Friday, February 29, 2008


So you've had your artwork appraised by a qualified appraiser and you've itemized it on your insurance. Great! But what if it is stolen? Could it be replaced by a piece of similar size and quality or would you still be heartbroken? If so, the ART LOSS REGISTER may be for you.

This database is accessed and used by investigators and law enforcement worldwide. According to their website, 300,000 auctions per year are investigated. If you register your art with the ALR there is no charge. That way, if your artwork is stolen and then the thief tries to sell it at auction the ALR will notice and alert you. If your item is recovered you will be charged a recovery fee at that time. It is also important to note that works of high value will likely be investigated through this website by your appraiser.

This crime team is composed of twelve special Agents and three trial attorneys. They investigate stolen art by accessing the National Stolen Art File. The team was formed in 2004 and since that time they have recovered over 850 items worth more than $65 million.

What if something happened to your fine art? What if it burned in a fire, got water logged, or stolen? Have you had your pieces propery documented? An art appraiser can save art owners a lot of heartache by properly identifying and recording the artwork. When something happens to an artwork the insurance company will compensate you. Make sure that before something happens the appraiser does not have to rely on your description of the property. At that time, it may be too late. If you are not in the position to have your property appraised be sure to at least take photos and measurements. It is important to get a close shot of the artist's signature as well. Once you have completed this, take the documentation to a safety deposit box for safe keeping.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Frames Can Be Valuable

When deciding to reframe a piece of art (or not!) remember that your original frame may have value as well. There are so many types of frames, I am just going to discuss the two I come across most as an appraiser; 19th century and 20th century frames. Consider the following:

1: Surface:
In the first example below, the frame was made in the late 20th century. Notice the silver finish. Do you see the small black lines that run through the silver? This is evidence that a machine finished the piece. The frame also lacks a warm patina that is indicitive of an older surface.

In the second example, the frame was completed in the 1850s. Notice the sand-textured cove design. The ornamentation was hand-stenciled onto the surface. At the top of the frame you will see a small 1/4" vertial line. This is referred to as a leaf line. It usually indicates that the surface of the frame was hand gilded with gold or metallic leaf.

The Back:
"What about reproductions?" you ask. Good question. Reproductions can be tricky. Although the gilding often looks newer, lacking the warm, aged surface of older frames, some are made extremely well and will fool the best appraisers. One of the most important things you can do is inspect the back of the frame. The wood should tell you everything you need to know. If there is paper covering the back of the piece, peel it back a little and take a look. If the wood looks light (as if it were just brought home from the lumber store) then it is probably a new frame. However, if the wood is dark, uneven and perhaps even a bit holey then it is probably older.

So many antique reproductions are made in China and Mexico today. The next time you go to a big box store check out the large posters with the decorative frames. These frames are hollow. They are not made the same way as the older frames which tend to be much heavier.

Condition: Although design is sometimes more important than condition, usually condition is a major factor. If the surface of an old frame has been regilded, repaired, or restored then it may be worth less. A good appraiser should usually (but not always) be able to tell by the appearance of the joints.

Frames in Relation to the Work of Art:
The more important and valuable the work of art, the more expensive the frame will become. Although frames do have value (sometimes a great deal of value) on their own, they are made more valuable if they are original to the piece (especially if it is an important piece) or are of the same period as the piece.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What is an Art Appraisal?

This seems like a simple question but I have found that this is what people misunderstand the most about appraisals.

First, it is important to know that the value for different types of appraisals is different. While a painting may be appraised for $10,000 for insurance purposes, the same painting may be appraised for estate purposes for $6000. Don't be fooled. There is no set formula. Instead, the values for the different types of appraisal are defined by the IRS and different marketplaces are used.

What is a Marketplace?
An auction is a market place. A retail store is a marketplace. A flea market is a marketplace. You will often hear appraisers refer to "Fair Market Value" or "Retail Replacement Value". These values are defined by the IRS and an appraiser must use the appropriate market for each type of appraisal.

How do I know What type of appraisal I need?
A good appraiser will understand the different types of appraisals. You will only need to tell them that the appraisal is for "insurance", "sale", "estate", "divorce" etc. The appraiser will then know what type of value to use when appraising your art work.

How does an appraisal work?
When a client calls me for an appraisal this is usually how the conversation progresses.
1. Discuss the reason for the appraisal
2. Explain the contract (the contract states that all information that is within the knowledge of the client will be given to the appraiser this includes but is not limited to bills of sale, insurance records, and auction records)
3. Set an appointment for an on-site inspection
4. Inspect the work for artist, title, condition, size, quality, and subject matter.
5. Go back to office and complete historic research and market research
6. Type and bind the appraisal and send two copies to the client.