Friday, December 21, 2007

Annual Review for 2007

Merry Christmas to any and all visitors, I hope Santa fills your Christmas stocking with; twelve Hilliards, eleven Coopers, ten Peales, nine Copleys, eight Dumonts, seven Isabeys, six Smarts, five Halls, four Englehearts, three Rogers, two Daffingers, and a George Washington by Ramage!!!

Review of 2007
The final comment in my review twelve months ago, of 2006 was;

"Overall the 2006 year is regarded as much more successful than was anticipated a year ago. As a consequence, it is felt at this point that it may be difficult to make quite as much progress during 2007."

Like many prophecies or forecasts, that was completely wrong, so obviously I had my rose-tinted opera glasses back to front!

As the subject of one of my recent posts, Mark Twain (see View), once famously said, "The art of prophecy is very difficult, especially with respect to the future."

Progress during 2007 year, while not "earth shattering", was more dramatic than during 2006, as can be seen from the slideshow below, with nearly double the number of acquisitions; 90 in 2007 compared to 47 in 2006.

This was largely due to more than a fair share of personal buying luck and a reluctance to miss potential bargains. (If necessary, please wait for the slideshow to appear, and click on it to open.)

The slide-show shows the 90 miniatures acquired this year. They are displayed more or less in the chronological order of the sitter's costume. The attribution to artists are on a "best endeavours" basis, so it is unlikely all attributions are correct.

Quality and Top Ten Favourites
As mentioned below, there is a target average cost of no more than $500 per miniature, as a purchasing discipline and to allow as much collecting pleasure as possible. Thus the average quality is less than would apply to another collector who has a bottomless wallet.

While there is nothing special about $500, as was mentioned last year, one aim of displaying this collection is the hope that it does demonstrate that one can assemble in a single year, an interesting collection of original art, at a cost no greater than what some wealthy collectors are willing pay for a single limited edition print, or even a single miniature portrait by John Smart!!

As previously observed, I suspect some purists would rather have a single John Smart miniature, than the 90 miniatures shown here, but I am convinced they would have not had as much pleasure in building their collection.

My favourite "top ten" acquisitions, but not necessarily in order of importance are:
- John Ramage - portrait of Garrit Van Horne - see View
- Johann Heinrich Hurter - portrait of I N S Allamand - see View
- Walter Robertson - portrait of a lady "C V" - see View
- Princess Amelia - portrait of King George III- see View
- Nathaniel Rogers - portrait of a man in a chair - see View
- Moses B Russell - portrait of a young lady - see View
- Moses B Russell - portrait of a man - see View
- Daniel Saint - portrait of a young lady - see View
- Alessandro Curion - portrait of a family - see View
- Mira Edgerly Korzybska - portrait of three sisters - see View

This list is subjective, as it does excludes miniatures by other good artists.

Research Favourites
Being a private collector enables one to be a "magpie" and buy, (cost permitting!!), whatever appeals. Thus there are all grades of miniatures, some being acquired more for the story behind the sitter, rather than for the artistic quality. Nevertheless, there is an underlying aim to gradually improve the average quality.

The most interesting to research have been;
- Thomas Hargreaves - portrait of Esther Watson Tobin - see View
- Princess Amelia - portrait of King George III - see View
- Unknown British - portrait of John Williams - see View
- Unknown British - portrait of Rev Bryan Faussett - see View
- John Ramage - portrait of Garrit Van Horne - see View
- Saint-Memin - portrait of Christopher Grant Champlin - see View
- Richard Morrell Staigg - portrait of Colonel Winchester - see View

Plus new research on prior year acquisitions:
- Unknown - portrait of Hon Augustus Henry Archibald Anson - see View
- Anna Coleman Watts Ladd - self portrait - see View
- Alta Eliza Wilmot - portrait of Mark Twain - see View
- Unknown American - portrait of Nathaniel Gilman - see View
- Riviere, Annette Louise - portrait of Nora Selina Dobell - see View
- Schenley, Henrietta Agnes - portrait of Henrietta Araminta Monck Browne - see View

However, dozens more have had research notes added during the year

Related Items
Apart from miniatures there were several interesting items acquired which were associated with sitters or artists.

One example is this rare book "Louisa Ralston" written by Anne Tuttle Jones Bullard, who is a sitter in a miniature within the collection, see View The wider collection now includes original volumes of four books written by her.

Cost of the Investment
All items were acquired from dealers or at public auction. An average cost of under $500 per miniature has been mentioned as a preferred guideline to stretch a limited budget.

I felt sure that guideline would be breached this year, as two miniatures each cost more than $2000 and others cost over $1000. The most expensive was the young lady signed by Moses B Russell, which cost $2300.

On working it out, the average cost of a miniature across the portfolio was $435, and I was surprised it was so far under the $500 guideline. (However, I can imagine other collectors might say; "I am not surprised, given some of the rubbish he purchased!")

From a personal point of view, variety is better than pure quality, as there is a lot more pleasure from buying and researching miniatures, than in attempting to invest a similar amount in the sharemarket (or for that matter, in sub-prime loans!!). And, anyway, collecting is a hobby and is supposed to be fun.

