What’s more expensive over the last 50 years: Footballers, art, wine, or whisky?

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I read Philip Hook’s Breakfast at Sotheby’s, which recounts his 35-years of adventures in the world of art auctions.

Hook does an interesting 40-year financial comparison of record prices for paintings and for footballers.

I have expanded this to include wines and whiskies, and to update it since the book’s publication in 2013.

I have used contemporary prices (not adjusted) and changed UK£ to US$.

Some pertinent – and quirky – facts and figures emerge.

Art is more expensive than footballers, wines, or whiskies.

The world’s most expensive footballer has never cost more than the world’s most expensive painting.

Art is now nearly three times more expensive than a footballer.

The biggest gap between art and football was in 1990, when Japanese buyers drove the art market to record heights. This was at a time when football’s highest fees were invariably paid by Italian clubs: From 1976 to 1996 the world’s most expensive footballer – with the exception of Maradona’s brief spell at Barcelona 1982-1984 – belonged to an Italian club. Thereafter six of the ten record transfer fees have been to Spanish clubs, five of them to the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The football transfer record has increased 396-fold in 49 years, fuelled over the last two decades by TV revenues and the deep pockets of Russian, Arab, and Asian owners.

The owners of football clubs are sometimes major buyers of art. The Middle Eastern money that paid the current world record price for a work of art (sold by a Russian, incidentally) is also paying large transfer fees in football.

Maradona is the Macallan of football: He is the only footballer to have set the world record twice.

And Macallan is the Maradona of whisky: The Macallan 1926 60-year-old is the only whisky to have twice set the world record price.

The explosive growth of the whisky secondary market is shown by a more than six-fold increase in the world record price in only three years and a 13-fold increase in 11 years.

The 1990 Van Gogh record price stood for 14 years.

The 1787 Château Margaux bottle was broken (!) and insured for $225,000, so it became the record price for a bottle that wasn’t sold. Nonetheless, the record stood for 20 years.

But the proper record would be for the bottle of 1787 Château Lafite sold at auction in 1987 for $156,000, a price not exceeded for 23 years.

Both of the 1787 bottles came via the late (and discredited) German collector Hardy Rodenstock. It is probable that both the Margaux and the Lafite were forgeries.

It’s not conclusive that the world’s most expensive painting Salvator Mundi is by Leonardo da Vinci, which is not to say that it was created by a fraudster: It could simply be a misattribution.

It’s possible that the record price set by a bottle of 1945 Romanée-Conti in 2018 could – with the much slower progress of fine wine prices vis-à-vis footballers, art, and whiskies – stand for decades.

Stuart George | Founder & MD | Arden Fine Wines

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