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Many investors take long-term view with art, autos and sports teams

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Tom and Marty Philips collect art with a focus the New York School of post-war, contemporary painting.  Their collection includes works by Helen Frankenthaler, such as the one at left, and Willem de Kooning that hang in the library of their Cumberland County home.
Tom and Marty Philips collect art with a focus the New York School of post-war, contemporary painting. Their collection includes works by Helen Frankenthaler, such as the one at left, and Willem de Kooning that hang in the library of their Cumberland County home. - (Photo / )

Tom Philips started buying art in 1977.

He has never sold anything, nor does he have any interest in parting with pieces in his collection.

"I invest in art because I love the pieces I buy. You have to love what you are buying in the art world," said Philips, who ran branch offices for Merrill Lynch and now lives in Lemoyne.

He also knows that much of what he buys will go up in value. It's a long-term investment, he said.

"Art is a hard thing to buy for a short-term investment," Philips said. "When you buy a painting at an auction house, there is typically a 20 to 25 percent buyer's premium. You pay the auction house over and above the price of the hammer. In doing that, the investment piece has to go up that much to break even."

Depending on the artist, the quality of the piece and several other factors — who is in the market to buy and what they are willing to pay, for example — there is no reliable way of knowing when that might be.

"You've got to be willing to hold it for five or 10 years," Philips said.

He and his wife buy post-war and contemporary art — typically abstract expressionist or Color Field painters such as Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Theodore Stamos and Morris Louis.

Abstract expressionism is an American post-World War II art movement that developed in New York in the 1940s. Jackson Pollock, who was married to Krasner, is one of the most famous artists of that period, along with de Kooning and Mark Rothko.

"We buy based on what we have space for," said Philips, who is attracted to large canvas paintings. "And we only buy when it's something of particular interest at a reasonable price. You can't chase art. You have to have a price."

Philips would not disclose that price range, but he did say he has about 15 "significant" pieces and most of his collection would be considered "museum quality."

Some of the pieces by these artists have sold recently for thousands of dollars, others for tens or hundreds of thousands, according to the Christie's auction house.

Post-war and contemporary art set new records in 2012 as wealthy buyers gravitated toward the top 20 blue-chip artists, accounting for 77 percent of contemporary art sales in 2012, according to the Art & Finance Report 2013 from Deloitte.

"Demand is a more important factor than supply in the art business," said Noel Marks, an art appraiser and owner of Lancaster County Antique Art.

Fifty-three percent of wealth managers surveyed stated the challenging economic environment has been the main motivation for their clients to include art in their overall wealth portfolio. That was up from 28 percent in 2011, according to Deloitte.

And 60 percent said they believe there will be stronger demand in the future for art and collectible assets as a result of the economic uncertainty in Europe and around the world. The increasing value of art also is creating a need for new wealth-management services to protect, enhance and monetize this value.

"The value of the piece is based on the quality of it," Marks said. "Price can change at all times, but quality never changes."


Other investors, such as Steve Etter, president and CEO of the Harrisburg News Co., buy collectible cars.

Like Philips, Etter is not in it for the profit.

He has sold a few over the years but said he just likes the idea of driving around in old cars.

"No way do I think I will invest and make a profit," he said. "I do it for recreation."

His current stable of cars includes a 1953 MG TD, a 1967 Austin Healey 3000, a 1969 Jaguar XKE, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz.

"The chase is always more fun," Etter said.

For those who do want to recoup their investment, it's always better to pay more for a fully restored car than to try and restore them, he said.

"It's way too time consuming to fix them. You need specific guys for body and engine work," he said.

It's not uncommon for Etter to get several offers when he does have one of the cars in the shop for maintenance.


Bryan Gobin, a part owner of the Harrisburg City Islanders, also looks at his investment in the soccer team as a long-term strategy.

The CEO of Alert Pharmacy Services Inc. in Cumberland County, Gobin played high school soccer and said he got involved because of his love for the game and desire to provide other sources of entertainment in the Harrisburg area.

"To see where soccer has gone over the years and how it is becoming a better attended sport ... it's night and day from where it was," he said. "It's pretty cool to see how it's changed over the years."

The City Islanders are a developmental team for the Philadelphia Union of the MLS. The club is trying to get a new stadium built to be more competitive in its league.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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