Vincent Price, Keeping Me Safely in My Tax Bracket

Source: Indiewire

So what’s sitting in YOUR closet? A rookie Vic Raschi card? An original combo of Barbie, Ken, and Midge ? A complete set of Pokémon cards from 1996?

What I have is a framed print of James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Little Rag Gatherers. My parents bought it sometime between 1962 and 1971 at Sears & Roebuck, where the Vincent Price Collection made available over 50,000 fine-art prints (and some paintings too) from artists such as Rembrandt, Picasso, and Dalí. Mr. Price, who of course frightened generations of Hollywood horror fans in his films, was also a Yale graduate who double-majored in English and Art. He believed that public access to art was important, and so this association with Sears helped to further that aim. My parents paid $45 for the print.

I vividly remember when my parents returned home with it, announcing with some pride that “Our Whistler” had arrived. I also recall not being quite sure what to make of it. It certainly wasn’t the more famous painting that I knew of, the one of the artist’s mother. But it was indeed a Whistler because I could read his signature on it, plus the little description card on the back said so for a fact. We owned a Whistler! Our Whistler!

Whenever friends of mine came over, I proudly showed it off. “See our Whistler? It’s by the same guy who painted Whistler’s Mother, you know.” I didn’t know a print from an original painting, and that really didn’t matter to me. It came from Sears, which is hard to explain to younger people now, but in our home back in the sixties and seventies, Sears was like Amazon, Apple, and Walmart all wrapped up in one. Need a new hot water heater? Go to Sears. Want an Andrew Wyeth? Apparently you just go to Sears. It made perfect sense to the pre-teen me, even if I had no idea who Andrew Wyeth was. Or Christies or Sotheby’s for that matter.

At some point in the nineties, when my parents were long-retired and beginning to cast off possessions in preparation for selling our childhood home, they offered me the Whistler. My mother pointed out in fond recollection how much I always loved it. What she didn’t realize, is that her youngest child only once-liked the idea of our having a Whistler, not the actual etching itself. In fact, I always thought the depiction of the rag gatherers to be slightly depressing, these two people, a couple perhaps, living/working in what looked to be a hovel.

Later in life, in their slightly more lucrative years, my parents attended a few art auctions and bought some nice paintings; one of them I recall was a Kandinsky. A sister of mine, someone with much more refined tastes than myself, got the Kandinsky. Lest you think, dear reader, that I am jealous, please disabuse yourself of the notion. I was never interested in any of the artwork. My dad’s Sears houndstooth fedora? Absolutely. The artwork? Meh.

But the Whistler was so lovingly offered, and I graciously accepted it. I never would have hurt my mother’s feelings, plus there was that very kitschy Sears/Vincent Price provenance which appealed to that pre-blogger me.

This print has been dragged all over creation since that time. It’s lived in three Washington, DC-area condos, a house and two apartments in Fresno, California, a loft in Portland, Oregon, a condo in Vero Beach, Florida, and finally its present home here in St. Augustine. I recall my first wife liking it about as much as I did, and so it usually sat in some closet. Gorgeous actually likes it, but has mentioned several times that it needs to be reframed before it can be hung properly on a wall.

A recent article in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance (“Fight Inflation With Collectibles,” August 2022, p. 30 — not yet online) piqued my interest in the Whistler again. A quick Google search told me that it wasn’t valued at but a few hundred dollars at most, but the skeptic in me thought it was still worth finding out for sure. Most art appraisal sites offer the chance to make an inquiry, though they also want you to register and/or give them too much information about yourself. However, a visit to the website of the Appraisers Association of America, and a click on their “Find an Appraiser” link, offered some appraisers to contact. From there I whittled them down to the one guy I thought looked approachable. I decided to contact him to ask if my Whistler print is worth anything.

And why not? According to Milica Jovic in a 2018 posting on the Art Acacia site, “[C]ertain prints are known to reach seven or eight-figure prices at auctions.” Seven or eight figures! Take that, Sis. You can keep your Kandinsky. I’m gonna see if papa can get a brand new bag. Or merely pay for the recent kitchen renovation, I’m really not choosy.

With an economy of words along with a self-effacing tone (aren’t I always?), I wrote an Orlando-based appraiser a brief message about the Whistler, where it was purchased, etc. Two hours later I received a brief but cordial response and an attachment. I learned that the print is valued between $500 to $700, and that a 2011 sale at his own gallery, it sold for $549.

Those are decidedly not seven or eight-figure numbers. But I also suspect that if my parents were still alive, and they maybe saw it on an Antiques Road Show episode, they’d be thrilled that their original $45 dollar investment had appreciated so much. “Where America Shops,” indeed.

So in the end, I’m still holding onto a fond memory from my childhood. A new frame will finally get it out of the closet (no pun intended, this being Florida and all) and put up on one our walls.

Besides, I’ve still got Dad’s fedora.

Until next time…

39 thoughts on “Vincent Price, Keeping Me Safely in My Tax Bracket

  1. The Price is right….but the Vincent in not VAN GOGH.
    Nonetheless, the Whistler print is worth some dough …
    Notwithstanding which you’re still in the same tax bracket.
    So, as Prices Gogh through the roof, will you still able to hack it?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yay! I was hoping you’d include a photo of yourself modeling your Dad’s fedora! Thanks for obliging.
    While there were two ‘big’ catalogues back in the day – growing up in Chicago, guess which one had a bigger following? HA!
    BTW: your Whistler looks quite gallery-esque in its new frame and thus totally respectable to hang on your wall. It helps that both residents like the thing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I had no treasures passed down to me. My mama gave my older sister her house and I bought it from her.
    I do however, vividly remember Sears…the store…the catalogue, and the handsome man who worked in the shoe department. ( Years later…he would give me my first best kiss ever.)
    Anyway…shucks, you could buy a house from the catalogue.
    I worked at Sears for a year or so…in the credit department, back when you could have an SRC (Sears revolving credit) card or an EP (Easy payment.) one could also get a “coupon book,” which could be used as cash so as to avoid coming up to the credit department to either get their purchase approved or denied.
    I also knew that getting a Sears credit card was the hardest card to get. Since I had worked there, we were given an “A” sale. If we paid that off as agreed, we got the real live card!
    I kept that card for years, until they pissed me off. Bye bye Sears! 😬

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember the coupon book! Oh, now, I think you’ve got a blog post in the making about that shoe salesman, Laurel. 🙂 Yeah, it was a long, depressing slide into irrelevancy for Sears. A mighty part of the American retail history now really just an ember. Onward!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I applaud your interest in exploring this. I’m sure in my frenzied attempt to clear things up and out, I discarded some of my parent’s items what may have had some value but not much. It never was enough to warrant researching except maybe for the coin collection which I foolishly gave to my brother. You look adorable in the hat! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Looking rather dapper in the fedora, Marty. Everybody has heard of Whistler’s Mother, even unsophisticated 12 year old kids in the early 1970s like us. Back then, for some reason, it was maybe the second most famous piece of art in the world. Only the Mona Lisa was more recognizable. I am happy to hear that Gorgeous approves of it. With a new frame, it should hold a special place in your home, as a tribute to your parent’s refined taste. Maybe it would look good in the new kitchen?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great hat, Marty! Looks good on you and good choice – perhaps the Kandinsky would have clashed with your colouring 😉. Reframing the Whistler and hanging it in your home will provide a conversation piece for years, if it’s safe to have in-person conversations again…with Covid numbers rising again methinks perhaps not?


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, jeez, you’re probably right, Deb. We just watched on the news this morning about the new variant. Honestly, this thing is never going to end, is it? But I guess we’ll be ready for visitors someday anyway. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You’re right about it looking a tad depressing! Not my kind of art either. I buy art because I like the look of it. Never the value so my paintings/art are pretty much all worthless 😂 but then they bring me so much joy whenever I look at them.
    Looking dapper in your hat Marty.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So glad you did not hurt your mother’s feelings. The art has a history with it, and Gorgeous likes it! It will be interesting to see where it is displayed. My husband loved a framed poem his sister wrote. I liked it just fine, but not in a prominent area. So, it’s on a bedroom wall, upstairs, near his night stand and the bathroom door. 🙂 I like how you describe Sears – yesterday’s Amazon. Sears had whatever was needed. Period.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She was in her early seventies at the time, and I recall she was melancholy about having to give away so many things. They were moving into an apartment not far from where my eldest sister lived, so they had to clear out quite a bit. Sears back in the day was such a fun place. Thanks, Betty!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Your description of Sears back in the day is right on. I remember the anticipation of the Sears Catalogue arriving and turning down the page edges so I could go back and dream. It is interesting how we ‘value’ things passed on down to us. Sometimes, it is a monetary value while in most cases it is just that warm feeling we get like when you put that hat on. Good memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those catalogs really were an anticipatory moment. I can’t imagine the drudgery the post office must have gone through. I remember Wards and Penney also had catalogs, but they just didn’t have the same magic as the Sears one.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I loved the nostalgia behind this post. I was not aware of the whole Vincent Price/Sears promotion thing. Looks like you scored a great hat and an etching with a story. I bet Gorgeous figures out something interesting to do with this. I dreamed about a Kandinsky-esk hand painted mat board upon which the etching was floated and re-framed. Maybe I watched too many episodes of Twilight Zone on Decades over the 4th of July weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My grandmother had a friend who was an antique dealer in India, so she left India with quite a variety of treasures. Unfortunately, she died and my grandfather got himself a girlfriend who took exception to “Edna’s tat” and shipped it all off to her daughter who had a grand country house over here in the UK. I believe it all sold it for a pretty penny – leaving my Uncle furious, and my father shrugging if sad we’d not had a chance to keep some of the things which were part of our memories. For me, that was the tiger skin rug we’d frolicked on as children. Not at all appropriate in this day and age, but what can you do with a child’s memories eh?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, dear. Something tells me the new girlfriend didn’t see it as tat after all. Uncle indeed had every right to be furious. I still see those animal skins in antique stores, which I can’t imagine buying mostly for the cleanliness issues after all these years of sitting g-d knows where!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Spot on there Marty. My mother referred to her as the Russian courtesan, despite (or maybe because) my father’s view was that for putting up with his father, she deserved everything she could get! I’m with you on those animal skins – I only wanted *that* one.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Marty, I was not aware about Mr. Price except for the scary stuff. I ‘get it’ about Sears, especially Craftsman. Speaking about “kitschy” my husband and I have been watching “Better Call Saul” where Hummelwerk figurines are highlighted in a few episodes. Another flashback.

    I continue reading with bated breath…do I now know fancy millionaires Gorgeous and Marty? Not quite, yet still a pretty penny.😊

    Definitely fancy, wearing a fine fedora…thank you for my smile, Marty 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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