An art speculator is someone who buys art that he recognizes as being far more valuable than the price at which it is being offered for sale, or that it is expected to fetch, if the sale is an auction.

The art speculator has an ancestor which used to be called “a picker”.  Pickers’ old-fashioned routine consisted in having routes and visiting weekly hundreds of places where something of value might be for sale for very little: antique shops, antique malls, thrift shops, Salvation Army stores, estate sales, auction sales rooms.  It was inefficient and did not easily allow performing research to get crucial information.  A lot of guessing had to be done on the spot.  Most of the old timers who operated this way drove beaten up vans and died poor.

Today’s art speculator looks for unrecognized quality; works offered as artist unknown;  wrong dating of anonymous works; originals described as copies; originals listed as “after” pieces; originals listed as by followers; works ascribed to his  workshop, or studio, or to assistants, when they are by the artist himself; duplicate original versions offered as copies; mis-attributions; watercolors and drawings offered as prints; typos in pricing, or with a zero missing; errors in the conversion to prices given in foreign currencies; unrecognized sitters; mistakes in descriptions;  works on panel listed as works on board; wrong dimensions; sometimes inches listed as cm, or meters listed as ft.; clues that went unnoticed.

The domain of the art speculator is the universe of errors, mistakes, and bad research.

He spends a considerable amount of time fact-checking and researching and in the process not only uncovers profitable errors, but also quite often learns valuable information no one else had taken the time to look for.  Most buyers go blindly with what the description says.  The description is only as good as the cataloguer who wrote it. Only as good as how much time he was given to research. Only as good as how far and deep he researched.  Were foreign languages involved? Does he understand them fluently?  Better to be your own cataloguer before you buy, and this is what the art speculator does. 

While this may sound iffy and marginal, consider that 20 million paintings are sold every year.  Even if mistakes only happen 1 percent of the time, that’s 200,000 errors.

Let’s say that half of the errors are on the high side -such as overpriced wrong attributions- and the other half on the low side; such as unrecognized and underpriced artworks.

This leaves 100,000 opportunities to make money.  275 every day.

This is why art speculators tend to drive luxury cars and to live in fine apartments in the upscale part of town. 

The hunting grounds of the art speculator are primarily auctions because there are so many of them, and most of them are small, and don’t have a team of worldclass specialists and researchers.  Nevertheless, you can make a good living just buying undervalued pieces from AAA auction houses, because they handle such a large volume that oversights are unavoidable. 

The typical set up of the art speculator is 64 GB of RAM, five or six quality monitors, sharp digital image analysis software, and subscriptions to a variety of online library services.   If he lives within walking distance of a major art library, it is a huge advantage. This set up allows for well organized, efficient, systematic, productive, and quality work.  

Speculating about the nature of paintings, who painted them, or when, or some other valuable consideration, consists in betting that you are right in your opinion, your judgement, your research, and that someone else is wrong. 

You need more than self-confidence to do this successfully, you kneed knowledge.  The reason is that you cannot check if there is a mistake in each one of an endless offering of artworks.  If profitable mistakes only happen 0.5% of the time, it means   you would need to research 200 artworks in order to find a moneymaker.   It would take too long.  The way to reduce this down to a manageable level, is first to specialize and second to become highly knowledgeable in your chosen area.  This way, by just glancing through the title and photos of items and artists you are well familiar with, you instantly spot when something does not seem quite right. 

The easiest way to start is by acquiring expertise in a narrow field and preferably an unpopular one.  If you are active, committed and dedicate yourself to learning, it only takes six months to learn 80% of what there is to know. It takes harder work to learn the next 17 or 18% but you will need them, because this is where the money is made.  Over time, as you get experience and confidence, you will broaden your knowledge and expand into additional areas.


Art Certification Experts are specialist in fine art authentication and appraisal. We work with museums, galleries and auction houses around the world and also provide our services directly to private collectors and owners.

Phone/Whatsapp: +1 (212) 658 0466



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