Cruise ship Art Auctions - Scams, Fraud or bargains?
Donald K. Burleson
2009 Updates: Please see these
updates on class action lawsuits filed against cruise ship
art auctions, and new
auction houses stepping-in to fill the void.
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 auctions
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
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
"If you 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
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 -
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
- 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 buyers
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 auctioneers?
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 driving-up prices.
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 huge loss.
In some 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.
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
Auctions praying on the elderly and infirm?
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 bidding)
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
rip-off report contains unverified allegations of shill bidding by cruise ship auctioneers:
“Pure criminal fraud!
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
This newspaper 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 bidders.”
Is cruise ship art represented as an
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 appreciate.
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
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
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
Fine art has a fine frame, and staples are a sure sign of a cheap frame
Investment Quality 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
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.”
One recent “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 around.
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
“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
''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 this
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 frame?
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.
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
Painters Key notes the core issue:
“These tourists are the ideal
target--they are captive, often poorly informed, and Park West has the advantage
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.”
Auction – Complaint summaries
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 the
Bad Business Bureau notes several customer complaints about an art auction
“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 auctions?
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 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 McDonald”
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 questionable prints)”
“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 salesmen.”
Misrepresentation - It’s not just one company
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
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
and does not reflect the opinions of Burleson Enterprises Inc. or any
of its subsidiary companies.
September 2009 -
A concerned Royal Caribbean
Mark Jacobs 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 left.
"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.
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:
"Over the 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
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:
"It was very
upsetting,” Mr. Maldonado said. “I’m not mad about spending $73,000.
I’m 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.”