Damien Hirst & eBay - a buyers guide.

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Buying Damien Hirst artwork on eBay.


If you're a collector of Damien Hirst artwork or his signed books, then eBay is arguably the best place to get it, simply because of the variety and amount of Hirst stuff that is available. This guide will hopefully explain a few simple things, most of it common sense, to help you spot fakes or anything strange with the item. Unlike a gallery, with eBay you do not (usually) have the chance to physically see the piece first. You cannot pick it up, inspect it, scrutinise it for defects or ask questions regarding it's authenticity face-to-face with somebody. Unfortunately, there is fake stuff around - and it's getting much, much worse.

Contacting the seller before bidding.

This is your only chance to get more information if you need it. Read the auction listing carefully, and if you are not completely happy with anything the seller says or if the seller has missed something from the listing (i.e. provenance!) then contact the seller. Most of the time you can get a 'feel' for the seller from how they respond to your questions. If they respond openly with lots of or more detailed information than you asked for, then this is usually a sign of a genuine seller without anything to hide.

Personally, I would be wary of 'Yes/No' or 'Dont know' answers to questions and sellers who do not respond at all are a definite 'Do not bid' for me! Of course, take a look at the feedback of the seller as well in the normal way, not only the total % feedback score, but both the feedback left by previous buyers and the feedback left by the seller (sometimes this gives you more of an insight). I am also a wary of 'private auctions', where the bidders' IDs are kept private. Although I understand the seller's concerns regarding bidders' IDs when listing high value items, you cannot check for shill bidding.

Possible things to ask the seller:

Provenance.

This is a difficult area, but it is probably the most important information you can get from the seller. Ask the seller about how they obtained the item, where they got it from and who they got it from. Does their answer seem logical and feasible? Answers such as "Damien signed this beer mat for me when I met him in the pub last week" is simply not good enough! If the seller can provide any evidence at all in the form of signed letters, the original receipt, or even a photo of Hirst signing the item in question, all the better - although this seldom happens, if the seller can provide this they will usually be all to eager to tell you. Try to independently checkout the seller - for example if the seller tells you that they obtained the Hirst piece via their art gallery or via their place of work, then do a google search on them (most of the time you can get their name from their e-mail address or directly from the e-mail they sent to you) and see if you can find out if they actually work there etc. to try to corroborate their information.

Hirst vary rarely signs anything for anybody anymore other than authentic, certified Hirst pieces, a signed book edition, a signing session in a gallery or if they're a friend of his. Provenance is a very difficult area, but a lot can be deduced from what the seller writes in their responses to you. Use your gut instinct and common sense. Obviously the provenance matters much more on a 4000 Euro Hirst gallery edition than a 40 Euro signed book edition. Keep all correspondence and print out seller e-mails, any extra photos and the eBay listing if you win. These will all help you to get a better price if you decide to sell the item later.

Photographs.

Some sellers provide lots of nice, big, detailed pictures on the auction listing. Most don't. Ask for more if you think it necessary or have any doubts about something at all. Ask for high-quality, close-up photos, especially of the signature or any marks/creases/problems with the item. Good sellers will not have a problem with this, and usually you can get some sort of rapport going with the seller with all the e-mail correspondence. Again, if there is no response, be very wary!

Shipping, shipping costs & payment.

Ask how the seller will ship the item (normal mail or courier?) and how much the total shipping will be if it is not crystal clear on the auction listing. Is insurance included? If it is being shipped to or from Europe, then Customs charges will (usually) apply. For example, if an item is coming from the USA to the UK, import duty is charged (0-25% of the value of the item, depending on the tariff of the item - as examples, books are zero rated for import duty, artwork has an import duty of 5%), then VAT is added at 20% on the cost of the item AND the shipping costs - this is something that you, as the recipient of the parcel will have to pay (although the sender can elect to pay all Customs charges, import duty & VAT on a courier package, this is extremely rare, and the sender usually requires a business account with the courier).

Packages sent with national postal services such as United States Postal Service or Royal Mail may not be charged by Customs at all as they cannot check every package received. Be careful of sellers who offer to undervalue items on the Customs shipping declaration - Customs can still legally open the package and decide the value for themselves and there could be problems with insurance if it's lost altogether. Remember that Customs checking will hold up the delivery of the parcel, so if your parcel hasn't arrived when you thought it would have, there's a good possibility that it's held up in Customs somewhere.

ALWAYS
complete the transaction through eBay, and using PayPal for payment means you could be covered with PayPal Buyer Protection - now it's unlimited protection, no matter how expensive the piece is.

Things to look out for.

The signature

Look at the signature, and try to decide if it's genuine. Experience of Hirst's signature and your gut instinct helps a lot here! Ask the seller for high resolution close up pictures of the signature if the ones in the listing are not clear enough. Hirst's signature, like any other, can look different depending on when it was done (i.e. which year), how fast he did it at the time etc. etc., but the basic geometry is the same. I find that the 'D' in Damien and the 'H' and 't' in Hirst are the specific things to examine - in-between these letters, there can be anything from a straight line to fully formed letters, but these three letters tend to have the same basic format.

One thing to note is that Hirst almost always puts a dot above the 'i' in Hirst, even if the middle three letters ('irs') from Hirst are almost a straight line. There is usually a dot above the 'i' in Damien also, but it can be missing. There is also a shortened version that he uses sometimes, especially on smaller items where space is tight, which is just 'D Hirst'. Any extra writing, sentences, scribbles or drawings by Hirst can dramatically increase the price, but be careful here - check the obvious things, i.e. is the extra scribble in the same ink as the signature (colour, line width etc. etc.)?

Certificates of authenticity

Most of Hirst's pieces come with certificates of authenticity from the gallery they were issued (e.g. limited editions from Eyestorm, Gagosian galleries). Ask the seller if they come with the item. If they are available but there is not photo of it on the listing, ask for one, and check the photo carefully. If a certificate was issued with the piece and the seller informs you it is not available, you will probably find it very difficult to sell the item later. Confusingly, there can be different versions of certificates from the same gallery depending on the piece and when it was issued. The issuing gallery could help you here, try an e-mail to them asking if they could help authenticating the certificate if you send them the photo, they are usually very helpful.

To summarise

Provenance, provenance, provenance!! Get as much information as you can from the seller about the item. Unhelpful or unresponsive sellers are not a good sign! Inspect the photographs on the auction listing carefully, and ask for more from the seller if it would be helpful. Scrutinise the signature, try to decide for yourself if it seems genuine. Take all the information you have, provenance, seller feedback, seller responses, photographs etc. and try to come to an opinion regarding the authenticity of the item. GOOD LUCK!!

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