2009 Updates: Please see
these updates on class action lawsuits filed against
cruise ship art auctions.
Anyone who has ever been on a cruise
knows that the cruise lines make most of their money from your on-ship
purchases, and they sell everything from designer clothes to fines
wines. Most lucratively, many ships now offer “fine investment”
art, sold by many auction houses, all geared for the cruising public.
The fine art registry does not have a opinion of cruise ship art
After getting my
North Carolina auctioneer license I learned that the state has strict
auction regulations that prevent unscrupulous auctioneers from taking
advantage of people, and North Carolina is a very safe place to but
things at an auction because of these strict regulations and ethical
standards for auctioneers.
Sadly, it's not the
same on the high seas and I hope that Congress will soon pass a Bill to
regulate cruise auctions that serve US passengers. The Department
of Justice has already ruled that cruise ships that serve Americans must
comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA).
I decided to do some web research to
see why so many people have issues with cruise ship art auctions.
This is what I found:
- Fine art Registry -
In this article David Phillips notes that art auctions at sea
are 21st century pirates:
read this article and still attend one of the cruise line auctions
and get ripped off, then you deserve it. You will have been warned.
Today’s pirates wear suits, speak
enthusiastically and persuasively, promise the earth, work in
collusion with the “highly respected and reputable” cruise lines and
credit companies AND ROB YOU BLIND."
Let's take a closer look at this issue and she why so
many people are concerned about cruise ship art auctions.
- Rip off report - Over
50 complaints against cruise ship art auctions
- No Credit card reversals -
According to this complaint, some cruise ship art galleries
charge exorbitant restocking fees of over $800, and a credit card
reversal will not help you get a refund.
- Class action lawsuits -
This web page reports that there are currently six class action
lawsuits against cruise ship art auctions.
Cruise ship art auctions – Scams at sea or
All cruise ship art
auctions are conducted in international waters and they are insulated
from US consumer protection and fraud laws:
The cruise ship
auctioneers would like you to think that their art is a good
investments, but many web publications state otherwise, many suggesting
that they are a scam, or at least a very bad investment. Some
people go as far as to suggest that cruise ship art auctions use
deceptive business practices.
Deceptive business practices by art
Janet and I attended
one cruise auction to watch their carnival barker act, a wonderful
exercise in Machiavellianism. But we were taken aback when we were
asked by a auction employee to help them "start the bidding", stating
that we would be given free art in consideration for our help in
Before you rush to
judgment, please note that auctioneer-bidding and "shill bidding"
(undisclosed owner bidding) is legal in some places. For example,
some people argue that the owner of something being auctioned should
have the right to buy it back if the auctioned item might be sold at a
jurisdictions, the auctioneer is allowed to pretend-bid up to a
non-disclosed reserve price without notifying the bidders, while in
other jurisdictions the auctioneer must explicitly state that he will be
calling false bids to to a reserve price. I consider
auctioneer-bidding to be immoral and unethical.
No consumer protections laws at-sea
I hope that this page
will serve as a warning to anyone who thinks that US consumer protection
law extends to the high seas. This
collecting tips forum notes a successful lawsuit against a cruise
auctioneer, citing deceptive business practices and inflated prices:
“A court case (Erickson vs. PWG, 2000) and
several individuals have pressed and won refunds on grounds of deceptive
practices and inflated prices when dealing with Park West Gallery. I
feel pretty stupid!
Park West hides amongst legal structures
and international waters' law, that Park West Gallery misrepresents the
value of artwork in its cruise auctions and that this misrepresentation
is deliberate and knowing.
I just want to return these pieces and get
my money back! This is a scam that has been going on for years.
Americans taking advantage of Americans…it’s pretty sad.”
Auctions praying on the elderly and
How would you feel if
your working-class 75 year-old Grandma returned from a cruise with $70k
in "investment quality" art, thinking that she was wisely
spending her entire life savings?
Many older people
remember the days before 1960 when cruising was the bastion of the rich.
Today, cruising is cheaper than staying at a Holiday Inn, and many
lower-class people are taking to the high-seas in record numbers.
Preying on elderly art investors?
I just attended an
auction at-sea and I became sick to my stomach. I observed that
the art auction area was cluttered with wheelchairs and walkers and I
noticed that the auctioneer was working a group of nice, trusting old
folks, many of whom I suspect suffered from mild senile dementia.
