Published: July 25, 2000
Fast and Accurate?
Internet auctions may be making the news these days, but another kind of World Wide Web offering holds intriguing possibilities for collectors: online appraisal sites.
One such company, Eppraisals.com, is something of an Internet Antiques Roadshow, claiming accurate appraisals of antiques and collectibles in cyberspace. Such common questions as “Is the little teddy bear that belonged to your grandmother worth anything?” seem to keep Eppraisals.com hopping.
Naturally the whole business of doing an appraisal business on the Web has its skeptics. How can an expert really distinguish what’s real and what isn’t when they can’t hold the object in their own hands?
Here’s how Eppraisals.com works: A user fills out a questionnaire detailing all of the items to be appraised and snaps several digital pictures of these objects from all angles-including close-ups of any signatures or labels. Eppraisals.com then channels this information to the appropriate member of its “Experts Network,” and within three business days will e-mail the client an appraisal costing $20 per article. Remember, of course, that a private session with a licensed appraiser can run up to $300 an hour.
“Everybody owns stuff, but people have no simple way of finding out what their possessions are worth,” says Eppraisals.com founder Leslie Hindman, 45, who ran her own Chicago auction house before selling it to Sotheby’s in 1997.
Hindman recognized the need for affordable appraisals and decided to create a place on the Web where people could find experts without having to stand in lines for hours or pay a fortune for opinions. The idea came to her when she saw how much mail she was getting each week from people requesting information about their antiques and collectibles.
Hindman’s site is just 5 months old, and already it’s receiving more than a 1,000 queries a week, ranging from objects such as the first ATM receipt from Antarctica ($25) to a mysterious flask that turned out to be a Himalayan yak-milk canteen worth $1,200.
This new venture of Hindman’s is not without its critics, many of whom belong to professional appraisal associations. These types of sites shatter the concept of more traditional appraisal methods and some believe the standards of Eppraisals.com and others like it are not up to par. There are also concerns that even an expert can’t evaluate an object from only a digital photograph.
Hindman says the criticism is to be expected. While appraisal societies are trying to figure out how to classify online services, she feels confident there will be a happy medium between online auctions and appraisals and more formal, in-depth appraisals.
In the meantime the target market for Eppraisals.com will be Web auction buyers and sellers. If you have a secret passion for finding out just what your “junk” may be worth, this website just might be your answer.
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