More on the Coleridge collar

March 23 2012

Image of More on the Coleridge collar

Picture: Christie's

A reader alerts me to this good write up in The Economist of the sad story of the Coleridge collar I mentioned earlier this week. It reveals that Lord Coleridge will now have to pay costs of about £1m: 

...because he lost the case, Lord Coleridge has to pay 90% of most of its costs, estimated at £1m. Hearing the verdict was like listening to a morality tale. There was much to learn from it.

Essentially, if a work of art or an antique is of personal or financial importance, it pays to get a second opinion if you don't much care for the first one. The job of an expert is to use acquired skills and natural gifts to narrow the gap between opinion and fact. The better the expert, the more narrow the gap—but it never disappears entirely. Experience teaches collectors, dealers and art historians that mistakes are unavoidable. Learning from them is often more beneficial and less expensive than going to court.   

As it happens, the chain was bought at Christie's in 2008 by Christopher Moran, who has built on enormous Tudor-style house alongside the Thames. Perhaps he will not mind having a collar that now is widely considered to be Tudor style, rather than the real thing.

I don't know what Christopher Moran thinks of his chain now, but I do know that he was very well advised at the time he bought it. And if I were in Moran's place, I would have no doubt at all about my purchase. 

There was one other aspect of the case which has slightly troubled me. A point made by Lord Coleridge's barrister was that Sotheby's should have made more effort to establish the value of the chain, even if it was 17th Century. The only comparable 17th Century collar had been sold for £300,000 by the London dealers S J Philips some years earlier - ten times what Sotheby's said Lord Coleridge's collar was worth as a 17th Century item. But, according to the Antiques Trade Gazette:

...Judge Pelling rejected the idea that S.J. Phillips would have revealed the price to Sotheby's, whom they would consider rivals in the market. He went on to conclude that, in general terms, contacting retail dealers with regard to value was unrealistic.

As a dealer, I'm not sure this is entirely right.

Update:

A reader involved in Sotheby's defence writes:

I have just seen your piece on the Coleridge Collar. SJP did not sell the collar to Arthur Gilbert for £300,000. The figure given in court by Lord Coleridge's expert witness was inaccurate. The precise figure of 300,300 was taken from an inventory in the V & A which should never have been made public. In any case the figure is a US dollar conversion of the price paid by Sir Arthur at the prevailing exchange rate. The price paid to the Richards's family solicitors, from whom the Gilbert collar originally came, was considerably less, though not paid by SJP, and very close to Sotheby's estimate of the less good Coleridge Collar.

If I understand this correctly, the relevant figure is what Sir Arthur Gilbert paid for his chain, not what its original vendors sold it for. Something is worth what someone is prepared to pay for it. And it seems from this that Sir Arthur Gilbert paid considerably more than the Coleridge collar was valued at by Sotheby's.

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