Large Items In The Age Of E-Commerce

One of our most frequent hurdles in buying and brokering estate artwork is being certain the cost of shipping the item to the buyer doesn’t equal or exceed the selling price. Recently, we sold two fine-arts auction lots that our customers    in other parts of the country and overseas would have been willing to pay over $500 to $1,000 for — but in each case, they informed us that the cost of shipping cut them out of the bidding process. New works on paper can often be deframed and shipped flat or rolled at a significant savings; however, mats, labels and frames can become collectible elements over time — as with this 3-foot-wide framed Marion Terry painting of a Persian dancer (left).

marion picture
flower picture


While by a noted Florida artist and in a collectible mid-century-modern frame, its Middle Eastern subject matter has international appeal; but her auction-price history didn’t support an additional $275 to $750 shipping fee to overseas buyers, so a lucky bidder snapped it up for under $100! New painted canvases can be rolled; however, rolling an old canvas can flake or “alligator” the paint, known as craquelure.

The 1920s floral still life (top right) painted in the baroque tradition was over 3 feet wide, and would have commanded thousands to tens of thousands had it been 18th century, at which point a $500 shipping cost would have been incidental. As a vintage reproduction, our out-of-town buyers largely sat out the bidding process and the piece brought only a modest sum. With small paintings, buyers can concentrate on the object rather than logistics.

Estate Artwork From The 20th Century

This little gem of a George Stengel 10- x 12-inch California impressionist oil (bottom) almost fit in a flat-rate envelope, costing only a couple of percentage points to ship above its $1,500 selling price.

george picture


Collecting small pieces has its benefits. We saw intense European bidding from several countries on an early lace-collar portrait attributed by our appraisers to Cornelis Janssens; with its modest size of under 2 feet framed, we received no presale inquiries as to shipping expense and tallied a whopping 49 bids before the hammer fell at $1,500.

Last year, we oversaw shipping of an old master painting to Europe at a cost of over $2,000 — but since it was exceptionally valuable, our client already expected that expense. Think of size-to-value as a ratio rather than a specific dollar amount, and e-commerce becomes more understandable.

This is an archival article formerly written and is for informational purposes only. The valuations in this article have likely changed since it was first written.

Continue reading

Never miss an article

Share This Article