The self-proclaimed and trademarked "painter of light" was so popular among fans of pastels and candlelit windows that his company, Media Arts Group, went public with a $110 IPO in 1994. Kinkade was MDA on the NYSE until January 2004, when he bought in back for $32.7 million after the stock had lost more than 80% of its value. It was kind of like buying a Kinkade painting that may have had some nonsentimental value in the pre-Internet '90s, but when the Internet hit and the markets were flooded with Kinkades selling for much less than they were in stores, investment value plummeted.

"He has gorgeous stuff, but they QVCed it to death," Kahn says. "They sell beautiful Kinkade prints in galleries and on cruise ships, but the frames are worth more than the prints."

Thomas Kinkade Signature Galleries, which peaked at 350 sites in the 1990s, were half that number by 2005. The next year, former Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery franchise owners Karen Hazelwood and Jeffrey Spinello were awarded $2.8 million and legal fees after successfully arguing that they were pressured to open more franchises, take on inventory they couldn't sell and keep prices lofty while discounters and independent sellers unloaded their Kinkades for less.

His company's assistant controller testified that Kinkade earned $53 million off the enterprise through 2005. More recently, Kinkade's reproduction company filed for bankruptcy in 2010 after defaulting on payments to Hazelwood and Spinello and says it plans to outsource its color-by-numbers operations. Unless collectors are desperately in love with paintings of houses essayist Joan Didion described as "lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure may be on fire," they should invest with the knowledge that only one person was ever guaranteed to profit off of a Thomas Kinkade painting: Thomas Kinkade. Since Kinkade's death in 2012, the odds of turning a profit off of his countless reproductions and "limited editions" have only decreased.

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