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VALUING SALVADOR DALI PRINTS: Part One


This is the topic that brought me into the world of Salvador Dali in 1980 and has assured that all other professional appraisers have avoided it as much as possible ever since. It is a service that I perform almost daily, not only for print owners internationally, but for a great many of my appraiser colleagues who encounter prints attributed to Dali in the course of doing appraisals of collections. Since they have only one fully informed and dependable source of information, they call me and I introduce them to my service which has supplied credible information to appraisers for many years. The same service is available to anyone who needs it, and they don’t have to send me the print. Just go to www.bernardewell.com

HOW DO I DO IT?

It is possible for me to give opinions of authenticity and value for Dali prints because I have been collecting information for thirty years and because I have so many contacts in the market. Perhaps even more important is that I know who knows what they are talking about and who doesn’t and I know who those driven by self-interest are. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I have seen more Dali prints and originals than anyone else.

My opinions of authenticity are based on the information in my files accumulated during the examination and appraisal of over 57,000 prints attributed to the Spanish master. Mediums, edition numbers, sizes, appearance of signatures, blind chops, identity of paper and other clues help me place a subject print into the framework of all editions about which I have such details.

When I was serving as the court expert for a long list of Federal and state regulatory and law enforcement agencies I frequently had access to the files of dealers and distributors selling fakes and publishers both legitimate and illegitimate. This body of documentation is unsurpassed. It is also incomplete. As anyone who knows much about Dali prints will tell you, we learn more all the time and know that we shall never know everything we need to or wish to know.

While I would always prefer to personally examine a questioned print, my files let me make legitimate decisions about authenticity without doing so and I have never had one challenged, except in court where I have always prevailed.

My value research is based on a variety of sources and since the results are so varied, I have to extrapolate an on-going sense of what people are willing to pay for Dali prints. There is no single and reliable source of information that one can check for a quick value. While we have tracked both the prices and the values (don’t confuse the two terms–more later) of Dali prints for thirty years, it is very difficult to make generalizations about pricing or value trends.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO VALUES?

Prices paid, collector interest, saleability, availability and the attitudes of people in the market often change in reaction to specific events, court cases, investigations, market gossip and even lies which are posted in profusion on the Internet. Thus, if it was possible to place Dali print values over the years on a graph, it would be very confusing. I will say that after the bottom fell out of the Dali print market in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s following the Federal prosecutions, there has been a steady, though not dramatic, rise in prices asked and paid for Dali prints. This has meant a slow increase in appraiser opinions of Replacement Value (for insurance) and Fair Market Value (for resale or donation).

There have also been a great many flawed appraisals written because the appraiser used bogus information sources. We’ll talk more about these later in this series.

Every appraisal must take into account the relevant market. That is the market in which a property most often changes hands. There are many markets. For instance, if the works of a particular artist are available only from his studio, that is where their value is established–by sales. If he has a gallery presence and that’s where his works are sold, that’s the relevant market. These are both examples of the primary market, that in which the art changes hands for the first time. Resales at auction, through galleries or privately, constitute the secondary Market.

Sometimes, availability and the resulting relevant market are restricted. This is important to know because art sold in a restricted market must be valued in that market using sales information from that market. For instance, Park West Galleries contracted with the Albaretto Collection of Turin, Italy to purchase the Salvador Dali prints still held by the collecting and publishing family of Giuseppe Albaretto. Those prints were then sold exclusively by Park West and, because they had direct and unsurpassed provenance and guarantee of genuineness, the prices paid at Park West auctions on land and sea were considered by some to be high. They weren’t because the only other sales to which they could rightfully be compared are other sales of similar art with similar provenance sold by Park West. Never mind that an identical image without the provenance, probably without a signature and without the guaranteed authenticity of the Park West material was floating around in the general market. It’s price and value would be set by the general market. The Park West prints had to be valued within the restricted market in which they were offered where thousands of collectors bought them.

Every day I speak with Dali print owners who bought their treasure in the print boom of the 1980s and were told at that time that it would appreciate in value every year–especially after the artist’s expected death. That event occurred in 1989. My clients have believed all of these years that their print was becoming more and more valuable.

If their print is genuine–either fully original or authorized and signed–then I must explain why the values have not increased as much as they were told they would. If their print is bogus, then I must explain how I know that and tell them that, in spite of what they paid for it, it has never had any legitimate market value. I always share all of the information that goes into my opinions of authenticity.

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

In future posts of this blog, I’ll look at such topics as:

  • Pricing at auction
  • Pricing on Internet brokerage sites
  • Pricing in the galleries
  • The appropriate use of the “Print Price Guide” (a book review)
  • Other sources of information; good and bad