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Fun places to stash your cash.

Financially speaking you've made all the right moves: You contribute as much as you can to a retirement plan, own a diversified portfolio of investments and your insurance premiums are paid up. So you find yourself with a little cash on hand - say about $2,500 - but you're sick of stocks, bored by bonds, and tired of Treasuries. Why not put some zip into your investments, then? Consider these offbeat, but profitable, places to stash your cash.


If posterity is on your mind, set your sights on fine art, jewelry, photography and ethnic collectibles - even musical instruments. How to get started? No matter what type of collecting excites you, experts emphasize that a desire to invest in any art form should spring more from passion, than from a lust for profits.

Take jewelry, for instance. "No one should buy solely with the idea that a particular piece is going to be valuable later on," says David McFadden, curator of Decorative Arts at New York City's Cooper-Hewitt Museum. "Like any work of art, it lives with you, so it should be purchased as much from your heart as from your pocketbook."

That said, there are several ways to be a shrewd jewelry collector. Start by educating yourself about what specifically you want to buy. in the case of jewelry, that means reading books and haunting antique stores, flea markets, auction houses and shops. Quality jewelry, according to McFadden, is defined by the value of the underlying materials - gold and precious gems - and the skill of the artisan in using even nonprecious materials in their work. "Look for designers who have an innovative vision," McFadden advises.

A welcome surprise: It doesn't cost a fortune to own beautiful jewelry. According to New York City certified financial planner Madeleine I. Noveck, terrific bargains can be had - for as little as $100 - on rhinestones and faux jewels from the '30s and '40s. "These pieces are made with base metals," Noveck says of the Art-Deco pins, earrings, and necklaces, "but they are gorgeously designed" - and often by the same craftspeople who worked for tony Fifth Avenue retailers such as Van Cleef & Arpels. if you have $2,000 or more to spend, "you can do beautifully," says Noveck.

Once you've completed your self-education, as described above, first try your luck at flea markets. (Some of the best: the Pasadena Rose Bowl, held the second Sunday of every month; New York's weekly shows held each Saturday and Sunday on 6th Avenue and 23rd Street in Manhattan; and of course, Paris' famous Marche aux Puces.) Later, you can work your way up to estate sales and auction houses.


Everybody loves pictures, and fine photographs are stunning works of art that are often undervalued. Consider the case of the well-known news photographer Arthur Fellig, known as "Weegee." Two years ago, Weegee's lurid crime-scene photos could fetch as much as $10,000 a piece. At New York auctions held last spring, however, many Weegee photos sold for less than their estimated prices - when they sold at all. Why? Unlike demand for paintings, the photo market tends to be cyclical, and is now in a lull.

The lackluster photography market spells good news for investors, since these works are certain to rise in value. Budding collectors can start with as little as $500, according to Sarah Morthland, director of the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York. One area that is becoming increasingly popular: photos of civil rights activists from the '60s and '70s. For example, prints of news photos taken by urban shutterbugs Danny Lyon, Bruce Davidson and Charles Moore cost about $500 to $2,500. Meanwhile, prints by Harlem chronicler James Van Der Zee, the upcoming subject of a major exhibit at Washington D.C.'s Smithsonian Institution, go from $700 to $3,500 and up.

To get the best value for your money, read up, ask lots of questions of sellers and go for prints in excellent condition. That is, make sure they aren't faded, yellowed, torn or scratched. So-called vintage prints, meaning those that were printed by the photographer around the same time the negative was made, tend to be highly sought-after. An unusual notation on the back of a print, such as a stamp from a press agency depicting the photographer's assignment, can make it more valuable. "Don't just fall in love with an image and buy it," recommends Julie Nelson-Gal, director of photography at the San Francisco auction house of Butterfield & Butterfield. "Half the fun is doing your homework and finding out what that notation means. Then, when you got ready to buy, you'll know more."


If you're interested in other mediums, and have about $2,000 to spend, you can find some great values in drawings, watercolors and prints. Remember, it pays to start small when you're starting to collect fine art, recommends New York City gallery owner June Kelly, who works with the Studio Museum in Harlem. Her advice: "Don't buy a $10,000 piece until you've gone to galleries, museums and lectures and talked with other collectors. The more you learn about the artist and the artwork, the more your tastes may change."

Once you're ready to buy, consider the works of younger artists. If you choose well (as did anyone who picked up Jean-Michel Basquak during the '80s) you'll be helping to fuel a budding career - a career that may one day soar. Young African-American painters such as Alison Saar, Nanette Carter, Philemona Williamson and Whitfield Lovell, for instance, are getting good reviews in art magazines and being exhibited in major museums. Although their work is affordable right now, it may not be so later. Next month, Pantheon will publish a reference book entitled A History of African-American Artists by Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson ($65), which Kelly recommends for background and perspective.

If black artists and their work intrigue you, don't stop there. Consider funkier collectibles like black dolls (they're hotter than ever), cookbooks from the Old South and movie posters. You can see examples of - and learn more about - the first two, which can cost anywhere from $50 to several thousand dollars, by attending collectibles shows like the upcoming Black Memorabilia Show, October 15-17 at the Washington Convention Center (call 301-559-6363).

Posters can be found in innumerable galleries. Those from the earliest black films, which featured such stars as Ethel Waters, Bill Robinson and Hattie McDaniels, command from $5,000 to $10,000, according to John D. Kisch, author of A Separate Cinema: 50 Years of Black Cast Posters (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $20). Yet other desirable, and equally affordable, posters, such as those from black Westerns of the '30s and '40s like Harlem on the Prairie or The Bronze Buckaroo, go for several hundred dollars to about $2,000.

For that matter, posters from contemporary films, like Blacula and Shaft, are also highly collectible, says Kitch, and can cost as little as $50. "The more recent material may be less expensive, but the graphics, especially the poster from the new Tina Turner film What's Love Got to Do With It, are breathtaking."


Finally, don't overlook musical instruments. Is your kid proficient on the the violin, viola or cello? Or perhaps you're in the market for a piano to grace your living room. Rather than opt for an inexpensive model, it may be worthwhile to shop with an expert (i.e., a music teacher or professional musician) for something pricier, since stringed instruments - pianos included - rarely disappoint investors.

"For $5,000, [an amateur] can get something very nice," suggests Jacques Francais, owner of Jacques Francais Rare Violins in New York City. For that price, you won't get a Stradivarius, but many "passionate new makers" are crafting fine instruments in this price range - instruments that in five to ten years could go for $12,000, Francais notes. Before the recession some of the finer instruments were increasing in value by 16% a year.

"By tradition, prices have never gone down," assures Francais, "not even after the Great Depression."

The most prestigious and highly appreciable name in pianos is Steinway. The company's new models go from $11,000 for an upright to $68,000 for a nine-foot concert grand, including bench. Used Steinway prices, though, are all over the map, although generally sell for about 5% to 20% less than new instruments.

David White, senior sales representative at the New York store, bought his Steinway in 1971 for $5,990, and sold it 15 years later for $16,500, for an average annual return of roughly 20%. (The pianos typically increase in price 5% to 7% a year.) And just what did White do with the proceeds of his sale? He used it as a down payment on a new Steinway. "These pianos become a member of the family," he waxes. Besides, "when you sit down to a Steinway, who can put a price on that?"
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Title Annotation:1993 Money Management Guide; buying art as an investment
Author:Vreeland, Leslie
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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