What’s It Worth? Antiques Appraisals

That’s the 64,000 dollar question, people are always asking. The answer is—and I’m not trying to be coy here—it depends. Determining value is dependent on many factors; condition, timing, reasons for evaluating, location, number available in the marketplace, whether the item is currently being made, auction results and dealer prices. Here are some of the questions that need answered to determine value.

Why do you want to get an evaluation? Are you interested in selling? Are you interested in buying? Do you need an appraisal for insurance or estate tax purposes? An experienced appraiser would give you a different appraisal for each of these situations.

For example, if you need an appraisal for estate tax purposes, that’s determined according to a complex set of governmental rules, while for insurance purposes the value would be based upon replacement value; that which you would have to pay for the item in a store. Thus the value of the same item can change depending on the circumstances.

Let’s say you want to sell your chair and you want to know what it’s worth. Again it’s value depends.  On what you might ask? Do you need your money next month? Or can you be flexible with your timing? All of this affects value. What if the same chair, in excellent original condition brought $5,000.00 at Christie’s, in New York City? If yours needs to be restored, how much of a discount has to be made.  Restoration is expensive. Sometimes so much so, that it exceeds the value of your piece. But let’s say your chair is worth restoring.  Will it bring the same as the one in great original condition? Has the price changed since that auction record? Is that auction record backed up by other similar results? In other locations or only in New York?

I’m sure by now you’re scratching your head saying “But there must be an intrinsic value, a universal agreed upon number.”

Most appraisers would say to you, that you will get the best price for your chair, in the highest and best marketplace; ie; where it sells for the most money on a consistent basis. Of course you’ll also have to be willing to wait a considerable length of time to be paid because you will time the sale for the best possible moment and send it to the best possible market. In many cases that means giving up the item long before you will actually be paid for it.

Values can be static for years or change on a dime.

Auction records for your item may show it sold for $10,000 in 2001. But after that, it never achieved more than $2,000 again. Why? Auctions are a contest between two buyers. If two buyers stubbornly compete for an item the price can go way over what a knowledgeable dealer or collector would be willing to pay.

Here’s an example of market fluctuations. The Reed and Barton Diamond Ware silver flatware, designed by, Gio Ponti, in 1958, was bringing high auction prices in 2010 and 2011 and 2013. Wright Auction House sold a set of 101 pieces in August 2010 for $12,000. In December of 2011 they sold 99 pieces for $13,000. By December 2013 99 pieces went for $15,000. But in March of 2010 while prices were climbing, 84 pieces sold at Wright for $5,000.00. An anomaly? Perhaps, or perhaps condition was a factor, or the number of pieces affected the results. Meanwhile, in October 2011, 99 pieces sold at Rago for $11,000. And in August of 2013 60 pieces sold at Rago for $12,000. But in February 2011 a 50 piece set at Rago failed to sell. In March 2015, 113 pieces sold at Wright for $6,000.00. All this, is to say… the market fluctuates both up and down.

The last time I made an inquiry at an auction house regarding a set of Gio Ponti diamond ware flatware, I was told, “forget it, that train has left the station.” What was meant by that, was that the market for that particular item was no longer commanding high prices.

When an attractive item comes to market for the first time it is rare and beautiful to a number of bidders and it can bring a record price. Seeing this high price other sellers want to sell theirs. If an item that previously sold for a high price starts coming up regularly, the market can correct. But sometimes, something that’s not particularly rare, but very popular can keep selling for high prices. People simply like it. Dealers see this and stock up on it because it sells well. If enough dealers have invested in that designer’s work they will bid on all examples that come up for sale, to protect their inventory. In other words they would rather have too many of it,  than see their market crumble and their inventory decline in value.

So what’s it worth? Not so easy to say. The simplest answer is; whatever the market will pay.