Looking at Appraisal

Some Thoughts on Valuation

"If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else."

-Yogi Berra

What’s It For?

There are many reasons to have an expert assess the value of objects that you own. From insurance claims to charitable donations, having this formal estimate is an important part of owning works of art or other valuable things.
Assessing that purpose is formally required by the Uniform Standards of Personal Property Appraisal (USPAP), and with good reason. Appraisal fairs and internet services can satisfy the curiosity for the value of grandma’s glass vase, which may be all a client needs. What they don’t document, however, is that glass vase’s estimated value so it can be indemnified in an insurance policy, divided as part of an estate, or given as a (tax-deductible) donation to a favorite museum. (Some other reasons for a professional appraisal might include tax loss, collateral, and an array of IRS-related needs.) Every five years appraisers are required to take a test to ensure they are current with USPAP changes and developments.
A note on starting your process: an excellent resource is the Object ID Checklist (www.object-id.com), an international standard for describing art, antiques and antiquities. Museum curators, police investigators, even the FBI and INTERPOL use it to describe works in their care and as an aid in tracking stolen goods. It is not a perfect resource, but it has made the identification process far easier in recent years.
As there are different purposes for an appraisal, there are different kinds of valuations.

Some common valuations include

  • Replacement Value (for insurance)
  • Retail Value (for values in a gallery setting)
  • Fair Market Value (as defined by the IRS, for donations)
  • Market Value (for consignment)
  • Marketable Cash Value (for quick sales)
  • Liquidation Value (for bankruptcy) and
  • Salvage Value for losses due to damage

USPAP and the Correctly Prepared Appraisal (CPA) are methodologies which the large appraisal associations are adopting to standardize and professionalize the appraisal business. Many appraisers find that theses guidelines, which assure that “due diligence” is followed, recognizing the needs of the client and the appraiser’s liability concerns as well. Association members are a Google search away on the internet.

Why Should I Do It?

There are several reasons to appraise the art in your care. Even if you don’t have need for a formal appraisal, it is a good idea to do a home inventory. In the event of an emergency, you will have an itemized list of your most valuable possessions. Many of these items are among the most often forgotten after a disaster. Additionally, some of these items can be of significant value and may need to be appraised for estate planning. An appraisal of those items will give you a good idea of their value, allowing you to make more informed decisions. Likewise, if you donate an item to a non-profit organization, such as a museum, the IRS may require you provide an appraisal of the item.

What Should I Consider Having Appraised? Is It Worth It?

This is a complex question, but a good initial answer is:

  • Items for which values may not be more readily obtained by other means, such as original artwork
  • Any item of special importance to you for which no commonly-recognized current market exists

  • Some of the most commonly appraised items include fine art, fine Native American crafts, fine antique furniture, collectibles (dolls, coins, trading cards, etc.), fine china, porcelain and glass, jewelry, sterling silver flatware and hollowware, antique firearms, cameras and mechanical apparatuses, musical instruments, rugs and textiles.

    As you begin the ID process, some good leading questions: Is the object an original or a copy? Is it a bronze sculpture or a recast in plaster? Is it a drawing or a print? Has it been damaged? If so, where and to what extent?

    If you’re unsure, try a little research before involving an appraiser. Asking a friend familiar with similar objects, a working artist, picture framer, art dealer, fellow collector or even a curator can provide you with critical missing information, saving you both money and headache.
    It is invariably worthwhile, at a minimum, to photograph the work and write a brief description of it. This will aid you in at least one of two ways: the documentation provides evidence of ownership should it be lost, stolen or damaged, and it will perfectly prepare your appraisal case, should you decide on that route.

    Determining your work’s value can be done later (and should be adjusted every few years), cheaply and informally by a dealer or auction house (which is where we appraisers often go for information), fulfilling the original need for the appraisal altogether.

    Associated Costs

    An appraiser’s thoroughness comes at a price, with fees typically beginning at $350.
    All this said, the majority of appraisals are prepared by art dealers and major auction houses, some of whom do not always adhere to the standards imposed by the appraisers’ associations. Without that compliance, you run the risk of your appraiser interfering with the process for their own gain. Such appraisals are more cursory and consequently cheaper to prepare. While it’s possible that these resources can provide an accurate view of market conditions, they come at a higher risk.

    In Conclusion:
    A professional appraisal can be expensive, so run through this simple mental checklist to be sure that opening a case is the right course for your item:
    1. Decide which items you might want appraised
    2. Determine the purpose of your appraisal
    3. Photograph your item
    4. Identify your item in a short description (Is it an original or a copy? A drawing or a print? What is its condition?)
    5. If you intend to appraise your item, follow the Object ID Checklist to save your Appraiser time (and you some money), and log on to one of the sites listed below to find an associated Appraiser in your area.

    For more information, visit:

    Appraisers Association of America
    American Society of Appraisers
    International Society of appraisers
    Object ID
    The Appraisal Foundation


    Thanks to Philip Bareiss owner of Taos Art Appraisal, AMI LLC and to Adam Rubenstein.

    Originally appeared in The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque - Volume 23

    Related Pages

    Appraisal of Art: What's the Big Deal? article

    Collecting Antique Prints article

    Collecting Photography of the Southwest article

    Collecting and Change in Native American Baskets article

    Collecting Contemporary Navajo Weavings article

    Collecting Indian Pottery article

    Collecting Milagros article

    Collector’s Resources


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