Saturday, March 1, 2008


Today I did an appraisal of one painting which was 170 miles from where I live. Usually, I reserve distance appraisals for people with more than one thing but the client was enthusiastic about the historic aspect of the painting so I knew that it wouldn't be a wasted trip either way. Yes, value is important but historic significance is just as important in my opinion. If I complete the research and find out that the painting is only worth $100 I hope to at least give my client information about when the piece was created, who created it, how they were educated etc.

As an appraiser I want your art to be value. I take no pleasure in telling you that your piece is a 1990s photocopy with no value. But it is what it is. I don't make the decision about what the value of a piece is but too often the appraiser gets blamed. I have turned down jobs when a client calls me and tells me that another appraiser looked at the piece ago and said it wasn't worth much. The chances are, that appraiser was correct and I will just be wasting the client's time and money. If the client tells me that they have discovered important paperwork relating to the piece (like a receipt that it was purchased from the Kennedy Estate) then I will willing to reappraise the item. Most of the time though the piece has been inherited from a relative who told them that it was worth a certain amount and the client just can't get past it. Too often there are stories to go along with the piece that just can't be substantiated (like 'this belonged to Henry VIII mistress'). There are stories like that in my family too and I grew up believing them. It turns out that some of the stories are true and some of them are not. Do you remember the game "telephone". If the provenance (successive history of ownership) of the piece is not written down, it often gets confused after several generations. "This piece looks exactly like the one hanging Terra in Gone with the Wind but is just a reproduction" becomes "This piece was hanging in Terra during the filming of Gone with the Wind". Many people do not have enough emotional distance from their art (me included!) and can not see past the stories that have been passed down to them.

The one drawback of my job is that for better or worse I am the messenger. I tell you what other people would be willing to pay for your piece at auction or in a gallery based on what others like it have sold for in the past. I am also the one that has to tell you that it is not an original painting or antique poster but just a really good reproduction. So, the next time you need to get something appraised remember that the appraiser hops in their car and drives to your house with all of their fingers and toes crossed. After all, it is easier (and more fun) to be the bearer of good news.

No comments: