Martin Willis: I’m in New Haven, Connecticut with Fred Giampietro. How you doing, Fred?
Fred Giampietro: Fine, fine. How are you?
Martin: And I apologize it took me a little while to pronounce your name properly. I’ve known your name, and of the pieces you’ve sold, I’ve seen your ads for many, many, many years of handling very fine things, and I’d like to know how you got started. What was your beginnings, and how did you evolve into handling such fine pieces?
Fred: I grew up Cheshire, Connecticut. My parents did not have money. They were very, very middle America, ran a landscaping nursery, and when I went up to school in Florida to study classical music I met Kathy, who – we later got married, so in 1973 I found myself at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida studying classical music, and one of my first dates with Kathy was to an antique shop. Her family always collected. Her father was an artist – is a contemporary artist and they loved antiques and they used to rummage around finding stuff, so first date we go to a place called Carousel Antiques in DeLand, Florida next to the University, and I bought a Shaker Number 7 Rocker. I don’t know what came over me. I just loved the stuff. I loved the idea that shop had everything from Victorian furniture to vintage clothing to old tools to junk, and there was this Shaker Number 7 Rocker and I got –
Martin: So, you know how to – you knew how to spot something fairly decent right off the bat, obviously.
Fred: I didn’t know it was a Shaker. I knew nothing about Shaker or what Shaker was, but I took it home. Took it to some antiques dealer that – who I respected or thought I respected and they told me what I had and –
Martin: Did it have the number 7 in them – one of them?
Fred: It had number 7 on it and it had – I’ll never forget it had a broken rocker and I, promptly, had the rocker replaced, and I took it to the dealer and they said: you did great, except you replaced the rocker, so I learned not to touch anything.
Martin: Wow! Right off the bat! First item!
Fred: Right off the bat! First item, right! So I’m down 70 bucks. Day one, so, and we bought – I was very interested in all kinds of stuff. I was driven by our budget, of course, which was not a lot. We used to get cash advances on our MasterCard. It used to be called Master Charge then, so I used to go and I said: yeah, I used to get Master Charge. I used to go and get 50 bucks, or something like that, and we’d go out and we bought the pressure glass and we used to haunt old Five And Dimes and buy 1960s space toys that were still on the shelf and take them to flea markets and sell them. Buy them for $0.89 and sell them for $8.00, so it was that kind of thing.
Martin: What a nice thing for a couple to have, together: a passion for doing this. It sounds like you just had a really –
Fred: Yeah, we did, and we really learned it from a dollar up, I would say. We explored that whole range of material.
Martin: You can only lose a dollar when you’re playing with a dollar.
Fred: Right, that’s true. Yeah, we graduated to auctions. There were auctions in Florida that they called Boxslide Auctions where there was one good thing in every lot and we would go through and find it and fill our VW bus up, go through it, set up a Sunday flea market.
Martin: Now, the auctioneer said that there was one –
Fred: Yeah, he did. He would say there was one good thing in each lot. We never knew what it was, and we probably threw away some of the good stuff, but –
Martin: This was long before Ebay when you could find out that way.
Fred: Yeah, we just pretty – he just promised us and we believed him and we would go through and we’d throw away a lot of stuff, give a lot of stuff away to some Goodwill or Salvation Army and, then, set up at the Dinner Key flea market at that point in time. Now, we’re in Florida, the next year – I mean, in Miami the following year, and we set up there almost every Sunday.
Martin: So, you started in Florida and then you moved back here to Connecticut, eventually.
Fred: Yeah, right around, I think, our senior year I was – had been accepted to do my graduate work at Yale in classical music, and I was in Norfolk in 1976, performing there, and I was staying up in Norfolk, and, at that point in time, every chance I had I would head up Route 7 and this was about the time where I’d stumbled on 3 Ravens antiques, which was Harold Corvin, and whenever I walked into that shop and saw the Decoys, and the Windsors, and the painted furniture, and apothecary covers, and, which is, brimming with all this stuff, to me, that looked like it was just incredible and he took a real liking for my wife and I, took us under his wing, and got us into the Hartford show, and from there forward I was, kind of, his picker, for a while and I would run everything that looked like it was folk art by him, and he would buy a lot of it.
Martin: Yeah, so you were fairly young, and that’s what a little bit lacking in this business, today – not a whole lot of young people getting in it, like you did.
Fred: It’s hard. I think, you need money. You were able to get in the business with very little money –
Martin: That’s right. That’s one of the –
Fred: – and my biggest mistakes were – even if I bought something that was problematic, which I did often, inflation would always carry me out, because in – a Windsor chair that’s been ended out still has value and prices were rising, so worse comes to worse you hold onto it for 90 days and the prices will catch up and you can get your money back.
Martin: Yeah. Now, when would – would you say this was in the 70s? When was this?
Fred: Yeah, it was – exactly. It was in ’76 –
Fred: – when I first met Harold Corvin.
Martin: Yeah, see, back then I was exploring the wonderful world of oak furniture.
Fred: One of the first things I bought was a collapsable oak high chair.
Martin: Oh yeah I bought many of those. They go down to a stroller or a rocker.
Fred: A rocker. That’s right.
Martin: Yeah, that’s funny. So, we met back – I want to say in the early 90s when you bought a, just, a fantastic Baltimore bench, and –
Fred: Was actually, probably, it might have been in the late 80s.
Martin: Was it late 80s?
Fred: Might have been.
Martin: I do remember the looking at this piece and thinking one level, but you knew it was a much higher level than that, and that takes a real talent to learn these type of things. How did you know that was such a special piece?
Fred: Well, I think, one thing that I’ve always had going for me, in a way, and I think – I always approach something from its weakest element, and I can’t help myself. That’s what I focus on. I never focus on – I remember dealers used to say to me: wow, look at the great seat on that winter chair, but I would say to myself: yeah, but the back is ugly. They’d always say: oh, gosh, look at the great – how tall the feet are in that chest. I’d said: yeah, but it’s too wide, and so, I’d always – the weakest element. It was always my baseline, so that’s where I – that’s my starting point from analyzing the piece of furniture, not the best point, and when you have a really weak element or a really strong element where you have something that’s out of balance, and that becomes problematic. This bench was not out of balance. It was beautifully balanced. It had nice, tall seat height. It had beautiful, tall back that, just, was just kept going –
Martin: So, you remember that bench clearly, now.
Martin: Wow! That’s great!
Fred: And it was, I remember, that it was a large bench but it was light as a feather. They, just, used just as much wood as they needed to to make it strong.
Martin: Did you ever attribute that to – I know it’s Baltimore, right?
Fred: I didn’t. I didn’t attribute it, and, I think, at that point in time very little work was being done with Windsors, and then, since then, Charlie Santore, I think, has done quite a bit of work and, probably, now one could figure it out.
Martin: I do remember my father telling me – I’ve learned a lot from my father and from growing up and he always said: look at the weakest part of a painting. If you find something weak in the painting the painting is only as good as its weakest part, and so, I think that’s, more or less, across the board.
Fred: I think it’s across the board in everything. I think you can go to a great concert of a string quartet, but if the cellist just comes in in the wrong spot, well, there’s not much you can do about it. You can say it was great but…or if you go to have a great meal and it’s too salty or it’s – there’s no great elements to it – I think it’s with everything. I think balance is the key – key to success with any material.
Martin: Now, you’ve been in this business for this many years, and everybody is talking about the changes. There’s many, many changes, and you seem to evolve, and I want to talk to you because, now, you’re selling contemporary artwork.
Fred: Yeah, we have – we run about 10 contemporary shows a year in the gallery, which is open Tuesday through Saturday. We represent 22 artists, contemporary artists, which we have exclusive contracts with, and it’s – for me, it’s something I’m doing, but I always did it as closet collector. I mean, I collected contemporary art alongside of collecting folk art all the way along. When we were coming up in the business, as I said earlier, my father–in–law’s a – is a well–known contemporary artist, so I’ve learned a lot from him, and I was buying and selling early modern furniture before anybody wanted it just ’cause I thought it was a great design, so, today, I’m saying, we’re just going to – we’re going to start going more public with it, but also know that when we had our gallery in New York we did show a couple contemporary artists, at the same time, so for me it’s the same set of tools. I mean, judging a contemporary work is the same set of tools as judging folk art. It’s very closely related, because much contemporary art, especially abstraction, which is what we like, is one–off expressions, and most folk art is a one–off expression, so every time you’re judging a piece of folk art it’s a new experience for me. It’s not like a wind-up toy, or a collectible, where there are multiples, generally.
Martin: Right, and do you deal, also, in large pieces? I think of a lot of contemporary work as really large canvases. Do you deal in all types of canvases?
Fred: Yeah, we represent 3 or – I think 3 or 4 sculptors, and some of that work, on commission, would be very large. It has to be built on site, and –
Martin: Oh, like a metal sculpture.
Fred: Yeah, metal, steel sculpture, outdoor sculpture, and then we have most of our artists’ work ranges from, it could be, 6 by 8 inches to 10 feet – tent pole canvases.
Martin: Now, how far out of this – New York City are we, here?
Fred: 70 miles.
Martin: 70 miles, so I’m sure you get people from New York for your openings. Do you?
Fred: We get people from everywhere. I – there’s a big local community, here. We have Yale School Of Art, here. Yale School Of Art is, probably, the most respected school of art in the country and has probably spawned some of the greatest contemporary artists that have ever been, and it’s very highly regarded, and we do tap into that. I mean, we represent one of the professors of painting at Yale. Some of the MFA graduates we represent, so we use that, very much, and having – being a Yale alumni, also, it doesn’t hurt, so that’s our springboard. That’s, again, our baseline. We look at what’s happening at Yale. We use it, very much, as a gauge of where the market and where the trends are going, because it’s very timely what’s happening, there, and it’s right – it’s a mile from here, and this complex we’re in, which is called a Erector Square, which is the old A. C. Gilbert Erector Set Factory, houses 200 artists’ studios.
Martin: This is the Erector Set Factory?
Fred: Factory, yep.
Martin: How about that.
Fred: So, they’re all above us. There are 200 artists’ studios, some very famous artists who bring six figures –
Martin: Connecticut has a lot of great –
Fred: – are all here.
Martin: Always has had a lot of great artists.
Fred: Yeah, so it’s a great location, so this is really, sort of, a hotbed of activity for that kind of material. I did it for several reasons. I went into contemporary because I really believe in it. I love the way it – this juxtaposition with folk art. I see a lot of relationship, and from a pure financial standpoint there’s a lot of material, a lot of folk material, that is owned by contemporary collectors, so there’s, really, a real cross–pollination that occurs from a purely commercial dollars and cents standpoint. I’ve gotten some great pieces of folk art from ex–Yale professors. They bought folk art from me, so I feel like I do my own thing. I really, kind of, walk a little bit different line than most dealers do – how I buy, where I sell it.
Martin: Yeah, now, do you do – I saw you, recently, at a show. Do you do a lot of shows, per year?
Fred: I don’t. I don’t do very many, at all. I like to – that was the New Hampshire show. I like to go back there, every once in a while – sort of, gives me a good feeling for what’s going on in the market. I’d like to stay connected to where, really, it’s what I call the trenches of Americana, where the dealers, the pickers are coming and going, and what’s really happening, and you could learn a lot. I spent a lot of time just watching what was selling, what wasn’t selling, and why, ’cause that changes.
Martin: It does, yeah.
Fred: Other than that, I do The Philadelphia Hospital Antiques Show, which is a great show for Americana, probably the best show for Americana, and I do – I used to do The Winter Antiques Show. I did it for 21 years. I’ve given that up. Now, last year was our last year. I’m now doing The Metro Show in New York, and we feel as though it’s a better fit for us with our interest in contemporary and modern, and, sort of, blending the two and doing – going in there with that look, rather than trying to do a pure folk art Americana booth.
Martin: A lot of people are talking about trends. I mean, people always want to know what the next trend is. It’s always – no one has a crystal ball. Do you, in your opinion, do you see anything gaining strength, right now? A lot of people talking about Asian, which may be slowing down, a little bit, but do you see anything in the antique market gaining, right now?
Fred: Well, I think, really, what’s happening in the antiques market is the very, very best, the very top 1% or 2%, if you’re able to identify it, is still bringing what it was or more, but there are fewer buyers for it, so it’s very thinly traded, so to buy something for a million dollars and try to find somebody to buy it that a) needs it, b) likes it and c) has the money at the moment is – there aren’t too many backups for those people.
Martin: You know, you think of this – this is a pretty big country – just say were talking about American. It’s a pretty big country, but I’ve had this happen, recently. I had – I can’t, really, talk about it, but there was this major piece and I was told by the expert that there was, either, 2 or 3 people in the entire country that will have an interest in that, and, then, those people get knocked out, somehow, by completing their collection, or whatever it is.
Fred: It’s true. I’ll never forget, I helped put together a really significant collection several years ago, probably 15 or 20 years ago, and the gentleman who owned the collection was the head of one of the biggest consulting firms in the world, and he had just sold it, and I never forget I had a great carved piece, and I called him. I sent him a picture of it, and, at that time, I had to FedEx a picture with a Polaroid, and he called me back and he liked it and I was being a little aggressive on the price, I must admit, and he was trying to say Fred it’s – and I was going on and on about it. He said: I want to say two words to you, and I want you to never forget these words, about folk art, in your business, and I said: what are those? He said: thinly traded. He said: Fred, you always have to think about who’s behind me to buy this, ’cause I’m not trying to get you down in price. I’m not trying to do anything. I’m just trying to tell you something about the market. If you have 1, 2, 3 people behind me ready to spend this 6 or 8 thousand, or whatever it was, at the time, then fine, but if there truly is nobody, then, to be fair to the customer you’re selling it to, you have to recognize that, so, rather than ask you 6,000, I’d better be asking 6,000, or close to it, to the person right behind you. If I’m going to drop it to 3 then it just isn’t a great value, and that stuck with me.
Martin: You find that out the hard way at auctions.
Fred:You find it out the hard way at auction. You do, because the true value at auction, to me, is where the third person drops out, so, if you have two – if you have three people bidding, now you’re down to two and they bring it up another hundred thousand. That is why, when something comes back, at auction, it often goes for less.
Martin: That’s right, significantly.
Fred: Yeah, because it’s that third person that’s no longer there that – it’s really a trifecta – has to happen for that to, really, occur, and, sometimes, that floor is quite low. Sometimes you have two people hammering it out for hundreds for thousands of dollars, and nobody – and everybody’s scratching their head. I see it happen even at low levels. There was an auction, recently, at one of the New Hampshire auctions, and there was, just, a very plain horse weather vane and it brought three times what it was worth. It didn’t make any sense, but, obviously, there were two retail people that wanted it, and, now, if it came to auction, again, it’d rather bring 8,000 it might bring 3, or 2.
