros, but this is from a postcard.
By using a loupe on any "Bateman or Group of Seven Limited Edition Fine Art Print" you can instantly see the telltale grid of uniform dots above and left that tell you you're not getting a print at all, but a paper copy, made exactly the same way postcards and calendar art is printed, using a mix of dots of the four colours through a grid.
Left another extreme close up, but of a real original print from 1914.
That's real ink you're seeing, not an approximation of it. So no uniform repro dots or a grid of dots, no matter how close you go in or magnify.
Now, would you rather have real art hanging up, or just have it projected on a TV screen? From a certain distance TV looks fine, but the closer up you go to the screen you discover a uniform grid of dots (OK lines) that merely represents the image to your eye. There's no real paint there at all. Whereas with a real print, or painting, no matter how close you go you just see more real paint in detail.
This ultra close-up, of real coloured inks from an original antique chromolithographic print of the RMS Aquitania, shows what you should be looking for if you want to spend your money on quality, and a far bigger range of colours beyond only the four basics you get with photomechanical reproductions.
With a loupe, Giclée prints will look like this, not like your TV screen... or the surface of a Limited Edition Fine Art photomechanical reproduction...
A huge number of antique prints are now available, for the first time, in giclée fine art format at:
A Multi-million Dollar Goose...
A very nice Robert Bateman Canada Goose...
You've probably seen thousands...
No we don't mean real ones, Batemans, exactly like this.
After all it shows that this is #7138 of 15,294 copies made.
Over 15,000 people have exactly the same one.
Now why would you want to pay $800 for it when you can walk into practically any house in your neighbourhood and see it hanging there... Well almost.
Of course, there is the autograph, in pencil on the matte.
Bob must have gotten tennis elbow, or carpal tunnel syndrome, or cramped claw, from having to sign his name over 15,000 times for this picture alone... And thousands of times for all the others...
Let's see 15,294 x $800 = $12,235,200.
Hey, isn't it worth getting a cramp for a cool 12 million?
At $50 a piece at auction they would only fetch $760,000.
Talk about a bad return for an investment of $12 million plus...
How Low Can You Go...
A common ploy by auctioneers trying to get $60 from an audience only willing to pay $40 for a Bateman is to shout, "Look, It's a low number." Presumably because that makes the picture more valuable and good. The ploy never fails to attract another bid or two.
Right is a Group of Seven Tom Thomson Limited Edition Fine Art Print (a photomechanical reproduction) with the lowest number possible 1 out of 999.
The convention is supposed to be that it is print number one from a Limited Edition print run of 999, with the understanding no more were printed so they are somewhat rare...
What does #1 mean?
In a word, nothing...
When someone from the labour pool is engaged to number the prints as they come off the presses - sorry Bob doesn't do this - they're handed stacks of copies and told to number them by hand. (This could have easily been done as titling information during the printing, but doing it by hand fools the customer into thinking there's personal care or attention - perhaps by the artist himself - involved in any of this.)
The paid hack has to start somewhere, so he starts at number 1. There is no way of correlating any of this with the order these prints came off the printer. The stacks of pictures are just piled up on a table and the numbering starts. Number 1 is not better or worse than the hundreds to follow - except the handwriting may be nicer. By the time you've done this 999 times, your numbers will probably be shaky...
The Sky's the Limit for Limited Editions - There is a second picture of the same Thomson canoe, but from a different auction.
So you thought, all along, that when an edition is "Limited" it is... Pshaw... Note that the first is supposed to be limited to 999 of this image.
Then look at the next one.
Whoever bought that thought there were only 695 copies of this picture out there.
What would they say if they knew there were 999 more of the same picture printed elsewhere...
And OMIGOD, there's a third one, from another auction, that is not part of either of the other repro runs...
And how many thousands of others in auctions we did not attend in other parts of Canada and the US?
The possibilities are truly breathtaking...
Signed by the Artist - "Signed by the artist" is a common auctioneer's call to elevate trash art he's trying to sell, even when it isn't. Lots of fake signatures out there.
Bob Bateman, at least, authentically signs his own copies - we believe. In pencil on the border of his prints, usually below his printed signature that is not original.
Which gave other unscrupulous art dealers a good idea. Why not do some pencil stuff like that on the margins of the repro to make it look as authentic as a "Bateman?"
But the Tom Thomson pencil writing had nothing to do with Tom, who's been dead since 1917. Why do they pencil in this stuff when it could be more easily and cleanly printed along with the rest of the picture?
The answer? To fool you into thinking - some will - that Tom signed this - you know, like Bateman - before he died...
It's to make you believe the repro art you are getting is a cut above what is on the calendar hanging in the John at the local garage.
Hey, they never told us they were also running more copies of the picture that weren't numbered. Why at this rate there must be thousands, maybe millions out there... Why, why... sputter, sputter...
