Part 4 – House Keeping

I promised to cover two relatively important areas; computer management and making your collection pay for itself.
But I forgot to mention one important addition to your collection; appraisals. I can’t stress the importance of appraisals. They are just as important as any other part of your collection management arsenal.
Appraising, as a profession, has not been around very long. And, the professional organizations that teach appraising are seriously divided such that no two teach the same curriculum nor adhere to the same standards. This in and of itself makes finding the right appraiser a tad difficult. But, lucky you, I’m here to point you in the right direction.
First, lets get something straight. Appraisals are not opinions of value. And, they are not valid unless full disclosure of the appraiser is made. Thus, when you visit your local jeweler and you are offered a free appraisal with any purchase the appraisal is worthless unless it clearly states that you purchased the property being appraised from the appraiser. Why? Because anyone would know the appraisal of value is suspect when made by the people who sold you the goods. They certainly have a vested interest to make the amount of value higher, don’t they? Too, an appraisal fee based on the amount of the appraisal is also suspect. In fact, it is unethical. This because it encourages higher appraisals.
An appraisal is based on the fair market value of the property being appraised. And, the FMV is arrived at by looking in the “marketplace” where like items are bought and sold regularly. Those like items are referred to as “comparables”. This means the appraiser must know how to find comparable objects in the marketplace. This is no easy task. The appraiser must know about the stuff being appraised or the appraisal will be faulted if challanged. It could even be nullified in a court of law if the appraiser is found to be less than knowlegable about the subject matter. So, just having, say, 20 years in a business, does not qualify one as an appraiser and just being schooled in appraising doesn’t mean the appraisal is valid either. Things get a little wierder when you add to this the fact that appraisal societies or associations all have differing standards. Some require members to take classes and pass tests. Others may require nothing beyond a membership fee. We’ll sort this out in a bit. Hopefully, though, you’re beginning to realize, Alice, all is not as it seems to be down here in Wonderland.
Here’s something to think about; if, lets say, your statue of somethingorother has no comparables what’s it’s value? Answer; it’s worthless. Think about it. If we can’t compare it’s value to something then it has no value. This means, then, that virtually everything has some kind of comparable. It may take a real expert to know just what that comparable is. This is well illustrated when a museum was seeking to establish to value of some original Anne Frank letters in order to insure them. While there are no two Anne Frank’s in history there are other unique and unusual letters and documents to compare the letter to. Here age, condition, length of the letter, and readability begin to play interesting parts in the appraisal process. Thus, there were more people brought in, such as curators and conservators, in order to establish condition, authenticity and quality. Comparables were found. They were letters from important and deceased individuals. One, ironically, was from Adolf Hitler.
So, now that you are a scared rabbit all alone in the appriasing woods what next, right? You’ll like the answer; take a deep breath and give either of the big three appraising associations a call and ask for a referral. Don’t be surprised if the person you’re sent to isn’t in your immediate vicinity. I, for instance, am the only animation art conservator/appraiser in the country. Next, when you do speak with the appraiser get all the particulars. It may be interesting to ask for some liturature from the appraisal organizations. How well does their liturature inform you? Do you understand the purpose of the organization and is their message professionally presented. Mimeographed or sloppy liturature means they don’t care enough about you or the membership to prepare their story properly. Or do they use jargon and pro-speak to kind of put you off. Just because you aren’t schooled as an appraiser is no reason to be made to feel less than a competant client. There’s no room for pomposity and over-importance. Good appraisers are down-to-earth folk who know their area of expertise and have been at it for many years. Talk about your needs. If you have a collection of circus glassware ask for a specialist in circus glassware not just an appraiser of household appreciable contents. And talk about how they came to be knowledgable in their area. When it comes to experience look for balance. Someone who has been, say, an antique dealer for ten years and a schooled and tested appraiser makes a good candidate. One important point to remember is the appraiser should present a resume or curriculum vitae, CV for short, along with the finshed appraisal. You may wish to review the resume prior to engaging the appraiser. In fact, it’s a good idea to request a CV and a rate sheet prior to seeing the appraiser. Remember the fees structure should be predicated on either time spent or a flat rate. Any fee contigent on anything else is inappropriate making the appraisal valueless.

Three fine sources of appraising talent is;

  • The American Society of Appraisers
  • The International Society of Appraisers
  • The American Appraisal Society

Each has it’s features, strong points and pet issues. You might like to inquire to all three. The AAA, however, serves only the greater New England area yet many of it’s members have matriculated to all points west. ISA has some members in Canada. Other countries may have equivalent associations, clubs or organizations. If you know if them or can provide information I’d be pleased to pass the information along here. One thing that’s important to know is the organization, in serving as a referral service, cannot be responsible for the member’s conduct.Then too just because a person is a member of any or all of the better-known clubs doesn’t mean better or more authoritative service. And, surely, the reverse is true as well. In short; let the buyer beware.