Outside of the appraisal profession, many people think that appraising consists of looking at a painting and then looking at comparable paintings to estimate what it is worth. This is what I call "the Antiques Roadshow" effect. And if it were truly that easy I don't think I would have a job. The truth is, appraising any object is very difficult. There are many factors to consider outside of price. Determining the appropriate market and understanding the laws behind each type of appraisal and everything that that consists of takes a lot of study. I spent a summer at New York University taking classes about how to appraise and I interned with another appraiser before I began. Yet every year I read books, take classes, and converse with my appraisal association and other appraisers to stay up to date.
This brings me to the story of Roxanna M. Brown. Brown is the director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bankok University in Thailand. On Friday she was arrested in Seattle and then later indicted by a grand jury in Los Angeles on on federal wire fraud charges and importing stolen antiquities from Southeast Asia. The affidavit also states that Brown allowed Jonathan and Cari Markell, owners of Silk Roads Gallery, to use Brown's electronic sigature on tax appraisal forms. It was claimed that these forms inflated the value of the antiques which were then donated to Southern California Museums. To see the full story read this.
Until all of the facts are revealed who knows what really happened. As an appraiser, what I can say is that although Ms. Brown was an expert in antiques she was likely not an expert appraiser. An appraiser would know that every object to be appraised should be carefully inspected and then comparable items should be discussed in relation to the item being appraised. She would have known that no one else should have been allowed to use her signature on tax forms because as an expert she is responsible for the values placed on the items. Ms. Brown also may not have understood the market place. For donation purposes the fair market and the retail market must both be examined. It is not as simple as saying, "this piece sold for $100 at auction so for retail purposes it is $200". Analyzing the facts and understanding why an item is being placed at a certain value is one of the most important parts of the job. Creating a report that is true to the Appraisal Foundation Standards, Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), and the standards of one of the three major personal property appraisal societies is mandatory as a self-proclaimed valuation expert. Although the case of Roxanna M. Brown looks like intentional deception, the truth is, she may not have known better.