Scams in the Art and Framing World

Being involved in the art, antique and framing industry for over 30 years, you witness what lengths businesses go through to get people to buy their product or service.  This can amount to false promotions and discounts to allur the unsuspecting customer to part with their money on limited value or worthless products.

Perfect examples include cruise ship art and fake sports and entertainment autographs.  These industries see well into the billions of dollars thrown away on what I call “junk goods “.

Whatever the reason, it doesn’t take much to encourage people to spend their hard earned money on overpriced goods and services.

The following are examples of certain situations customers have told me where they have regretted buying these items without doing proper research.

One case involved a Baltimore,  Maryland couple who bought a lot of cruise ship art they found later to be misrepresented and falsely valued by the promoters on the cruise ship.

Second, last year, a gentleman came to me with several pieces of framed signed sports photographs to reframe due to the slow fading of the signatures.  When asking questions for the source of the items,  there were many negative comments relating to the scam this company was promoting through auctions.

Almost daily, we receive or hear of huge discounts offered by these big box art and framing chain stores on art and framing services.  Given the fact that framing is expensive due to the labor and materials involved, its pretty easy to get taken in by these discounts and

According to New York Attorney General A.G. Schneiderman, on the NY AG’s website:   “For years, Michaels duped consumers into thinking they were receiving huge discounts, when in fact, they were simply paying the regular store price.  Through deceptive advertising practices, this company violated the law and took advantage of hardworking consumers trying to save money.  In addition to the civil penalties, the company is paying for their actions by providing $1 million in school supplies for hundreds of school districts statewide.”

People are surprised when they realize they can usually get a better deal through their local mom and pop frame shop than a huge chain.  Why?  First, lower overhead.  Yes, chains may be able to buy in bulk and have a price advantage on their cost of materials, but, these chains also have one major thing that smaller shops don’t have: large overhead expenses.  Second, large chains also have a lower labor cost per employee when it comes to wages.  Again, usually people who want to enter the art and framing industry apply at larger chains to gain experience to land a higher paying job with a smaller, more reputable frame shop.  The problem is that most chains have work done offsite by other contracted companies and thus the big box employee really gains little or no experience at their current employment.

The same goes with these newer internet based, mail order operations.  Like chains, these companies pay a much lower wage than your framing establishment with more experienced framers.  Also, since these much larger companies (chains and internet based framing businesses) have their employees do monotonous, assembly line type work, their employment is cut short when they seek higher paying, more interesting work.  This high turnover really means higher labor costs for these companies as they continually seek more people to work for them.

And, by having a more rapid turnover and the demand to get product out the door, two critical factors enter into the mix: waste and art damage.  Framing art involves patience and accuracy.  Skill and knowledge are involved when measuring for sizes, cutting, mounting and assembling the components.  Over the years, I have seen materials wasted when inexperienced or a rushed atmosphere come into play.  Regardless of the quality of materials used, waste translates into dollars thrown out the window.  Likewise, and more important, over the years, I have heard stories of customers in utter shock when the businesses they patronized damaged their artwork.

Another industry that takes advantage of their customers is the cruise ship industry. Over the years, my business has reframed cruise ship art. In doing so, not only have I seen very poor workmanship in these frames, but I also hear the stories people have told me when buying this art.  It is not pretty.

In one case, a customer told me he and his wife bought over $50,000 of art on a cruise ship. They later found out the work was worth a small fraction what they paid and they lost part of their savings.  Another case, a couple needed me to fix a frame (from their cruise ship art) that was broken in shipment.  When I disassembled the framing package, we realized the art was nothing more than art reproduced on canvas.  Not an original, as stated in the “certificate of authenticity” (coa).  By the way, in my years of dealing with historical autographs, antique maps, and popular art, COAs are worth the paper they are printed.

Like gambling at a casino, cruise ships thrive when people are drinking, their attention is distracted and they are situated in an exciting, active environment.  Unfortunately, the next day, the truth is apparent when research and reason come into play.  Then it’s too late.  In either case, the house always wins.  Why do you think casinos and ships are such large, expensive and lavish properties? They don’t make tons of money when you eat or stay there.  Only when you play and buy!

Diploma frames sold by colleges and universities are also overpriced given the quality and cost of the materials involved.  Over the years, parents and students have asked me to inspect the frames and make any needed changes.  On virtually all frames, I had to replace the glass to conservation quality UV filtering glass (we only use Tru Vue 99% Uv filtering glass, not lower quality imitations.)  Because the customer wants to keep the school’s logo and name on the matting, we would add a 100% rag buffer AND 100% rag backing to protect the diploma.

Additionally, the actual diploma frames are made of an inexpensive pressed wood or other inferior quality material to keep retain high margins.  If you remove the logo and name of school from the mat, you really have a big box inexpensive frame you can buy for under $25.  And, I can guarantee you that a large profit is in that figure.  But, that logo allows the sellers of the frames to ask 5 to 10 times that amount.  By the way, why do you need the name of the college or university on the mat when its in big letters on the diploma?

The reasons why the frames are so expensive lie in the fact that 3 hands are in the pot:  1) The manufacturer of the frames,  2)  The owners of the bookstores.  The biggest players are Follett and Barnes and Noble, and 3) The schools also get a piece of the action.  All these companies and institutions want their share of the pie. And with wanting a sizable amount, that is why the frames are way overpriced.  By the way, the cost to make a frame of typical college store quality is under $15.

The art and frame world is full of false and misrepresented statements, sellers and products.  All too often the consumer is taken advantage of because they assume the large corporation or institution behind it has a great reputation because of their presence and size.  However, as you can see, that is not always the case.

After all, many these large players have fat bellies to feed.  This means that the consumer is left with a bag of goods that was underrepresented and overpriced.


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