Lipstick on a Tart - And here from another auction is a third run of the same picture with what auctioneers are always calling "Its certified red stamp of authenticity."
Besides the fake Thomson pencil signature - done to fool the unwary who have been lulled into sleep by the very real Robert Bateman signatures they're used to seeing - is a red wax stamp.
No one knows why this is here or what it means. But it makes the paper print look official and important like a historic document, again to fool the uneducated.
The date 1917 was the year Thomson died; they could just as easily have picked the year he got his first kiss. It's a no holds barred world out there, in the hawking of "Limited Edition Fine Art prints."
In short, the red wax is very much like lipstick on a tart, to make something look classy, when it is anything but. And justify asking for hundreds of dollars for something worth only a few. Or can get free elsewhere...
Double Signature - The mimicry is patent in the penciling of AJ Casson's name, just like Bob Bateman does, in pencil under the printed signature. Complete with the lipstick on a tart... How can you lose?
Lots of auctioneers shout out "Double signature" to try to con auction goers into thinking this raises a cheap calendar art picture to an elevated level of value. It doesn't.
Bob Bateman set the standard by signing off in pencil with a real signature (worth something to some) underneath his original printer printed signature (absolutely no more valuable than the paper it's printed on.)
Hence the AJ Casson look alike. Except AJ was dead when this repro was made. So, imitating Bateman, a schoolgirl from the labour pool signed off under his printed signature...
Now what - other than deliberate deceit - could possibly be the reason for writing in pencil a signature of AJ Casson under a supposed Fine Art repro, when his original signature is so clearly displayed on the dupe of the painting. It's not that his name was obscured, etc.
So adding the obvious in pencil had absolutely no useful purpose, other than laying a trap for the unwitting, but unknowledgeable art enthusiasts, especially in the rural areas where big city savvy is not in such great abundance.
Note how different the two Casson signatures are. AJ had nothing to do with them whatsoever, even while he was alive. And reputable auction houses will not describe them as "signed art." But we have heard many auctioneers bellow "double signature" here, clearly trying to do their damndest to trap unsophisticated art buyers into believing Casson had anything to do with any of these signatures.
"APPROVED" - Some dealers try to tart up cheap photomechanical reproductions by stamping a raised embossing like the "APPROVED AJ CASSON" right. Totally meaningless, just part of the con involved in selling something cheap for a lot of money, like lipstick on a tart...
Note too that a third person is obviously involved in a "Bateman type" of con with the penciled "AJC," which is clearly not done by Casson himself, nor the previous two signature writers on the earlier two photomechanical reproductions.
You get the picture? There is no morality, no guarantees. Whom do you sue, when you paid for #139 of a supposed Limited Edition of 695, and then discover that there are thousands of others printed, and you could have gotten one free, from a neighbour throwing his out at a yard sale ... (He got fed up; he's now got three friends who have the same one in their rec room.)
Poor Investment - Which is exactly why avid art collectors have never, ever, bought a single Bateman or Group of Seven "print." If they want to see one, they can go to any yard sale...
Another reason serious art collectors don't buy any of these photomechanical calendar art reproductions is because they rarely look like the original. In many the colours are awful. They vary wildly between printings.
Look at the three different printings of the Tom Thomson canoe and see the wild variations in colour, in the lake, and the yellow at the bow of the canoe.
From another auction look at the horribly garish image of another Group of Seven repro of maple leaves.
Photomechanical reproductions have colours that are notorious for being hard to match to the original.
And let's face it, the people who are doing the copying have not seen the original, which is somewhere in a museum vault.
They make their copies from film and photo masters that have faded, or changed colour over the years, or been recopied endlessly, so losing detail, and gaining contrast and dirt.
So photomechanical reproductions have no value except to Bob Bateman who's become a multi-millionaire in selling them, or to those people who like to look at them.
They have absolutely no value as an investment or in the secondary resale market.
No one who paid $500 to $1000 for any of these will ever get any of that money back, even after holding on to them for twenty or thirty years. You have to look at them as consumables not investments, like your car.
Drive it for twenty years and see how much of your $40,000 you will get back... It doesn't mean your car wasn't nice to look at...
Yet thousands have paid $800 and more for really bad stuff like that... And think they've made a good investment...
The Casson repro of the horses and houses above was bought for $511 in 1992; the auctioneer got $75 for it. The estate maybe $40 after the auction fees... And that's forty 2010 dollars for 511 1992 dollars... What kind of return is that, from a "Limited Edition Fine Art Print"?
Below Bob Batman's Timber Wolves, bought with 620 expensive 1996 dollars, sold at auction for only 110 cheap 2010 dollars. The owner's portion, less the auctioneer's 30%, was a fraction of that.
How's that for appreciating Signed Limited Edition "prints?"
It's why giclée prints have taken the market by storm, a printing technology which blows these old photomechanical reproductions out of the water. And art investors are raising their values in the secondary market. They are that good and valuable.