Martin: I remember someone – this was a long time ago. I had a Hoosier Cover – do you remember the Hoosier Covers? I had one at auction and it went for a ridiculous $2500, and a guy said to me, he said: I have one in my home – much better than that one, so I’m putting it in the next auction. I said: well, it could have been a fluke. Well, his brought $250, and it was better, so, it’s just, these things can happen as a fluke, but I also – this brings something to mind. A lot of times people used to judge what something was worth at an auction by when the dealer would finally drop out, and they’d hit it one bid above, but, now, that doesn’t seem to come into play anymore. The internet, less dealers going to auctions –
Fred: Right, you have to be pretty astute to follow that, and I think that, and I must admit I did that when I was really young and I first started out. I would go to auction. I keyed in on this dealer named Ed Clerk. I loved Ed Clerk. He was a – he dealt in Shaker. I don’t even know if he’s still around, and there was this little, tiny country sales, and if he was there I would bid on it one bid above him. I mean, I was in college. I didn’t, really, know anything, and it was my, again, it was something for me to follow, so, I think people do that, but you can get in trouble. You don’t know if somebody’s bidding for a client. They have a big – you’re also taking that dealer’s knowledge for granted.
Martin: That’s right, and it can bite you.
Fred: It could, definitely, bite you. There’s no question. There’s no question about that at all.
Martin: I usually tell people if they want to gain knowledge: first of all find a really good dealer that – respectable dealer, and a lot of dealers are willing to share their knowledge and tell you why something’s really good.
Fred: The only real way, and there are few exceptions to this, but, the only real way to, really, amass a really fine collection is to put your trust in one or two dealers, and, preferably, one, and a couple things will happen. They’ll illuminate all the problems. If that dealer’s a very active dealer you will get the first pick of everything that they get, so a lot of what makes it out into the world – when somebody sets up with one of the New Hampshire shows, or – that’s not the first run at a lot of that stuff, for dealers. A lot of their stuff, their prime, fresh material, that is sold to their collectors, so if you get into that, in that group, and then they’ll have your best interests at heart, and you’ll learn a lot.
Martin: Now, is it, on the other side of it, like a really good picker? Do you have good pickers out there that –
Fred: I do. I’m fortunate. I’ve been very fair with the pickers. I always share the profits, 50/50, with them, and I’ve had some –
Martin: That sure makes them loyal when you do that.
Fred: – some pickers that have been dealing with me for 25 years, or longer. I mean, I just sold a – I sold a piece that a picker introduced me to 25 years ago, and I – and the people called me back, directly, 25 years later, and I bought it and I sent them a check for ten grand. I mean, they said: what’s this for? I said this is for that weather vane that you – on the barn that you showed me 25 years ago. He couldn’t believe it. He refused it. I said: you’re not going to refuse this. I wouldn’t have gotten in there without you.
Martin: That’s very honorable.
Fred: Yeah, so I think that, just, you have to do that because there are no secrets in this business. You try to get away with it once and –
Martin: You cede the show.
Fred: – they may not – and, technically, I didn’t have to, but then it just builds up, sort of like, distrust and all that stuff, and who needs it?
Martin: Yeah, that’s right. What would you say has – I keep looking at the whirly kit you have over here. It’s just really fantastic. Can you just talk about that piece, real quickly?
Fred: Well, I think, both the whirly gate, which is – it’s just a soldier whirly gate, and that flying horse weather vane, there’s a bit of abstraction going on in the way they were conceived and, again, that’s what I look for. I don’t look for stuff that’s terribly realistic, so I try to see how it will hold up with a contemporary painting.
Martin: I see.
Fred: So, for – everything, for me, is I never judge a piece of folk art on how it holds up against other folk art. That’s meaningless comparison to me, and even in, when people call – have this piece of folk art, they’ll call it a masterpiece. Well, to me, it’s only a masterpiece if you can put it in a room with a masterpiece Tiffany Lamp, a masterpiece Albert Bierstock, a masterpiece Victorian furniture, and it will hold its own in that arena, then it is a masterpiece. It’s got to be a horizontal experience. It’s not a vertical. What does it mean if a rhinoceros horn cup is a masterpiece only in a world of rhinoceros horn cups. I mean, it doesn’t hold a lot. You have to – it’s got to go out into the broader art world to see – that’s the true test. It’s like comparing a Chevy to all other Chevies. Until you get it on the road and compare it to other cars you could buy you’re not going to, really, know, and, the fact is, if you, truly, get a great piece of, or what I call a true masterpiece, which I’ve had very few of, it just uses a sales technique by many people, and then it really will hold its own, and when you get it in a room with a Mark Roscoe painting, or you get it in a room with a Gottard Townsend High Point, or a fantastic serape, 19th century serape or 18th century serape carpet, or a first phase Navajo blanket, every – there won’t be a weak link in that group.
