One Man’s Art is another Man’s …Whatever

Category: Blog
Every few years a common art scam rears its ugly head. Someone posing as a student goes door-to-door selling paintings described as work by promising young art students. The paintings may not be hugely expensive as great art goes, but they are in fact mass-produced and of little value. Most of the times when you hear about art forgeries or fakes you expect this sort of mass-produced item being sold as a legitimate work of art or a clever forgery of an old master being unmasked as a copy. The art world is pretty complicated and some aspects of misrepresented art can become the “real” art they aspire to be.

Take the case of T. Bailey, a noted art figure of the early 20th century. Some people estimate that there are 3000 to 5000 T. Bailey paintings, yet even the existence of T. Bailey is in doubt. What we do know suggests that in around 1910 a man named Morris Hambro began to sell paintings door-to-door and to businesses in the Boston area. The paintings sold for about $50 each and were popular lobby art for insurance companies, agents and banks as well as terrific items to hang over the mantel piece at home. Most of the pieces were of sailing ships under full sail; all were signed T. Bailey.  Hambro seems to have continued his sale of these paintings till the 1930’s. You would not expect to find a T Bailey in a Washington insurance agency, but you might still find them in New England and in private hands they are all over the country.

The best evidence suggests that Morris Hambro bought unsigned works from painters in New England for as little as $15 each, added the T. Bailey name and sold them. A number of painters, perhaps as many as seven, have been associated with the T. Bailey’s. Probably the most prolific painter was one William Paskell who is a listed painter with some excellent work to his credit. He did some notable watercolors of New Hampshire country scenes. Evidently as a young man, needing to support his family, he painted more than was good for him and his work was devalued. It may be for this reason that he turned to selling paintings to Morris Hambro. Today, a good William Paskell watercolor might bring $500-$1000 at auction.

Another Hambro artist was one Harry H. Howe. Harry’s middle name may have been Hambro and some have suggested that Morris Hambro was Harry Howe’s stepfather, that is, if Harry Howe actually even existed. Other folks have suggested that Harry Howe was a name used by William Paskell and further compounding the problem, Harry Howe’s father was said to have been one Captain T. Bailey Howe. Like Paskell, Harry Howe left behind a sizable body of work; landscapes, seascapes, the occasional still life and the inevitable sailing schooner on the high seas. As to the allegations that he and Paskell were one and the same the fact that their deaths were recorded 15 years apart in two different states would suggest they were not. However, there is also no evidence that there was a Captain T Bailey Howe, so the mystery continues.

The fact is at least four of the painters associated with the name T Bailey are listed artists of the early 20th century whose work commands prices in the thousand dollars and more range. T Bailey, fake or not, has a brisk market at art auction houses and on eBay where some of the more outlandish stories of his origin and relationships abide. At auction, a T Bailey in good condition may bring close to $500; not bad for a guy who didn’t even exist and sort of adds a new dimension to the notion of a “scam.” 

If you own a T Bailey or a Paskell or even a Harry Howe – who was reported to have traveled to Oregon at least once – give us a call at Homer Smith Insurance, you may want to make some changes to your home insurance policy.

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