Tapping out…

The first of several Merton Simpson’s African Tribal art estate auctions took place at Quinn’s Auctions in Falls Church Virginnia (10/01/16). With approximately 400 of the high-end pieces of his collection on sale it proved to be an arduous task, but once the audience was walked through the challenges from the Nigerian government, consignment claims, and catalog mishaps it was pretty smooth sailing.

The prices though…. were a true testament to the reputation and cachet of the ‘Merton Simpson’ brand in the African Tribal art world.

My tap out moment came on a three item stretch (#168 to #170). These items were an Oron sculpture, a female Tiv figure, and a Urhobo mask respectively.


The way it worked was the opening bid (before absentee bids) would be one-half the lower catalog estimate. This worked out to be $150, $400, and $50 … (I know right, too good to be true, and well worth the drive to Virginna from NY). Honestly though, by the time we reached to item #168 I had already drawn a ‘sad’ smiley face next to item #169. The final sale prices came in at $850, $12,500, and $900 respectively. Then you add 20% buyer’s premium, and a 6% sales tax for your effort, and this is without taking the shipping costs into consideration, or the 4% credit card penalty (keep those checkbooks handy) should you choose that option!

So let’s circle back to your basic auction strategy, 1. prior to your must-have items you should always buy a great piece – that way you ALWAYS walk away with something, 2. after your tap out moment don your best kamikaze/guerrilla persona, open up that wallet, and come out focused and swinging!!


Photocredit : Screenshot from Liveauctioneers.com


4 Responses to Tapping out…

  1. P Moore says:

    Wow! Buying hats is easier!

  2. Ed says:

    A well written and thoughtful matter of subject.

    Mert Simpson was a well connected “black” American collector of African “art”, and intriguing case study, himself, as a Civil Rights [expressionists] artist. Unquestionably, this auction represented the “crumbs” from his once valued collection. Unfortunately, his estate was in financial shambles at the time of his death, without funds to provide him a decent burial.

    Mert Simpson is also cited within a dissertation: Legal issues in African art, http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1731&context=etd

    • I purposely sidestepped the matter of his burial (with his estate being pretty much illiquid) but I will open up on the topic of the structural challenges facing African Americans in building and retaining definitive collections of Tribal African Art. Take for example the case of a collector who can donate his collection to a museum and get top dollar (via tax write-offs) for his items, or the estate which sells the items to the highest bidder – in both cases the rich and wealthy benefit and until such time when African Americans are able to set up their own museums and run them creatively I fear the trend will continue…. Bayard Rustin and Merton Simpson both developed worthwhile collections and both have left a void in the African American Tribal African Art community.

      • Ed says:

        I see.
        Researching museum “collection” donations can bring startling behind-the-scene revelations to the surface. Nowadays, many museum’s financial performance – or solvency – is questionable, and murky with complex layers of legal tort, et al. It should prove an intriguing subject.

        Yes, such trends are bound to continue.

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