by Benjamin Genocchio

Well known New York art lawyers and brothers, Thomas and Charles Danziger, are among a select group of attorneys whom dealers, collectors, sellers and the auction houses turn to to facilitate the sale of the world’s most expensive collectibles. In 2021 they were voted Chambers’ Top Ranked US Law Firm in the area of collectibles.

Incollect sat down with Thomas for an interview on the legal issues surrounding the sale of collectible works of design. 

Thomas and Charles Danziger 

Q:  What are the most common legal issues that involve high end collectible design?  

A:  The legal issues surrounding the purchase of collectible design are the same as those in painting, sculpture and other areas of the art world: the principle issues which we always address concern authenticity and provenance, although other legal issues may arise depending on the nature of the transaction, for example if a collectible contains ivory or tortoise shell or other regulated substances, we would have to deal with governmental regulations. And in this age we also pay special attention to the source of the funds being used to complete the transaction, given heightened regulatory attention being paid to money laundering, terorrism and other related issues. OFAC compliance is on every good lawyers’ checklist these days.

Q: It is typical today for attorneys to be involved in high value art transactions. Is that the same for transactions involving expensive works of design? 

A: Yes and it isn't just art and design. We have been involved in many collectible transactions including those involving watches or collectible cars in the tens of millions of dollars. When the value of any object reaches a certain dollar amount, sophisticated buyers and sellers want to protect themselves and that is where we come in. Our job is to make sure each party knows and respects its obligations, and most importantly to protect the interests of our clients in these transactions.

Q: Tell us about a recent design transaction you have worked on? 

A:  Without giving specific details, I can say that we represented the seller of an extremely rare and important Isamu Noguchi side table that sold at Sotheby’s in May 2021 for $1.1 million dollars. The table was made just after World War Two and was in one family for two generations and was being offered on the market for the first time. The seller had inherited the table. 

Q: What rights do buyers have under NYC law when it comes to acquiring high end design objects?

A: The same as for works of fine art. For example, gallery transactions are governed by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs and other local laws that require galleries to stand behind their sales. That said, we often negotiate sales contracts with galleries on behalf of our buyer clients to ensure they are fully protected in every area should there be any kind of issue with an item.

Q:  What would you be doing if you were not a lawyer?

A:  A history professor at a university somewhere you couldn’t find on a map.