It's a Steal
Jay Johnson -- When we talk about a well-priced work of art or an antique, we usually call it "a steal." But all too often there are real-life art and antiquities stolen from people's homes, historic buildings, landmark gardens and public spaces, and auction houses.
Go to the "Articles" tab on Antiques and the Arts Online for the latest news on "Stolen Items." Once you've gone to the Articles section, scroll down the page until you get to the section on stolen goods. It's a real eye opener.
What's behind the thefts? Real estate in the U.S. used to be the darling of investors and speculators; but now the market has made in much more difficult to flip that house. I've often said that this isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's good to return our focus to a house as a place where we can live, put down roots, create a strong family history, make great memories, become active community participants, and feather a nest to express personal interests and creativity.
Decorative and fine arts, despite their up-again, down-again cycle of popularity at auction, are great investments overall. The caveat there is that bad antiquities are still bad, no matter what their age. Good investments are good pieces, well made and well designed, no matter what period they're from. With objects taking on greater investment cache in this down-market for real estate, it's little wonder that thefts of these portable assets is on the rise.
Interpol says that art theft is the world's fourth largest organized crime, just after drugs, people trafficking, and arms. In 1977, the International Foundation on Art (IFAR) set up the Art Loss Register, a computerized database of stolen art, antiques, and valuables; it's one-stop shopping for information on stolen objects. From 1991-96, there were over 80,000 objects reported to the database, and 55% were stolen from private homes (the rest: 12% from galleries, 11% from museums, 10% from churches, and almost 2% from public institutions, commercial premises, warehouses, or while the goods were in transit).
We recommend you go to the Fine Art Registry for their excellent in the article When It Comes to Buying Art and Antiques Caveat Emptor -- Let the Buyer Beware. You can't go wrong with their great suggestions, including using their registry service whenever you purchase something of value for your home, and going to the Art Loss Register whenever you have something stolen, heaven forbid. (Devil's Advocate: We spoke recently with a high-profile antiques collector, and she said that she would never use a registry for her valuables; she would not want to alert anyone to what she owned and thinks that databases could be hacked into by thieves looking for new targets to burgle. So use your best judgment when it comes to using a registry or not. Our collector friend would prefer to live in a high-security building, and if she experienced a theft, report it to the police and collect the insured value of the taken items from her insurance company.)
I encourage you to check out our Design2Share YouTube Design2Share video channel and our new Blinkx Design2Share video channel. We showcase over 600 videos about architecture, design, and everyday life in both of those channels. Click on the links and watch these Design2Share videos to see some art and antiques that you will NEVER find at risk for theft (yet they caught our eye nonetheless; enjoy this summer video diversion!):
- Urban 8 -- ready to steal and in plain sight on a city street, this object caught my video eye
- Stop & Go City Coke Sign -- this would be hard to steal, unless you took the entire bodega
- Fruit & Vegetable Alphabet Art -- who would dare steal from helpless elementary school kids?
- Caged Mattress -- an object of admittedly dubious value, behind iron bars
- Lost at Sea: Straus Memorial -- Art and Antiques Online reports the theft of a public fountain, so perhaps even large bronzes are at risk for theft; even so, this lady has to be HEAVY
- Fade Away -- I wonder how many fantastic sculptures are stolen each year from graveyards; I'm a freak when it comes to being fascinated by graves, mausoleums, and grave sculpture
Photo credit: OverstockArt