Martin: Very interesting, and is that – do you try to help people decorate, like that?
Fred: I do, absolutely. Yeah, so we – some of the interiors that we’ve – that were, we’ve – a few times we’ve done soup to nuts where we’ve had a little bit of a hand in layout of the rooms and a little bit of a hand in cabinet work and the furnishing and carpeting and we do blend with modern furniture, early modern furniture, mid–century modern furniture with folk art, and I try to get some contemporary work in there, flat work. That’s always the toughest, and if you get people in there you don’t have to get it in their environment, but it’s a great go with for folk art.
Martin: It sounds like a show house. I mean you could just –
Fred: Yeah, I mean, I’ve had this carousel horse sitting here for a month or so, and I’ve had various abstract paintings behind it, and every time it – I put one up someone goes: boy, does that abstract painting look great with that carousel horse. Well, of course it does. It looks a lot better than an Omni Philips would look with it, frankly. In the same sense a great Omni Philips would look great with a, to me, with a Nakashima bench below it, or a great piece of modern furniture, so I love to mix two things. I’m not a purist, in a sense that it has to be a – an authentic 19th century interior.
Martin: I like to mix. That’s how I – that’s how my house is and has been for years. I like to mix it up.
Fred: I think it makes it much more interesting, I think, and, I think, also, from a standpoint of economics, it broadens your possible risk and gain. You’re broadening your portfolio, so to speak, so 25 years ago, if you invested evenly in folk art and early modern furniture, I don’t know where you’d be ahead. I mean, I’ll never forget, and a lesson I learned with that is very early on I was putting together a portfolio for somebody and somebody just reeled out this whole big stack of Bill Traylor drawings that I could have bought for $2000 or $3000 a piece, and I wouldn’t put them in this portfolio, and I said: this is crazy, and that would have been the winner.
Martin: Oh well, yeah.
Fred: That would have been the winner, so, again, it’s just taking a few risks, broadening your perspectives.
Martin: The thing we – I’ve talked about many times on this with many different guests is if you don’t, really, like something there’s no sense in trying to put it in as an investment in mind, in your own collection.
Fred: Right, you do have to have – and, first and foremost, you really do have to respond to it and love – and love it. I mean, my feeling is that people buy more than they should buy. They should buy fewer and better, and, I think, they’re driven to do that because they’re not satisfied with what they’re getting.
Martin: Fewer, yeah, that’s another thing we’ve talk – I’ve talked about many times, too, is you’re much better off buying the one good item than ten so-sos.
Fred: I’ve recently talked to somebody, a collector, about this Dentzel carousel horse and she was just crazy about this –
Martin: This one?
Fred: – yeah, and she was just crazy about this horse, and I said: do you know anything about carousel? She goes: yeah, I have 80 carousel horses. I said: 80 carousel horses, and she said: but nothing like that, and she just couldn’t – so there you go, so maybe she wouldn’t have needed numbers 32 through 80 if she had anted up and bought – ’cause my theory is that people spend the same in their collecting life whether they’d buy 5 things or 50 things or 500 things or – it takes a little bit of financing, a little bit of working with dealers to, really, stretch, and how ever you have to, or sell things to trade things in, but I try to get people to buy less and buy better all the time. I mean, I have a very healthy dealer trade, so I sell to dealers every day, almost. Dealers come by here. They bring stuff to me. I sell things to them. I get – I advertise in all the Yellow Pages to buying estates, so I – right down to 1940s mahogany furniture. I’ll buy all of it and I know where to go with it. What I’m seen with is folk art, but I use that as a way to get access to other pieces. That’s from the dealers who may specialize in oriental rugs if they get into an estate where there’s a cigar star figure they’ll think of me.