I saw one old woman
bid thousands of dollars on a reproduction lithograph which I suspected
to be worth only a small fraction of the payment, and it appeared to me
that she was completely brainwashed by the persuasive auctioneer, as he
called bids out of thin air (I stood behind him and watched) and praised
the elderly woman on her good judgment after every purchase. On
the other hand, it may be possible that this woman was one of their
shillers, receiving free art for pretending to place real bids.
There were several
Filipino helpers who called loudly every time someone bought a piece and
it seemed to me that many of the old folks on the cruise were enraptured
by the special attention.
Cruise auctions shilling (false
At every auction I
witnessed, the art auctioneer's disclose that they will be pulling fake
bids. This practice is called “shilling”, and it's legal in most
States, so long as it is announced in advance. However, almost all
of the attendees I spoke with did not understand that the auctioneer has
the right to “pretend” that someone is bidding against them.
This publication in
report contains unverified allegations of shill bidding by cruise
“Pure criminal fraud!
Park West Galleries, a crooked art dealer,
has a branch on the Royal Caribbean cruise ships called Park West at
Sea. (I can only assume that Royal Caribbean as a partner is making so
much money from this scam that they tolerate the fraudulent behaviors
since they have not responded to my complaints either)
This so called "fine art auction" is a
spider’s web of deceit and treachery for those who are not indoctrinated
into the art world.
These con artists masquerade as
auctioneers and acknowledge fake bidding in the audience by moving their
heads to where people are sitting and arbitrarily raising the prices on
art work they are selling. . .
I was embarrassed to be lied to over and
over in this way and am seeking satisfaction from many avenues including
the FBI, Local Police FTC, The Miami Herald, Royal Caribbean Cruise
Line, both civil and criminal charges and the public domain. I also want
to warn others not to buy any art on a cruise ship and to avoid, like
poison, Park West Galleries.”
article titled “The
Art of Piracy” in the Broward Palm Beach New Times notes a
class-action lawsuit for shill bidding:
“But Park West is fighting its own legal
battle with former Carnival Cruise Line passengers.
In 2001, a group of passengers filed a
class action lawsuit against Park West and Carnival Cruise Lines
alleging, among other wrongdoings, driving up prices by using phantom
Is cruise ship art represented as
During the initial
“suck-in”, potential bidders are given free champagne and a sales pitch
where the benefits of art collection are touted, suggesting that the
upper-middle class collectors (to which most attendees aspire) invest in
art for-profit. Of course, it’s all true, some art pieces do
The next gimmick I
saw was where a piece of art is “sacrificed”, right at the start of the
first day's auction. In this cruise ship ritual, the
auctioneer, offers-up a obscure piece from an unknown artists and
solicits a bid (usually $50), and drops the hammer instantly, giving
attendees the idea that they are about to get some great bargains.
It’s an amazingly well-done marketing tactic, masterfully designed to
build trust and open-up pocketbooks.
Auctioneer James Shlosser, who claims to be a
disgruntled former art auction employee, offers his story "losing
everything for Park West Gallery" noting his experience working as
an auctioneer at a cruise ship art auction:
"We were taught how to sell high dollar framing, how
to run the bid to ridiculously high levels and then tell the audience
that the piece was really worth that much"
Cruise ship art buying tips
If you don’t know art, make sure to check competing prices and
examine the frame on the art before you place a bid.
If you are considering purchasing a work by any cruise ship art
auctions, remember that cruise ship art is not unique, it’s a commodity,
and you can look-up the prices on the web. Use due diligence and
spend $30 on the ship internet to see what the same piece sales for on
eBay or other auction houses.
A smart buyer will take care to examine the frames. Obviously,
a real $8,000 art work will not be displayed in a cheap $300 frame,
especially when it is being offered for sale at an auction. One
way to tell a cheap frame is to examine the corners of the back of the
frame. But in this case, the British American auctions claim to
have the pieces custom framed fro their warehouse, so you do not buy the
piece that you see on the cruise ship.
Art or Worthless Crap?
The spiel of some
auctioneers is designed to appeal to lower-middle blue collar folks, a
masterful work of persuasion and brainwashing worthy of P. T. Barnum.