Any mathematicians reading this blog will have already calculated 90 times $435 as a total cost of around $39,000 which proves my shopaholic tendencies.

Budding art investors reading this blog, who wish to reach their own opinion on the success or otherwise of the acquisition strategy, can do so by working through the slide-show and attributing values to the items in the portfolio. (However, if the answer is a negative, please do not tell me!!)

Funding has come from disposing of miniatures and from savings, thus baked beans on toast continues to be on the menu. Like any other person terminally affected by the collecting bug, it is impossible to resist opportunities if they present themselves, even when there is a desire to avoid encroaching on savings.

As for the market outlook for portrait miniatures in 2008; "Who knows?". I have felt it was a little softer at the lower levels in 2007, compared to 2006, perhaps due to some sub-prime nervousness, and the Dow currently off its peak.

In contrast, at the top end of the market in 2007 there were some remarkable sales, including those mentioned in recent posts; Oliver Cromwell, Queen Elizabeth, and John White! Twelve months ago, who would have ranked White with Cromwell and Elizabeth?? However, they do reflect the rarity and uniqueness of certain items, especially for important sitters.

The other morning I heard Fox News suggesting that purchasing art was a positive alternative to investing in shares at the current time. However, their comments revolved around investing in new and emerging artists. That is something that is even more frightening to me than the sharemarket.

Personally, I expect to find it harder to make valuable acquisitions in 2008, but will hope to find some miniatures that are interesting to research.

My own New Year's Resolution is; "Buy Less and Sell More", but I recognise that as an obsessed collector I can rarely let an opportunity pass by.

Website/Blog for 2008
A continuing aim is to try and maintain this as a user-friendly website/blog.

Few Internet activities are more frustrating than accessing museum and auction house websites which are slow to respond, especially when one is accustomed to very fast downloads from both Internet auction websites and Google searches.

Some of the major live auction houses are dreadful in this respect and if any of them happen to read this, they should note that slow responses are very much a disincentive to bidding. So much so to me, that I now rarely visit their websites.

Museums and auction houses usually also have very cumbersome search facilities, which often require one to know specifically what one is looking for before searching for it. That makes general research for knowledge on a subject almost impossible.

Also with their websites, one often needs open a series of pages to see the detail. The probable reason for this, is that their systems were designed before fast download speeds became available. Whether there will be any improvement will depend upon each individual museum or auction house, but it seems unlikely in the near future.

Although this website is not purpose built and has been cobbled together, it does have a major compensating advantage of fast response times for downloads.

Once a visitor reaches the Artists and Ancestors Home page, they can see any miniature in the collection, together with all its research notes, by a single click on the relevant country Gallery, whether American 1, 2, or 20C, British 1, 2, or 20C, or European 1 and 2.

Then the complete contents of each Gallery can be scrolled through rapidly, or searched by using the Blog Toolbar at the top of each Gallery page.

Granted it would be impossible for a large museum or auction house to contemplate reaching any item in its collection, together with its image and all research notes, with a single click from its home page, but it should be possible to do so much faster and with many less clicks than they currently require.

The addition of slideshows and a search facility to the Home page impacted on its download performance. To compensate for this and enable faster downloading of the Home page, most of the background history and comment about miniatures has now been transferred to a Background Gallery.

As recent visitors have probably noticed, the Additions and Comment section has been split between 2006 and 2007 , to make these Galleries more manageable. A new "2008 - Additions and Comment Gallery" will be set up for 2008.

I am also conscious some Galleries in this blog are now quite large, with the inclusion of my verbose commentaries during the year.

The American Galleries are getting very large and need some attention. I am currently not sure whether to re-sort them completely (a major task), or just set up an American 3 Gallery for 2008.

Any readers (all two of you!) are welcome to comment on the current blog structure, (especially with criticisms!) and make positive suggestions, before I commit to changes for 2008.


Anonymous said...


I find the current blog structure works just fine. There are a few instances when the page width forces some words and sentences to be stacked alongside images but other than those I've encountered no problems with your pages.

I've just recently taken much more interest in the historical miniatures and have read about a dozen books on the subject this past year. Obviously as a contemporary artist I spend most of my time painting and marketing our work but the mini history has been a fascinating project. Your blog is always an interesting read and I delight in all the images!

I can also assure you that your blog has been mentioned on the Yahoo Miniature Art Forum as a valuable resource so more than two are visiting your pages. I'll certainly keep spreading the word for you and wish you the best with your endeavors and collecting in 2008!

Wes Siegrist,
- figured this was mostly personal but feel free to edit and keep anything you want in your comments.

Don Shelton said...

Wes, Many thanks for the very kind words. It is really quite a lot of fun to do all the research and just amazing what interesting snippets one can find via the Internet. I often return to a post several times with extra bits of information.
The column width thing is often a bit of a trial for me too. It seems to need a bit of trial and error with each entry to try and get it right. I use Firefox and hope it looks OK in Microsoft.
Good luck with your own work in 2008. Kind regards Don