Published: December 21, 2004
Appraisers of personal property gathered here to attend the annual conference of the Appraisers Association of America (AAA) over the first weekend in December.
A total of 180 people from 20 states as far away as Hawaii came to hear about issues, learn about changes in the profession and network with other appraisers. Each of the three major appraisal organizations – The American Society of Appraisers (ASA), the International Society of Appraisers (ISA) and the AAA – were represented.
In the early Twentieth Century there were very few appraisers and certainly no professional organizations. In 1982, the first appraisal studies training course that was based on a standardized body of knowledge was developed by a college professor. It was the beginning of a formalization of a methodology to make appraising more “scientific.” Since then, methodology has evolved into a formal structure, providing a consensus of thinking and a development of a common language used by professional appraisers.
Some of the issues discussed during the four-day conference were new this year, including unpredictability of sales, appraisals of pop culture by Leila Dunbar from Sotheby’s, auction trends by a distinguished group of auction house owners and the complexity of the dual role of dealers and appraisers.
Many dealers are asked to do appraisals. They may do it for their clients, but there is an inherent conflict of interest. Generally, people want free appraisals because they want to know what they can sell an object for. In order to avoid a conflict of interest, James R. McConnaughy, who specializes in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century English and American silver at S. J. Shrubsole, asks up front, “Are you considering an appraisal or are you interested in selling?” Once that is clear, he is happy to appraise or make an offer. Art law attorney Ralph Lerner expressed his opinion: “In an ideal world, the appraiser should appraise and the dealer should deal.”
One of the most interesting developments in the appraisal profession is the Mei Moses Fine Art Index – – which “tracks the tenor of the art market going back to 1875.” Co-developer Michael Moses explained that the index is a tool to treat fine art as an asset class. Based on art objects that have sold at auction more than once, it establishes value without influence from a vested interest – whether an auction house, individual or dealer. Will the index be used by the Art Advisory Panel? “Valuation is a very big wheel,” according to Karen Carolan, chief, art appraisal services, and chair, Commissioner’s Art Advisory Panel. “It is fact based.”
A number of distinguished dealers and historians gave presentations at the conference. “I was on the edge of my seat when Wendell Garrett gave his slide presentation ‘The Arts of America,'” said the former AAA president. The editor at large for the Magazine Antiques provided a wonderful backdrop for the entire conference with his talk bout the trends in style in furniture, architecture and paintings.
Veteran jewelry dealer Edith Weber held the attention of her audience for an hour with a very instructive breakout session, “What You Should Know About Antique Jewelry.” Instead of slides, she passed 35 pieces of antique jewelry to her audience, including a monogrammed miniature ring belonging to Louis XIV, and asked each member to write down estimates of value. Before the session was over, she went over each piece of jewelry and assigned a range of values to them.
One of the most interesting sessions on Sunday afternoon focused on auction trends around the country. Each of the five panelists owned a regional or “niche” auction house, and each has appeared on the Antiques Roadshow on numerous occasions. There was general consensus that both the show and the Internet have “stoked the interest” in the market and created a change in market dynamics. When Wes Cowan, president of Cincinnati’s Cowan’s Auctions, hears someone remark, “You guys have killed the business,” he replies, “Not so, because it makes people more of aware of what they have.”
New Hampshire auctioneer Ron Bourgeault said he believes that “anything small and portable” sells well in either large or small houses, while bigger, bulkier things do better in regional houses. New Jersey auctioneer David Rago said he believes that regionalism is a nonissue – because he has a niche market specializing in American art ceramics and Mission furniture. All of the panelists concurred that the way to get the best price at auction is for clients’ rdf_Descriptions to be consigned with a low estimates.
As the art and antiques business grows along with the public’s interest in it, connoisseurship and professional appraisals will continue to be a needed. A restorer who provides an $8,000 “appraisal” to a four-line description of a painting is not acceptable to the Internal Revenue Service nor is a one-page laundry list in an estate appraisal.
For information about AAA, www.AppraisersAssoc.org or 212-889-5404.
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