They talk of the inheritance value (a real motivator to grandpa who
wants to leave his kids a legacy), and they toss out true facts
about art collection, without mentioning that many of their works have
limited collector values and would fetch practically nothing if offered
in a public action forum like eBay.
It’s just like the
Holland tulip bulb investment rage a few centuries ago, when prized
bulbs would sell for a fortune. One day, someone said “hey, there
are just tulips”, the market fell-out and investors lost a fortune.
The same thing could happen someday to the current rage for Thomas
The greatest art auction rip-offs
The other rip-off is
the “hand-touched” lithographs, where the artist will run a litho of
3,000 copies and quickly apply a few quick highlights in their own hand
and sign them. They are still considered reproductions, but
because they are hand-signed, I’ve seen people squander incredible sums
on this semi-worthless crap, spending their descendents inheritance with
free abandon, thinking that they are “investing”. This page from
Rip-Off Report notes
“My husband and I attended one of the Art
Auctions and felt that the auctioneer was employing high pressure
tactics and also being condescending to the audience.”
“investment quality” sales scam is the sales of lithographs by Thomas
Kinkade, Salvador Dali, Picasso and Andy Warhol.
The greatest rips are
the offerings of “authentic” Rembrandt woodcuts, modern prints made from
the original wooden masters, allegedly of a limited edition. I see
them on every cruise line and they must be thousands of them floating
Salvador Dali Lithographs
Dali forgeries are so
problematic in the market today, that a real Dali is virtually
un-sellable because the cost of authentication often exceeds the value
of the piece.
This report from USA Today notes that Dali prints may not be a
“Still, the Salvador Dali Gallery in
Pacific Palisades, Calif., reports 50 calls a week from cruisers who
question the value of what they bought once back on dry land and able to
do research on the Internet and with galleries.
''These people (auctioneers) are blatantly
overcharging'' people who are unsophisticated about art and have no way
to check out the legitimacy of prices while at sea, says Salvador Dali
Gallery director Bruce Hochman.
''People get caught up in the excitement''
and overbid, agrees Coffman. She thinks cruise companies turn a blind
eye because ''they're interested in on-board revenue enhancements. I've
been told those art auctions are beaucoup big-time moneymakers.''
I saw a cruise where
they advertised a contest to "guess the price of a signed Chagall
lithograph. A quick Google search reveals the offering prices from
Chagall dealer, ranging from $16k to $58k. I also noted that
it was in a very cheap frame, no. 2 pine with no dovetailing, just metal
staples. Now I ask you, who puts a $100k art work on a cheap
Signed Norman Rockwell prints
These are a very bad
deal since the "signature" is not an autograph. It is the standard
Rockwell name that is in all Rockwell prints. Rockwell has
licensed prints for decades.
Don’t get me wrong,
I’ve bought a few pieces of cruise ship art, and I'm a satisfied
customer. One art piece has even appreciated. However, it’s
the test-of-time that determines the value of a limited-edition litho,
and many of the pieces I've seen sold at cruise ship art auctions sold
may not be a good investment. Who knows?
I collect vintage
prints, and I know that the appreciation rate is not nearly as high as
an auctioneer may suggest, especially for their over-hyped artists, many
of whom have arranged bulk sales with the auctioneering house.
This publication on
Key notes the core issue:
“These tourists are the ideal target--they
are captive, often poorly informed, and Park West has the advantage of
That is, potential customers are
constantly walking by works that catch their eye--on the way to and from
the bar, theatre, dance hall, swimming pool, casino or the restaurant.”
Note: The art
auction houses claim that they are the victim of a cybersmear
campaign. Please note that the following web pages discussing
alleged art auction scams and fraud below HAVE NOT been verified.
This publication from
Bad Business Bureau notes several customer complaints about an art
“When we received the prints, much to our
surprise, they were not original Norman Rockwell prints but something
called a “Norman Rockwell Authorized Estate blind-stamp gold seal From
the edition of 315 Estate stamped facsimile signature examples”. This is
a quote from the appraisals sent by Park West. The Norman Rockwell
Museum in Stockdale MA has never heard of such.
I had an art professor friend look at
these pieces. They are essentially worthless as he said the frames are
worth more than the prints and even the matting is sub-standard. . .
