Lesson of This Antiques Story - When it's Sold, it's Sold
Carl Rice of Tuscon, Arizona was 51 years old when he learned the small ambulance company he worked for was about to lay him off. The veteran yard sale picker was sifting through assorted decorative knickknacks at the estate sale of his late neighbor, Martha Nelson (died age 96), when he came upon two musty paintings of white roses. The oil on board was signed "M.J.H.." The larger painting on canvas appeared to be by the same hand. Its signature read "M.J. Heade." Beads of perspiration undoubtedly found their way to Carl's brow at this point. The Rice Collection of Good-For-Nothing Artworks already numbered 500. To date, Carl's best score was a picture that earned $50 profit at a patio painting sale that grossed $250.
"I had," Mr. Rice said, "on a number of different occasions, purchased pieces of art which I felt may have been originals and subsequently turned out to be frauds, forgeries, or simply art by less popular artists."
Full in the knowledge that his wife would choke him when got home, Carl Rice purchased the two still lifes for their tagged price totaling $88.
According to archives from the Arizona Republic newspaper, Anne admitted yelling at her husband as he walked through the door. Then, as they had done ritualistically 35 times before, the couple took pictures of their paintings, mailed them to a New York City Auction House, and waited patiently for rebuff number 36. Instead of a rejection letter, Paul Provost, then assistant president of Christie's American Paintings division, arrived at the Rice's entryway and authenticated their paintings.
Life was coming up roses for the Rice's, until a team of lawyers representing the Nelson estate sued the contracted estate sale specialist, the appraiser hired by the estate specialist, and Anne and Carl Rice personally for $1.072 million. Argument based on precedent stated that Carl was "unconscionable" in purchasing valuable artworks at such an obviously undervalued price.
Good News-Carl and Anne won their case and get to keep the money. November 4, 1998, Judge Deborah Bernini of Pimi County, Arizona ruled that the sale must stand. "The Plaintiffs dictated the terms of the contract, and the transaction involved no negotiation. Plaintiffs named a price for each painting, and Defendants paid the asking price. Plaintiffs were aware that their chosen estate appraiser was unable to appraise fine art…Nonetheless, Plaintiffs did not hire an appraiser qualified to appraise fine art. A party bears the risk of a mistake when he is aware, at the time of the contract is made, that he has only a limited knowledge with respect to the facts to which the mistake relates but treats his limited knowledge as sufficient. Defendant's serendipity is not grounds for rescission." In other words, ferreting out antique treasures is not against the law.
Anne and Carl purchased a new home and set up trust funds for their children. "We very seldom buy anything at thrift stores anymore," Carl said in and Arizona Daily Star interview. Arizona thrift store proprietors probably sighed with relief when they read that.
The obvious lesson of this story is: when it's sold, it's sold-especially if you set the price. Securing a competent appraiser is the duty of the seller. The judge's ruling also leads me to believe Carl's case was strengthened when he did not engage in bartering. Therefore, if an authentic Mickey Mantle rookie card shows itself at a tag sale for $25-don't quibble. Pay the man.