Given the never fading popularity of the PBS hit Antiques Roadshow, we increasingly hear the question “Where can I get my antiques appraised?” “How can I appraise my antiques”
You’ve probably seen at least one episode of the PBS hit show “Antiques Roadshow.” With art appraisers excitedly waiting at the helm, people line up in droves to discover more about their beloved antique items or heirlooms — objects from all corners of the world (and attic!): 1950’s cookie jars, luxurious Aubusson rugs, baseball card memorabilia, those gorgeous stained-stained glass antique Tiffany lamps, jade figurines, historical family letters, and ornate pocket watches.
In each episode, it seems as though at least one person struck gold with their antique being valued from the tens of thousands to even hundreds of thousands of dollars! If you were that lucky person, of course you would want to get insurance for that object! It’s a historically significant item and worth a king’s ransom. You would want that masterpiece to be protected – in case of damage, loss, or whatever supernaturally unfortunate accident might befall.
The first step in protecting that valuable asset would be to seek an assessment from an expert, better known as an art appraiser. An art appraiser is a bit of an art-historical encyclopedia combined with the detective work of Sherlock Holmes. With years of study, he or she usually has a degree in art history – specializing in a specific area of art, such as European Old Masters or Chinese Art – and has gained invaluable knowledge submerged among such works while working in a museum, gallery, or auction house.
Second, when shopping for an art appraiser, seek out those who have accreditations or certifications with the AAA (Appraisers Association of America), ASA (American Society of Appraisers), or ISA (International Society of Appraisers). In addition to their academic backgrounds, these entities require appraisers to take specialized courses to gain accreditation. In addition, they must maintain their accreditations by maintaining a specific number of continuing education hours per year. They are also required to abide by the standards set forth by the Appraisal Standards Board, ensuring that the appraisal process is ethical and completely unbiased.
When you bring your item to an appraiser, he or she will ask you questions about the item. Where did you get it from? (A museum, auction house, gallery, flea market, a family heirloom, etc.) How long have you had it? Could you share any of its ownership history? And it’s totally fine if you don’t know much about your piece! That is why and where an art appraiser becomes an invaluable resource. With their specialized background, they are not only well-versed in the historical data, but they have most likely examined many similar items. Therefore, they know what to look for to verify its authenticity, they can evaluate its particular condition and they can educate you on the current and potential value of the item based on the art market climate.
Many people think that only those Midas-priced items (like a Monet painting or an ancient Roman helmet) are worth the effort, time, and cost of a professional art appraisal. Let’s debunk that myth about the art appraisal process! Those masterpiece works are only a tiny, tiny percent of objects that art appraisers actually assess. In fact, roughly 70-80% of the objects art appraisers handle are low-to-mid value objects.
Art appraisers welcome an inspection on a wide variety of “art” objects. Here is a real rundown of what art appraisers look at:
- there is, of course, the “quintessential” category: Fine Art (paintings, drawings, sculpture), but also…
- rare books, maps, manuscripts
- decorative art pieces (rugs, ceramics, vases)
- collections such as coins
- firearms (antique swords and weapons)
- historical documents (letters, notes, photographs)
- figurines (crystal, porcelain, glass)
- fashion and jewelry
- even “funkier” categories such as Disney collectibles and walking sticks! The list goes on and on.
So if you have a cherished item that falls on the spectrum, it might be time for you to consider an appraisal. Here are factors to consider:
1. Maybe you just want to learn more about the piece. Do you have a feeling that maybe you stumbled upon something unique at an antique shop or flea market? Did you receive a gift that interests you and you’re curious? An art appraiser can really teach you quite a lot about your item/collection: category, history, time period, quality, rarity, value. In fact, a large percentage of appraisers’ projects fall into this category!
2. Insurance: If you know you have a valuable item, an art appraiser can help pinpoint an appropriate amount at which to insure your piece or collection. If there were ever a loss or damage to your piece, you would have documentation and evidence that could aid you in the recovery process of your asset – reimbursement, degree of loss or damage (to help cover repair costs).
3. Estate planning: Perhaps you are preparing a will and are working on computing the value of everything of tangible value that you own. Art and antiques almost always fit into this equation so you’d want to verify that those items are (a) authentic and (b) correctly valued. An appraisal could also help you in understanding what to pass down to family members so they can care for it properly and have them properly cataloged and documented.
4. You are thinking about selling it: In order to get the best price, you would need to know what it’s currently worth (and/or if experts see it increasing or depreciating in value). In addition, you will want to know the best market to sell your item. Art appraisers have intimate knowledge of the relevant art and antique markets. Also, they are connected to dealers and art collectors who might be interested in buying your piece.
To sum up, part of being a smart collector is to have realistic expectations and knowledge of what you have, and an art appraiser can be a fountain of knowledge and guidance. Also, you don’t have to get every single piece appraised at once! If you’re just starting, think of your art appraisal as a “work in progress.” Prioritize which pieces to get appraised first (the most valuable or your favorites) — this will make the process easier to manage and keep costs down.