Harry Rinker on Appraisal Options on a Budget
inJune 7, 2013 - 4:02pm
What appraisal options does a person have if he/she is on a limited budget?
There are two basic questions associated with an object to be appraised: (1) what is it and (2) what is it worth? It is impossible to answer the second without answering the first.
The first step is authentication, the “what is it” question. The following answer assumes the period and provenance of an object is correctly known.
Look at the object and identify as many major and sub-collecting categories that relate to the object. Consider the example of an American Historical View, Staffordshire, dark blue, 10” plate picturing the entrance to the Erie Canal made circa 1830. This plate has appeal to the Staffordshire collector, dark blue collector, American Historical View collector, canal collector, Clews collector, Erie Canal collector, New York collector, Albany, New York, collector, and late Federal era collector as an accessory to a room. This is a minimum of nine possible buyers, each of whom view the value of the plate differently. As a second example, the list of potential collectors for a 1949 Chesapeake and Ohio calendar includes advertising, advertising character, cat (pictures C & O’s Chessie the cat and her kittens), calendar, Chesapeake & Ohio, illustrator, manufacturer, period (portrays typical front room of era setting), railroad, toy train (pictures Lionel toy train), birth year. Again, each collector views value from his/her own perspective. Objects have multiple values, not one specific value.
The ability to identify potential buyers is critical when using a price guide or reference book. Just because a listing is not found in one category, does not mean that it is not in another. If at first you do not succeed, try, try again.
The first step is to consult printed price guide sources. The number of printed general antiques and collectibles guides has decreased. Begin by consulting Kovels Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide and the Antique Trader’s Antique & Collectibles Price Guide. Although still being printed, Warman’s is a shadow of its former self, done in the style of the Miller guides rather than the detailed listing style of the Warman’s editions that I edited.
[Author’s Aside #1: Do not stop with the first price listing you find – a mistake made by many individuals researching value. Printed values need to be double and triple checked. Ideally, they should be field tested.]
Search amazon.com to see if there is a specialized printed guide relating to a collecting category in which the object is found. If yes, obtain a copy. Specialized guides are helpful in identifying object variations.
In today’s digital age, individuals are more likely to turn to the internet. The internet contains general price guides, for example, Kovels.com and WorthPoint.com, as well as hundreds of specialized guides. In addition, many catalog auction companies maintain archives of past auction results. All require that you register to gain access to the information. Many also require a fee for the access.
eBay offers a “completed auctions” feature as part of its “advanced” search option. The key to using eBay is to focus only on pieces that have sold. “Buy it Now” listings usually do not sell. The price approach is similar to that found in an antiques flea market, mall, shop, or show. It is an asking price subject to negotiation. Also, when considering eBay prices, remember to factor in the shipping and handling cost as part of the purchase price.
Another option is to use one of the many popular search engines such as Google. Create a search string and enter it. During a June 2013 appraisal event at the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science in Cocoa, Florida, a participant brought a Paul Klee Little Drummer Boy tapestry, sold initially by Montgomery Ward, for me to value. My initial search string was “Paul Klee +tapestry.” A picture allowed me to specifically identify the piece. I did additional research and found two examples that sold at auction in the past two years.
[Author’s Aside #2: Creating a research word string for an internet search is a talent. Many individuals search only with the first word string combination that comes to mind. This often results in failure. A minimum of three and up to a dozen research word strings should be tried.
Further, many individuals only check the listings that appear on the first page of the resulting search. The best answer is often found in the listings on the second or subsequent pages. Like all research, internet research requires time and persistence.]
All pricing information whether found in a printed source or online, needs to be interpreted. Is the value retail or wholesale? What condition does the price guide author use to determine values? What was condition of the object sold? Does either condition match that of the object being researched? How does regional pricing factor into the equation? There are a dozen more interpretive questions that apply.
There are inexpensive internet appraisal sites. Also, some appraisers (see “appraisal services” on my website www.harryrinker.com) offer inexpensive verbal appraisals. The difficulty is that many of the objects submitted for online appraisal are valued below the cost to have them appraised. Writing only on my own behalf, I return the money to a person if the objects submitted are not worth being appraised. If properly interpreted, the return suggests the objects are of low value.
I strongly oppose those individuals who submit objects to auctioneers under the guise that they wish to sell them and ask for an estimate of what the auctioneer can obtain for them. Auctioneers are aware of this practice and do their best to avoid it. However, the desire to obtain material to sell often tempts them to respond.
The most unreliable value opinion is that of a friend or other pseudo-expert. Whenever a value is preceded by the phrase “that has to be worth at least….,” be highly suspicious. The test is to counter with “where can I sell my object for the price you quoted?” If in a good humor, respond with “I would be delighted to sell it to you for half that price.” What follows will be a classic case of back peddling.
Finally, if there is an appraisal clinic scheduled in your area, buy a ticket and have an expert look at the object. The cost ranges from $3.00 to $25.00 per object. A quality appraiser charges $125.00 to $200.00 per hour.
If uncertain what an object is, most appraisers also can authenticate it. The appraiser will provide the history of the object as well as a ballpark appraisal. Appraisal clinic appraisers do not usually carry reference books with them. The value quote is their best guesstimate. If the appraiser is unfamiliar with the object, he/she will take notes, do research, and send the answer to the client.
Inform the appraiser if an insurance or sale estimate is desired. The two values are very different. If a sale value is requested, the appraiser will recommend sale venues and discuss which offers the highest return possibilities verses quick sale.
Under no circumstances deal with an appraiser who offers to buy the object. This is unethical. Also beware of dealers in the audience who leave their seats and approach participants as they leave. Take time to consider a sales approach and carefully investigate sales sources before selecting one.
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