Martin: Yeah, the really good ones – we handled one the other day that did very well, and it’s funny. It was like the next one down sold for a third of the price. It didn’t look that much different, but this one just had couple things going on that really made it set.
Fred: Yeah, there’s a full range, and then, every once in a while, I’ve sold cigar star names that people have been offered close to a million dollars for, and it’s because they were just, like –
Martin: They had all the bells and whistles.
Fred: They had all the bells and whistles and, then, great condition, so it’s – I mean, I think, as you know, seeing as much stuff as you see that something – that top 10% is where all the money is. Another great dealer told me that. He said: the top 10% is where all – something could be 10% better but be 3 times as much – as expensive.
Martin: Yeah, same with the masterpiece work for art. I mean, it’s the same thing across the board, again.
Fred: I mean, you can get a – take a weather vane that’s been painted black, and you can get the same one that’s got an extraordinary verdigris patina, and one goes for 1800 and one goes for 150,000, and that’s just the way it is. That’s just the way it is.
Martin: I have an upcoming guest. I was just talking – the reason I’m down here – Polly Bergen, the actress, is an upcoming guest, and I was really amazed. She bought her collection in the 60s and 50s, and it’s absolutely fabulous, the items that she has, and she said not one time did she ever buy because she thought something was valuable, and it’s very – I mean, I just have – some people just have the ability to have the eye.
Fred: They do, and I think – I call that, kind of, decorating with antiques or decorating with folk art, and people live with it in their environment and – more so than as a collector, per se. 25 years ago you could find some great things doing that and some of the greatest things I’ve ever owned have come that way. Today it’s a little more difficult to go out and do that.
Martin: Do you think there’s still a lot of things out there that, just, have not been discovered, like major – let’s say folk art?
Fred: It still happens. I have to say, in the last two years I’ve had two things, maybe three years – it’s been three years I’ve had two things, both of which were undocumented, both of which were extraordinary pieces, and I’m always surprised when it happens, so it still does happen.
Martin: Now, I don’t know if you can recall one single piece, but is there something that stands out in your mind that you say is the – your favorite piece you’ve ever owned?
Fred: That would be tough. Sometimes it’s the story that surrounds it. It’s the way I got it. I mean, there are probably a – there are probably 2 or 3. I mean, I think there is a pottery bust that – of a black man that I – used to belong to the great collector William Greenspan, and I think that’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever handled. It’s now in a collection in Washington state. I think the Isaac Nuttman still life, the great Isaac Nuttman still life, to me, is one of the – is a true masterpiece, and it’s one of those – the few masterpieces that I would say that I’ve handled over the years, and today it would bring as much as the great Indian weather vane that Jerry Loren brought. It might bring 5 million dollars. I don’t know what it would bring today. It’s just one of those pieces that extends out of its category.
Martin: You probably can relate to this feeling that I get, sometimes, when I see something real extraordinary and I’m discovering it for the first time. It’s only a little bit of it that has to do with the value, and most of it has to do with how rare and wonderful something is. Is that – do you feel the same way that I do?
Fred: Yeah, there’s no question about it. I mean, generally, frankly, when I’m dealing with something that’s very valuable, like that, it’s always on a consignment basis, so usually my – I’m out of the loop, essentially. I’m making a fee to handle a piece like that, so it’s, generally, not about the money. In some instances it’s been, really, about helping some churches of other institutions that really needed the money, desperately, so it’s wanting to do the right thing for them, and, hopefully, you’ll make a few bucks, at the end of the day, when you do something like that, but yeah – no, it’s not, generally, driven by its – what its pure value. If anything it just, to me, I don’t even like it. It just limits the playing field. Once you cross 100,000 at folk art in Americana your numbers drop down to just a handful of possible buyers for these things, today.
