Paul Says: Collect with your heart AND your head

By now you've probably read about the recent record-breaking $300m private sale of a painting by Paul Gauguin. It looks like Qatari collectors have raised the high bar again, and sent the art world gossip machine into overdrive.

Gauguin Marry painting
Gauguin's $300m When Will You Marry? was both treasured heirloom and valuable commodity for its seller

Has the art world gone mad? It's hard to tell. At the very top end, it was already fairly crazy to begin with. But after reading about the deal one thing stuck in my mind, and it wasn't the huge price. It was a comment by Rudolf Staechelin, the 62-year-old seller of the painting whose grandfather had bought it during WWI.

"Over 90 percent of our [family's] assets are paintings hanging for free in the museum," he told the New York Times. "For me they are family history and art, but they are also security and investments."

It reminded me of an important fact. The world's most valuable artwork isn't just a traded commodity or a trophy for the super-wealthy; it's also a treasured family heirloom which meant something personal to its former owners.

That's the duality at the heart of my business. Anyone who deals in investment-grade collectibles finds themselves between two camps, and they couldn't be more different.

Let me explain

At one extreme on the heart vs head financial spectrum we find the stock traders who know the numbers game inside out. And because the financial markets move so quickly, it can be a fairly dispassionate industry.

Research shows that in a world dominated by 'high frequency trades' carried out by computers, the average length of share ownership lasts just 22 seconds. It's hard to get attached to anything that quickly, never mind a line of ones and zeros.

On the other side we have the collectors, who happily spend a lifetime dedicating themselves to something they love. For them it's about indulging their hobby and the joy they get from their collections, regardless of their financial value. Money doesn't come into it.

As for me, I'm slap bang in the middle. On a personal level I'm a collector with an eye for an investment opportunity; on a professional level I've spent decades helping my clients make money through their passions.

I've always believed the perfect investment is a combination of these two extremes, a decision made halfway between your head and your heart. Find something you're passionate about, and then figure out a way to make it profitable.

Enjoy the present and plan for the future

To some people, buying a rare stamp or a historical autograph may seem like an extravagant luxury. But choose the right ones to own, and it could be the wisest financial decision you ever make.

Rudolf Staechelin's family owned the Gauguin painting for close to a century, and they cherished it as a work of art and a reminder of their grandfather. But at the same time they always understood it was a financial asset, and that when the time was right it could secure their financial future for generations to come.  

"The real question is why only now?" Staechelin said of the sale. "It's mainly because we got a good offer. In a way it's sad, but on the other hand, it's a fact of life. Private collections are like private persons. They don't live forever."

So I say buy the things you love, and love the things you own. Take pleasure in a piece of artwork that moves you, a classic car that excites you or a piece of historic memorabilia that inspires you. Enjoy them now, with the knowledge that your money will still be there when you need it.

With a bit of expert advice, you can have one eye on the present and one on the future without giving yourself a headache.  

Thanks for reading


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