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New Jersey Fish Seller Turned Art Collector Offers Tips for New Collectors

FLORHAM PARK, N.J.- With artists like Andy Warhol commanding astronomical prices at auction, is it possible for a middle class collector on an budget to get into the art market? The answer, states Fred Parker, the New Jersey man who built an art collection worth millions on a fish seller's wages, is yes. What's more, Fred Parker offers the wisdom he has gained over the years to those who love art but are scared off by the ups and downs of the market.

In terms of today's market, says Fred Parker, whose collection includes works by N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell, "The media coverage of big name artists is not representative of the overall picture. When it comes to early 20th Century and 19th Century American and Continental paintings, this is a buyers market."

The next tip he offers those who seek his advice, is that prices are at an historic low. Mr. Parker adds that experienced collectors, himself included, are using the opportunities presented by a down market to add to their collections. And that leads to another piece of advice. "Stay away from the name brand artists." Mr. Parker explains that the new European and Asian collectors are driving the top end up because they are buying for name only.

It all comes down to "buying art you love," he say. It is this formula that took Fred Parker from rags to riches and landed him such extraordinary works of art as N.C. Wyeth's 1904 oil painting "The Lovers" and valuable works by 20th and 19th Century American artists and continental painters.

Mr. Parker points to illustration artist Amos Sewell's (1901-1983) "The Flower Peddler," and early natural realist painter A.B. Frost's (1851-1928) "Hunting Bear," as examples of works that maintain their beauty and value.

Times have changed since Fred Parker began collecting in 1961. That was pre-Internet. Parker did his art research on his day off, visiting the galleries at Sotheby's and Christie's. He recalls that he tried not letting on that he was learning as he shopped. When he saw a painting that was "a must!" with an estimate that was reasonable, he left an absentee bid.

Today, Fred Parker advises people to take to the Internet for their research. Extensive background on artists and their work is available on such sites as Ask and They provide auction stats on thousands of artists. Mr. Parker prefers realism to abstraction. Consequently his collection now contains a genre painting by B. Gioja (1829-1906) of "A Peddler with His Donkey," portraits of beautiful women by the likes of Adrian Verhoeven and marine paintings by J.G. Tyler. Among his trophies is a trompe l'oeil still life of grapes on a red and white checked napkin by Loki Lodewijk Bruckman (1903-1980), who is represented in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Today, Fred Parker curates more than 70 piece collection of American art and Continental paintings. He estimates the value of his collection to be in the millions. And, he says, now that he has enjoyed them for many years, he's ready to sell a few pieces at reasonable prices and buy more.

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