I have offered to send the prints back to
Park West, insured at my expense but they refuse to allow this. It seems
another recent buyer in Pacoima, California in a similar situation, was
offered a refund and a 20% bid credit on future works. This is all I ask
so as to put this unfortunate mess behind us. In fact they can keep
their 20% bid credit. This will be my only offer.”
This article from
USA Today notes
several unhappy “investors”, situations that would have redress if the
cruise lines were governed by US law:
“Not thrilled is Debra Erickson of
Bedford, Pa., who spent about $57,000 at auctions run by Park West
Gallery on a July sailing of Carnival's Triumph. When she and her
husband got home, they found that some of the Chagall and Dali prints
and animation frames from popular cartoons they bought could be
purchased for far less on land.
''It's a scam,'' she says of the auctions.
''We were naive novices. We thought we were getting a good price.''
The couple refused to accept Park West
Gallery's all-sales-final policy, and ''we sent back most of the art,''
Erickson says. Getting a refund took more than six months and required
the intervention of her credit-card issuers. She still hasn't seen all
her money, she says. . .
Fakes and Forgeries at cruise
While all anonymous
complaints about cruise ship art auctions are completely unverifiable,
this newspaper article titled “The
Art of Piracy” in the Broward Palm Beach New Times notes that some
cruise ship art auction fraud has been well-documented:
“Mitchell couldn't believe so many forged
copies of her work had been sold. "I certainly didn't sign 1,100
prints," she says.
She sued both Eubanks and Princess in
January, eventually attracting the attention of the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, which had also begun looking into Eubanks after being
contacted by one of Eubanks' former employees.
In September, the FBI made its
investigation into Eubanks' dealings public and called on victims to
come forward. Mitchell says she's the FBI's star witness.”
collecting tips forum has an interesting collection of complaint
about cruise art auctions (Note: I have not verified these
complaints, and they could be a cybersmear):
“My name is Jordan Hillin and I went on
the Carnival Pride about a month ago. From the sound of it we made a bad
mistake on going to that art auction. Is all this true about Park West
screwing people and if so what should I do with the art that I
purchased? I bought a Peter Max that I was told appraised at 4,700 and I
just saw the same one on E-bay for $1,000 . . .”
“I'm saddened to see those who support
Park West and/or their sales tactics. Since when are patent lies about a
product acceptable? Especially when they cannot be verified. With every
expensive piece of artwork, the auctioneer would state "I just got off
the internet and this is the lowest price". Of course, his price was 2
or more times the price I found once I landed.
“Just want to let everyone know that the
value of seriolithoghraphs purchased while on RC's The Mariner Of the
Seas from Park West Galleries-15 months ago have not appreciated as
informed while on the cruise. We have sent back $8,000 worth to Park
west and are demanding total refund for framing shipping and appraisals
that were supplied by the owner of the company- who has no appraising
credentials. Buyer beware- Cruise auctions are a scam. Patsy
I purchased a Dali from Park West Gallery
as an investment while on a cruise ship. I made this investment based on
the authorship of the piece and the announcements about the same and
their Park West appraised values made during the auction on board that
ship. I decided to get them reappraised. Based on the new appraisals I
have found that I, like many others, was misled and lied to at the
auction and in the appraisals. One is a Salvador Dali worth $17,000
according to Park West Gallery, but paid $11,000. . .The appraisal of
these works was represented as being from Bernard Ewell, a certified
appraiser, when in fact they are from the owner of the gallery, Albert
Scaglione. Sotheby’s stated that the piece would not be suitable for
sale because it would not reach their consignment minimum of $5000”.”
“Park West appraisals were misleading and
incorrect. February 8, 2001 USA today articles warn of the practices of
these shipboard auctions and the expert Mr. Ewell is quoted as saying
“This is not a serious art auction, not an investment opportunity”.
“Park West is a scam indeed. I am in the
art business and I sell legitimate Salvador Dali woodcut etchings on my
website. They typically sell for $400 and the better ones for as much as
$1400. Park west sells the same exact woodcuts for 5 times the price on
drunk cruise ship goers who don’t know any better. Not to mention their
prints are uncertified Dali works (they have warehouses full of
“The park west guys basically have a whole
crapload of uncertified prints that they probably bought a long time
ago... and they are unloading it on champagne filled naive people just
trying to get some sort of investment. art dealers are like used car
Misrepresentation - It’s not just
In the interest of
fairness, it’s not any specific auction house that has been accused from
criminal fraud. This newspaper articled titled “The
Art of Piracy” in the Broward Palm Beach New Times notes that it’s
not just any specific company, as other cruise ship art auctioneers at
sea may misrepresent their works:
"We thought we were getting authentic art
— we thought they had everything in order — the certificates of
authenticity and appraisals," Sexton says. "The auctioneers said there
was nothing they could do because they relied on the cruise line for the
marketing information." . . .