Martin: Now, would you say that the buyers for that type of thing of a – in an age group that will be actively buying for time to come, or are they older people?
Fred: I think, actually, a lot of those people are finished buying. I think that they have mature collections, not that they’re not buying, but it’s very difficult, when you’ve been selling somebody great things for 20 years, it’s hard to find that piece of the puzzle that might be missing that improves the collection, and I always say that to them. This is our goal here is adding a piece and improving the collection, not diluting the collection, so you add something that’s secondary or tertiary to something that’s already great. Now you’ve, sort of, lowered the standard, overall, so finding that piece is very difficult. I think the future of this business, and it’ll probably do down the road, is that it will be the people who collect other things that really want a prime piece of American folk art, that value it in their collection of whatever they collect.
Martin: About the baby boomers. What do you think is going to happen when, eventually, all the collections come back on the market? Do you think it’s, again, like you were talking about, earlier, that the, really, top 10% is still going to be solid, and, do you think we’ll see a shift in values?
Fred: So, you mean, by baby boomers, the people who are, like, around 60 now?
Martin: In their 60s and then they start selling and simplifying and –
Fred: What I see happening is that there’s a lot of bad material being sold. There’s a lot of fakes, there’s a lot of overly–worked material, there’s a lot of resurfacing going on. There’s a lot of stuff that isn’t even American it’s – and that dilutes the marketplace, so if you have a weather vane that’s worth $100,000 and then you see – you continue to see them at auction ’cause they’re popular, they’re bringing 15, 20, 15, 20, 15, 20, and they’ve got major problems it starts saying – throwing, sort of, like, a disconnect in this whole thing. What is it really worth, and does that collector, who might pay 100,000, does he start getting gun shy to say: gosh, if I pay 100 could it really bring 15? They don’t, really, know what’s going on, so –
Martin: And it seems like there’s a lot of this in weather vanes. I hear about the weather vanes many times.
Fred: Certainly, weather vanes, but all areas of folk art. I mean, I had a collector, recently, that sent me a picture of this carp mermaid. He was so excited about it. He just got his polychrome mermaid. Well, I knew exactly what it was. It was a – I see them at Brimfield, so I went to Brimfield and I took a picture of a 8 by 8 foot crate. It was 8 foot by 4 feet by 8 feet crate stacked with these sticking out with made in China stamped all over the box, and I sent the picture, and they were $90 each, and he paid, I think, 13,000 for this.
Martin: Oh! See, that – when you hear of something like this that’s someone who may not ever collect again.
Fred: Right, so what happens is they really get soured to the collecting, and it’s a shame, and it really does dilute the business, so I really think it – the jury’s out on what’s going to happen, and I am concerned about that. It’s one thing having something restored that’s, basically, a real piece. The Indian that you were talking about, that you had at auction, was restored. It was repainted. It’s still a real Indian, but I could show you pictures of scarfini fins that are made in Bali, right now, that are really good until you turn them over, and know what the wood is – know that it’s not this monkey pod. It’s not –
Martin: A little bit lighter.
Fred: A little bit lighter, or a lot heavier. One or the other, so it’s those things that it’s hard to know, and, I think, it’s why, if you look at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, who have “Americana” departments, they’re, sort of, combining them with other departments, because I don’t think they can find enough, really, quality material, to go through, so I think that the jury is out on how that goes. I guess there’ll always be a very small group of people who will run with that flag for nuance.
Martin: So, this has been really wonderful talking to you, today.
Fred: Yeah, thanks for including me. I appreciate it.
Martin: Yeah, thank you so much for your time. So, this is Martin Willis with Fred Giampietro, and we’re signing off.