What's It Worth? The Death Bump. It’s A Thing Except When It’s Not

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Over the years, one of the most cited reasons people think things have increased in value is because an artist or an owner just passed away. When someone comes into our office saying, “The artist died; what is my stuff worth?” we are both amused and saddened. Is it fair to suggest that something has more value after someone has passed away? Yes and no. As with all valuation, it greatly depends on supply and demand. If an artist was prolific, the bump is usually short-lived, as with the passing of Erté in 1990. Like many artists, Erté had a factory that pushed out hundreds of thousands of prints and multiples, which, because of their prevalence, brought well under $1,000. Upon his passing, there was a pronounced but short-lived bump in the price of his artwork. Normal levels soon followed. In the long run, prices may go up in value because the artist won’t be creating anything new. On a similar note, when – despite our protestation – someone insists an item they have is old because it belonged to their grandmother, we often have to say that their grandmother must have bought it last year at a flea market. Just because it’s old or belonged to your grandmother doesn’t make it valuable. So if you are holding onto artwork and waiting for your favorite artist to kick the bucket, you might end up disappointed. Three former Sothebys.com associates and two art historians on staff. Call or email us if you want to deal with Tampa Bay’s leading auctioneer. We have sold the contents of museums and collections for USF. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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