Pricing Guides & Dictionary of Makers Marks for Antiques & Collectibles

Part II – What is an Appraisal?

To find prices and determine values for your antiques & collectibles of any kind, please see our Price Guides with millions of examples of items sold.

Evaluating Antiques
Evaluating porcelain and chinaware

In Part I we laid out some formal definitions of what most people consider the “value” of an antique or collectible items 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 much less 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 three (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 exceeded 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, the vast majority antiques dealers or collectors 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 these situations, 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. Especially “smalls” like porcelain or chinaware or silver or jewelry etc have marks that can be referenced to identify the maker and their age. In addition to an item’s condition (damage, wear, prior repairs etc), this is the most important piece of information needed to determine its value. Nowadays, there are numerous books such as Price Guides revised annually and several websites to research antiques & collectibles based on their maker and age.

Research Antiques & Collectibles
Our online research services at our homepage can be of help in identifying and appraising your items

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 a seller actually knows what they are selling and that s/he has priced the item right. However and unless an item sells, we cannot be certain that its price was determined correctly since the reasons that it didn't sell may be that it was either priced too high or buyers do not have much interest in this type of items at this particular time (market trends). Therefore, it is essential that when you look up items online for research, you also confirm the maker and age of the item for yourself and most importantly, to concentrate on listings that have actually sold.

One of the challenges we faced early on when creating our database for our Pricing Guides, was how each dealer or collector used different terms or names for certain items. For example, a Porcelain Figurine is also called Porcelain Figure, a Silver Tray is called Silver Salver if it has feet, a Pitcher is also known as Jug etc. For this reason, we have a built-in sophisticated translation program that “understands” what you mean when you search our site. This turned out 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”, our members can view a number of examples that actually sold at several auction houses and quickly pick the ones that are similar to the item under evaluation. They can then select as many as needed to 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 many professional appraisers from both ISA and ASA as long-standing members, a testament to the fact that our results are accurate and hold up to the highest standards.

In conclusion, it is important that you take your research of any collection seriously because there are many factors affecting any final evaluation. Accurate identification and appraisal of your items will reinforce your confidence that you have priced them right for a successful sale or fair trade.