Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Vincent Price and the Sears Art Collection

In the mid-century, fine art was something the general public could not easily find in a department store, even though chains such as J.C.Penney, May Company and Sears Roebuck & Co. stocked home appliances, furnishings and other decor. But on October 6, 1962, Sears remedied this oversight with the launch of The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art exhibit and sale that took place in one of their stores in Denver, Colorado. 

When it comes to art, the Price is right
Sears had long been eager to offer fine art to its customers and as far back as 1895 had attempted to do so, offering oil paintings at affordable prices - 90 cents and up. During the Depression having a "tasteful" home was a low priority for many and so the fine art department of Sears received very little attention. However, good taste is never out of style and by the 1950s, the directors at Sears realized there was a large market for fine art once again. 

In 1962, George Struthers, vice-president in charge of merchandise at Sears, approached Vincent Price with an invitation to become the buyer for a new fine arts department Sears was launching. It was well-known at the time that Price was an avid art collector. In 1957, he and his wife Mary Grant donated ninety pieces from their private collection to establish the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College, which is still in existence today. 

Price always liked the idea of bringing the fine arts to the broad American public and was excited with being presented the opportunity to do it with one of the largest department chains in the States. 

He was asked simply to make a collection that would appeal to all kinds of people; people who had never seen art before, and to connoisseurs who were aware of great art. Price was given carte blanche to purchase the fine art needed for the collection and each and every piece Sears would back up with their famous money-back guarantee.
"I feel that an awful number of people suffer under two misapprehensions about art. Number One is that it is not available to them, and Number Two, that it may cost too much money....[Therefore my goal] was to correct these misapprehensions and to tell people that art is not for one class of people; economic class or educated class, but art belongs to everyone" 
                                                                                                      Vincent Price 
Within three months, Price collected nearly 2000 works of art - paintings, etchings, drawings, prints, etc. The initial exhibit included original works from the great masters - Rembrandt, Chagall, Picasso, Dali, Whistler and more - as well as some of the best contemporary artists at the time. The works ranged in price from $10 to $3000, plus Sears customers could purchase items on an installment plan basis for as little as $5 down and $5 a month. 

The Vincent Price Art Collection was an instant success and so many pictures were snatched up the first day of its exhibit that an additional shipment had to be flown in lest the walls become bare the next day. The fine art collection was then offered at ten additional Sears stores before expanding nationwide to all of the stores. By the late 1960s, the price of the quality of the art that Price was willing to put his name behind had inflated beyond the range of Sears shoppers and in 1971 the program ended. Within those nine years, over 50,000 pieces of art were passed into American homes and offices. 

In addition to providing affordable fine art for its customers, the Sears Vincent Price Gallery of Fine Art opened its doors in Chicago in 1966 to provide an audience for less well-known young artists. 

In this promotional film Sears released for its salesmen, Vincent Price explains how he was invited to participate in this project and offers a brief tour of some of the paintings that will be available in the collection. 


  1. That is so very very cool. I knew he loved art, but he didn't know he worked with Sears like this to bring it everyone. I'm very impressed.

  2. Splendid post. I didn't know the Sears connection, either.

  3. Wow! That is very cool. If only celebs today would schill for art instead of toothpaste, I might be more inclined to buy things based on who was advertising them, lol.

  4. In the early 60's my folks took me to Sears on Arden Way in Sacramento. This was before there was an Arden Fair Mall, it was just Sears. My folks were in another department and I walked into a large room and there was this Vincent Price collection of art. There were no other people in the room, no guard, nothing. Just the sign and the paintings. You wouldn't see this today.