To find prices and determine values for your antiques & collectibles of any kind, please see our Antiques Price Guides with millions of examples of items sold at auction.
In Part I we laid out some formal definitions of what most people consider the “value” of an antique or Collectible and how this depends on the intended usage of the evaluation. In this section, we will look into several practices available to Collectors and Dealers to appraise their items, starting with the formal or official Appraisal and then describing several other methods that cost very little and are usually faster.
A formal or official Appraisal as accepted by most legal entities (Tax Authorities, the Legal System & Courts, Banks, Insurance companies etc) embodies a series of actions, including at least the following:
- A close inspection of the items to be appraised
- Condition Reports
- Thorough research for comparable items to establish values with at least 3 similar items clearly documented, and
- A very carefully written and detailed Appraisal Report
Formal Appraisals are usually conducted by accredited Appraisers, such as members of the International Society of Appraisers (ISA) or American Society of Appraisers (ASA) and other recognized associations. Most Appraisers charge by the hour, including extra charges such as transportation, but in most cases a pre-estimate of the costs involved is presented to the client ahead of time. A typical formal Appraisal for a few items can range from $400 to $3,000, and I personally know of several cases that have exceed the $10,000 mark. Therefore, formal Appraisals are best suited for official business, such as the IRS, Divorce or Inheritance Disputes, Financial Inquiries etc, but can be costly and usually take several days or even weeks to complete.
Obviously, most Antiques or Collectibles dealers do not require such rigorous detailed appraisals. In most cases, the issue at hand is to assign fair or reasonable prices to items for sale or know how much to pay when buying. In many cases, experience is the best guide, but market trends and special circumstances require a bit more work.
As most seasoned dealers know, whether they sell at Antiques Fairs & Shows or at a physical shop or online, the very first step is to identify the item. Most antiques, especially “smalls” (like Porcelain or China or Silver or Jewelry etc) have marks that can be referenced to identify the maker and its age. In addition to the item’s condition (damage, wear, prior repairs etc), this is the most important piece of information one needs to determine its value. Especially nowadays, there are numerous books such as Price Guides revised annually and several websites to research Antiques & Collectibles based on their maker and age.
Since Price Guide books need to be updated every year (and are usually heavy), the Internet has now become the most popular way for researching antiques. eBay and several other online-sales sites are regarded by many as reliable resources, but have their limitations. For example, one must assume that the seller in fact knows what they are selling and that s/he has priced the item right. Especially if an item does not sell, we cannot be certain that its price was fair since it may be that it has either been valued higher than it should or that buyers do not have any interest in this type of item at this particular time (market trends). Therefore, it is important that when you look up items online for research, you also confirm the maker and age of the item for yourself and to concentrate on listings that have actually sold.
One of the challenges we faced early on while we were putting together our auction records database for our own Antiques Pricing Guides, was how each dealer or collector used different terms or names for certain items. For example, a Porcelain Figurine is also called a Porcelain Figure, a Silver Tray is generally also a Silver Salver, a Pitcher is also a Jug etc. For this reason, we are using a sophisticated search tool that “understands” what you mean when you search our site. This proved to be a huge improvement for our services since the results are more relevant and accurate. Additionally, knowing how important it is to find results quickly and efficiently, we designed our site so that it shows all results in actual pictures. For instance, on a search for “Royal Doulton Figurine”, a member can see a number of examples that actually sold at several Auctions and quickly pick the ones that resemble the item to be evaluated. You can then select as many as needed and see them with larger photos and more details on another page. This “Compare” feature has been a time saver for our members and isolates the items that are of real interest in a quick reference format, which you can print for your records. We are proud to have numerous professional Appraisers from both ISA and ASA as long-standing members, a testament to the fact that our results are accurate and easy to use.
Therefore, it is important that if you do not use tools like ours that take the guessing out of what an item is really called by others, to also use other similar terms and words that will bring out results regardless of how a seller listed the item. This will save you lots of time and will reinforce your confidence that you have priced your items right for a succesful sale. And of course, the same is true when you are buying, since knowing more details on what you considering to invest in, may make a huge difference in getting a good deal and offer you some peace of mind that you will not overpay.