"Our appraiser told us: 'You ladies have
been raped,'" Kifer says. "He told us we needed to call the police."
"We never want anyone to be put in the
position that we were put in," Sexton says. "This is not a cheap piece —
$71,000 something — but the piece should never have been sold again."
Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson declined
to comment about the suit, citing company policy against discussing
pending litigation. Benson also refused to discuss anything about the
art program. Manoukian couldn't be reached for comment.
This isn't the first time the cruise line
has faced legal action over its art program.
Two artists sued the cruise line earlier
this year after finding out that thousands of Princess passengers bought
unauthorized prints the cruise line had bought in bulk from Kristine
Eubanks, a convicted felon.”
In sum, I don’t feel
sorry for gullible suckers because there auction houses in the USA with
similar scams, but it’s not right for these companies to prey on the
elderly, old folks who have false confidence in the practice.
Please support the initiative for a Congressional Bill to regulate all
cruises that serve US passengers, so all cruise ship auctioneers will be
forced to adhere to US ethical and moral standards.
NOTE: The opinions on this page
are the sole opinion of Donald K. Burleson and does not reflect the
opinions of Burleson Enterprises Inc. or any of its subsidiary
September 2009 -
A concerned Royal Caribbean
mistakenly thought that he had the right to warn fellow passengers about
six lawsuits against the cruise ship art auctions lawsuits, and claims
that he was unfairly being booted off of the ship:
says his only offense was downloading information about an art auction
business run onboard the ship that has been the subject of numerous
lawsuits alleging unfair business practices, and then passing around a
one-page fact sheet about the company to fellow passengers.
Just hours after sharing information on Park West
Gallery and its history of litigation, Jacobs said, he heard his name
called over the shipboard intercom system. He was notified he was being
put off the ship the next day, July 26, in Norway, and port security
officers from the Oslo Police Department were on hand to ensure that he
"My son's playing pingpong, and the police come to
take me off the ship," Jacobs said yesterday in his Cortlandt home. "And
all I did was distribute information."”
There are two sides to every story, and the report shows Royal
Caribbean’s response, claiming that Mr. Jacobs did far more than warn
passengers, acting in a disruptive manner:
guests reported to the ship's staff that Mark Jacobs was disrupting the
onboard art auction by distributing a flyer to guests. The ship's Hotel
Director and Staff Captain met with Mr. Jacobs and explained that his
behavior was inappropriate and in violation of the guest conduct policy.
addition, they explained that failure to act in accordance with the
policy could result in removal from the ship at the next port of call.
Mr. Jacobs continued to be uncooperative and difficult, which resulted
in a decision to disembark him the following day in Oslo, Norway, the
next port of call."
Park West has their own version of the events,
"What Really Happened - Earlier during the cruise Mark Jacobs’ father
had approached the onboard auctioneer and demanded $600 worth of free
transfers to the airport for him and his family.
He told the auctioneer that if he did not receive the transfers he
would tell auction attendees that Park West was selling fake artwork and
doing fake bidding."
Who is telling the truth here? Who knows? I always apply
the "common sense" rule. If a story does not make sense, then is
usually not true.
January 2009 -
This announcement by
museum-security.org indicates a lawsuit against Park West and Royal
Caribbean alleging fraud and misrepresentation:
last few months, numerous people have contacted our firm with the same
complaint: they purchased artwork from the Defendants who misrepresented
the authenticity and/or value of the pieces they purchased.
believed they were buying an investment, when what they received was
2008: This New York Times article titled “Art
Auctions on Cruise Ships Lead to Anger, Accusations and Lawsuits”
notes that class action lawsuits have been filed in California and
Florida against Park West Art Auctions:
was very upsetting,” Mr. Maldonado said. “I’m not mad about spending
mad about spending $73,000 for works that I was told are worth more
than $100,000 and are probably worth $10,000, if they’re even real.”