Most of us buy antiques we can live with — comfortable chairs, dishes that go in a dishwasher, desks that can be used with a computer and vases for flowers. But great wealth allows collectors to buy antiques to look at, not use. They can afford the high prices and the hidden costs of insurance, huge rooms, security systems and loss of interest on the money that was spent on a work of art.
We know a collector who bought a Jackson Pollock painting for more than $10 million. The required yearly expense to look at that picture in his dining room was $50,000 (interest lost by spending the money); plus the cost of fine-art insurance, about $20,000; and the added expense of security. Total cost per year to own the painting: more than $70,000.
A much-less-expensive but still pricey antique, a Meissen porcelain-mounted desk, auctioned recently for $54,500. It is an expensive and impractical but rare and beautiful antique. Once taken home, it will cost $2,750 in lost interest on the money, plus about $150 for insurance and more for security. Total: more than $2,900 per year to admire the desk.
The writing bureau (desk) is covered with hand-painted Meissen porcelain plaques surrounded by dore bronze mounts. Showpiece furniture was not made for the general public, but was popular with the aristocracy. This desk was made about 1878, perhaps for an important international exhibition.
It is said the surest sign of wealth is a massive flower arrangement. It is expensive, lasts a few days, then is gone. It gives joy while it lasts, but is not an investment like a diamond ring. Will your collectible earn its keep by giving you joy, or will it go up in value and make money?
Ralph and Terry Kovel’s column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal and Sun), King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.