Print collecting

By Bill Lacey 


It may sound like a paradox but my advice to would-be collectors is never collect anything that is sold as collectable. 

Things like first day cover stamps and coins, collector’s plates, porcelain figurines and many other items are often sold with a high retail price justified by the promise that they are sure to be a good investment. A piece may be promoted as a limited edition or signed by the artist to imply a rarity value but from my experience such pieces tend to have little worth on the secondary market.

Grandma may have cherished her collection of porcelain ladies but fashions change and, sadly, today in auction they are worth a fraction of what she paid for them.

The golden rule is to buy what you like, what you can live with and not to even consider an item’s investment potential. By all means go ahead and buy that limited edition print if you love it but take the sales pitch with a pinch of salt.

There will always be an exception to the rule of course. The only signed prints that have gone up in value that I can think of are prints by the nation’s favourite artist: L.S.Lowry.

Twenty or thirty years ago a signed Lowry print could be purchased for two or three hundred pounds in auction (how I wish I’d bought one or two!) – now, with original oils selling for millions his prints have become highly sought after too.

This view of Berwick on Tweed sold at Fielding’s for £5,000 recently much to the delight of the owner who had kept it in a drawer wrapped in brown paper and never got around to hanging it.

Fieldings achieved another astonishing result for a Lowry in 2016.

A gentleman brought a book of autographs he had collected as a child in the 1940s to one of our weekly valuation days.

Amongst the usual well wishes from schoolfriends was a pen and ink drawing by L.S.Lowry.

The gentleman’s mother had befriended the artist and they often used to meet for lunch at the Manchester City Art gallery. Lowry agreed to sign the autograph book and made the tiny drawing to accompany his signature in 1949. 

Measuring just 15 x 10cms, it was a typical industrial street scene with figures and a dog and a church and factory chimneys in the distance. Exactly the sort of subject matter Lowry collectors are looking for.

Many years later the gentleman had the drawing authenticated at the Lowry Gallery in Salford. To have this guarantee of provenance was vital to the sale. There are so many fake Lowrys in circulation that buyers are rightly cautious.

There was a buzz of excitement on the day of the auction. Several telephone bidders determined to buy it. The bidding quickly sailed past our presale estimate of £5,000-7,000. One by one bidders dropped out until finally there were just two telephone bidders in contention, a dealer and a private collector. After a tense battle the private collector won with a bid of £26,500 and the hammer fell to gasps and a round of applause from spectators in the auction room. 

Posted on 3 June 2019 in: Auction life

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