Josh Baer, the author of the art industry newsletter, the Baer Faxt, has spent the past 25 years jotting down who bought what at auction, and who tried to buy art but was outbid.

“As an advisor or dealer, that information is key,” says Baer, who also works as a dealer and advisor. “And all of this data is something I published in the Baer Faxt.”

Now, he’s turned those entries into a searchable database.

Users of his newly christened Baer Faxt Auction Database can pay from $200 to $500 a month to search about 10,000 past auction lots, which contain information about roughly 5,700 sales where the buyer is listed and about 6,100 entries of underbidders (the word for people who wanted the work but failed to get it).

“This is not trying to tell you what to buy,” Baer says. “It’s human intel, organized for professionals and serious collectors to use in a functional way.”

A Powerful Tool
On the face of it, the database is inside baseball for an already inside crowd. How many people could possibly care who the underbidder was for Balthus’s 1939 Etude pour Portrait de Thérèse in 2005? (That would be the Geneva dealer Marc Blondeau, for anyone counting.) 

But in digitizing a quarter-century of records, Baer has built a powerful tool for sifting data that was once the exclusive purview of dealers, advisors, and auction houses. Suddenly, anyone with $200 for a subscription can find the owner—or at least, the owner’s representative—of some of the most famous artworks on the planet. Just as important, the underbidder data articulates who would like to buy one of these artworks but perhaps hasn’t yet, thereby representing a potentially lucrative sales opportunity.

“We’re constantly monitoring who’s buying and who’s underbidding,” says Abigail Asher, the co-founder of the advisory Guggenheim, Asher, Associates, whose first appearance in Baer’s database dates to 1997. “It’s part of an overall understanding of the marketplace.” 

From a consumer perspective, there are other uses, too.

Imagine that you’re a new collector interested in buying a work by Rachel Whiteread. On a basic level, you could use the database to figure out who participates in her secondary market: If a dealer or advisor is buying many of the Whitereads that come to auction, that could be a sign that they’ve got access to works you could choose among. 

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