Sell my Antique
If you are reading this article, there's a good chance that you may have an old painting at home which is a treasured possession that you've owned for years. Alternatively you might be curious about something you have either inherited, or found in a thrift store, charity shop, car boot sale or junk shop. Maybe you have a work of art lying unwanted in the attic or garage, or stashed behind a wardrobe. Whatever the circumstance, the point is that you need to know more about your old picture or painting.
This article will attempt to give you some practical advice on researching and marketing an old work of art. The vast majority of these paintings, prints, and etchings will have a relatively low market value and may be tricky to sell, but don't give up just yet because there are many lost and forgotten masterpieces out there just waiting to be re-discovered.
Important: Please note that I do not offer a valuation service, and will not respond to emails asking for on-line appraisals.
How to Identify an Original Watercolour Versus a Print
Many years ago I bought a picture from a junk sale believing it to be a valuable watercolour. In fact it was only a print, but it was a very good one. To an inexperienced eye, a good quality print is often very difficult to tell from a watercolour, but there are some easy clues.
- Gently clean the glass with a soft cloth, using a tiny amount of glass cleaner only if necessary.
- Use a magnifying glass to look at the picture in greater detail. Brushstrokes are not so obvious on a watercolour as on an oil, but you should still be able to see variation in the surface of the painting. Some areas may be bare of paint altogether, or else be highlighted with a thicker layer of paint known as gouache, or body colour. Some artists also use a technique known as "scratching out, " where the surface of the painting is literally scratched to show the white of the paper. You may be able to identify pencil lines beneath the paint, and the picture may show signs of "cockling" where the artist has made his paper too wet without preparing it adequately first.
- If you are still unsure whether you have a painting or a print, look carefully to see if you can identify small dots on the surface. Printmaking has become increasingly sophisticated with the advance of technology, but early prints can usually be readily identified. If the picture is composed of tiny dots of colour, it's extremely unlikely to be a watercolour.
- Check the signature, too, as a printed signature seldom looks truly authentic.
- If your picture has a label on the back giving details of the title and artist, do a search on these details. If you have a print of a well-known painting, you should quickly find it online and this will confirm that you have a reproduction rather than an original. Labels that give a museum name such as Museum of Modern Art, NY, Tate Gallery, or Musee du Louvre are a good indication that your picture is a print and is likely to be a low value item.
How Much Is My Unsigned Black and White Print Worth?
Early prints come in many different guises. If your print is signed, and is by a well-known artist. it may well be valuable. Equally, even if it is unsigned but is of an interesting subject, such as a political cartoon, it may well be of interest to a specialist collector. There are collectors who look out for pictures of all sorts of niche subjects including bridges, golf, horses, local scenes, botanical drawings, football, etc. Because early prints are such a specialist area, you should have them valued or appraised by a professional whenever possible.
Could the Frame Be Valuable?
Sometimes old prints come in very good quality frames, and these can also have a value. It is always worth having them checked out. The print itself might be worth very little, but a lovely old maple frame, for example, can often fetch enough to make your efforts worthwhile.
What Is an Etching and Are They Valuable?
Etching is a specialised form of print-making. A metal plate is first given an acid-resistant coating. An image is then scratched into this coating using needles and the plate is submerged into an acid bath. The coating resists the acid except where the image has been scored through. The acid is able to eat the metal in the scratched out areas, leaving behind a roughened surface. The plate can then be inked up and pressed onto damp paper, which will draw the ink out of the indentations left by the acid.
Etchings have been around since the 16th century, and many famous artists, including Goya and Rembrandt, have experimented with this art form. Because they tend to be produced by the artist himself rather than by an engraver or print studio, etchings are often more highly sought-after. Etchings are considered to be works of art in their own right and attract higher prices than prints.
What Is a Pastel and Can They Be Valuable?
Pastel is a pure powdered pigment mixed with a binding agent. It is used in the form of a stick, or a pastel pencil. The pigments used to produce pastels are exactly the same as those used in any coloured art media, from watercolours to oil paints, and consequently pastels often produce very intense, vibrant colours.
Pastels have been around since at least the 15th century and many famous artists have used them to great effect. The French Impressionist artists Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir both produced wonderful examples of this art form.
An artwork made using pastels is called a pastel (or a pastel drawing or pastel painting).
The two most commonly found forms of pastel drawing are made using either soft pastels, which have often have a chalky, dusty appearance, and oil pastels which are shinier, smudgier, and often bolder in colour.
Pastels are generally more delicate than paintings or other forms of drawing and need to be handled with great care. Soft pastel drawings can shed dust long after they are first produced and should always be stored upright. A professionally framed pastel will normally have a spacer between it and the mount to allow any loose dust to settle out of sight. The spacer will only be very thin, so you might not notice it immediately, but if your pastel drawing does have one, it's a sign that the picture was considered worth giving extra attention.
Pastel drawings by the right artist will often be more highly prized than ordinary drawings, or indeed, watercolours.
Where Can I Sell My Antique Painting?
The most famous auction houses in the world are probably Sothebys and Christies. You might also have heard of Bonhams, or DuMouchelles, or Susanins. But aside from these big boys of the auction world, there are any number of small, local salerooms who will be happy to dispose of your treasures.
How to Sell at Auction
- If you have researched your painting and are satisfied that it is reasonably valuable, then you need to approach an auction house. Search online for "antiques auction" or "antiques salesroom" in your city or area. Alternatively, use a telephone directory or Yellow Pages to locate your nearest sale rooms. If you live in or near a big city, there's a good chance that you will be spoilt for choices.
- Ask if the saleroom specializes in paintings. If the answer is no, then you might want to keep trying until you find an auction house with an experienced art expert on board. If you do indeed have a valuable painting on your hands, then a reputable auctioneer will be only too pleased to help you to get the best price for your item. Auctions normally charge a commission fee for their services. This is generally between 10 and 20% of the hammer price, and the more your item sells for, the more commission they will earn.