How to Choose an Appraiser for your Antiques

Classic European Antiques

Visit antique stores to find what kinds of antiques appeal to their owners.

There may come a time when you will want, or need to know, how much your – or someone else’s – personal possessions are worth. It might be because you plan to move to a different location and you don’t want to take everything  with you.  Or, it could be that you are helping an older relative to move into a smaller place and they would like to either sell their items or pass them on to family members. At times like these an appraiser’s keen eye and knowledge will aid you in making better and faster decisions.

So, where do you start? Here are a few tips:

Ask yourself: what is the purpose of the appraisal? If you simply want to get an idea of the items’ values then most appraisers may be able to help you. A word of caution here: some appraisers are also dealers so the values they give might be lower – especially if they think they might be able to buy the objects at that price. What to do? Ask them “Do you buy antiques?” If the answer is yes, then move on to someone who has no vested interest in buying your items. You want an objective opinion.

Victorian Tea Service

Victorian Tea Service, circa 1860’s in Rococo Revival style

If the purpose of the appraisal is to determine insurance value then the appraiser should be a member of an association such as the International Society of Appraisers(to name only one). Check with your insurance company. Keep in mind that you never want to get an appraisal value for an object you plan on selling – the values are vastly different between an insurance value and a market value.

Ask them lots of questions such as : how long they have been involved in the field of antiques and/or appraising? It is possible to become a member of a recognized appraisal society after just a weekend of study! They should be able to share with you whether they have ever owned an antique store, what items they specialize in, costs involved in doing an appraisal and whether they travel to the location where the items are kept. Find out what they charge for traveling outside the city limits if that’s your situation. Negotiate these costs ahead of time.

Note the original dark colour of this solid oak sideboard. This is a typical finish for pieces of this era therefor it would match well with other pieces from this era.

Antique Art Nouveau style sideboard – a choice piece.

Decide if you need a written report. These will cost extra so unless it is necessary, forgo the report and take copious notes during the appraisal. Try to get an extra person to help you because you may miss valuable advice or information while you are busy taking notes.

An appraiser should be able to give you ideas on the best way of selling your goods. Antique dealers specialize in different items so you don’t want to offer your Limoges china to  a dealer who specializes in rustic tools and pottery.

A final tip: Be kind to yourself and take the proper amount of time you need to do this work. The things we own are ‘saturated’ with our values, our hopes and our dreams and seeing them disappear from our lives can cause us to grieve. Take pictures of these objects to remind you then move on. A good apprasier will help you inject some reality into the process.

6 responses to “How to Choose an Appraiser for your Antiques

  1. Hi Johanne, my mom is in her 90’s and has lots of collectable. Some jewelry but also a sterling silver set and pieces of China. She is looking to sell it hopefully all to one person. They would need to come look at it or we could take pictures if they feel safer doing that. Mom and I are used to wearing masks so if it needs to be in person that would be fine. We are in Edmonton near Century Park so we are local. Any help you can give us would be much appreciated.

    • Susan: Thank you for your email. I do appraisals only – I don’t buy items directly from people. This allows me to be very objective when looking at a person’s belongings because I am not thinking of how I can make money selling them. You have two choices – and this may depend on how many things you have. One, is to call a dealer to come to your mom’s house and take whatever they offer you (especially if you expect one person to buy it all.) The second is to pay for an appraiser, someone like myself, to give you a straightforward opinion about the current values of the objects on the current market to ensure you get the best deal or at least understand why the items have, or do not have, the value you were hoping for. Some dealers will not offer you anything – they will ask you what you want for the objects and make their decisions on whether to buy based on what you say. If you don’t know what to say then you will be at disadvantage. Please let me know if you have more questions.

  2. i have a wall unit from my mom its a Mahogany wall unit 10 feet wide 88 in height inside 17 inches it comes in 9 sections with bar inside and a glass window door i would like a appraisal on it. Please phone me at 1 647 563 9791 or email me below the information Thank you

    • Micheal: There are many things that have an impact on value. Age, provenance, condition, and the market. Is there a market for the unit, given its size? Also, where are you selling it? The market here in Edmonton would be quite different than what I assume is Toronto from your phone number. If this unit is in Edmonton, then I may be able tp help you, otherwise your best bet is to have an appraiser who lives closer to where the unit will be offered for sale.

  3. Dear Johanne and Readers
    We write you today to say, Johanne’s recent blog offers, amazing very advice on finding an appraiser. As written by Johanne it is so important knowing the questions to ask, when hiring an appraiser,. If, for financial reasons you can not afford an appraiser, we recommend referring to Kovels & Kovel books and other informative books to find true values and information.
    There is a huge variety of books to help you satisfy values, dates and origin of your pieces. The Internet can be very informative also. Finding the time to research can be very time consuming where you find yourself, not having the time to research. When hiring an appraiser, they make the time to get you all the answers you need to value all your precious pieces. Ebay and Kijiji are a selling site. It is very rare you find your piece on EBay or Kijiji that offers the correct information on the item or priced accurately. It’s adviseable to dig deeper on the Internet before concluding the price and information or hire an appraiser. Unfortunately as a business owner, Kijiji and EBay often devalue your pieces or give incorrect information. Or at least we’ve discovered this many times. Some pieces are either priced to high or to low. If you check the description on the item posted, many times we’ve found its not dis robed correctly either. Or very little information is provided on the piece. This is because people do not take the time or have the time, to research or hire an appraiser. We rarely reference to either site when getting information or prices. First point of finding true values in your pieces , is hiring an reputable appraiser in our opinion. It is the appraiser, who will provide you with an honest opinion, current values and what to insure your items for. Or in many cases an appraiser will tell you, if the items are worth anything at all in today’s market. If, that is not an option, research your libraries and visit reputable antiques shops. Many long term business owners are very knowledgeable on prices as well. Such as Johanne. We highly recommend Johanne as a qualified appraiser for many reasons. It was just a couple of years ago, Johanne appraised some of our items in our antique shop. Items we knew had value, but unclear of Origin, value, and year the pieces were made. What we appreciated the most about your visit was we felt very comfortable and could ask as many questions as we wanted. From the moment we met you, your target was to get straight down to business. You even went the extra mile when asked, to provide your expertise on other pieces we were unsure of. You at no point, made us feel any question was a dumb question. In fact, it was the very opposite. We felt very blessed to have your expert advice. At no point did you try to rush through the appraisal. We were given the opportunity, to write the information ourselves, tape it, or a written appraisal by yourself. We really admired your achievements when you shared your history of owing “Past Times” in down town Edmonton. As well well, how you were about to start teaching the history of antiques at the University of Alberta. We can’t say enough, how important it is to do your due diligence when researching for an appraiser. For us, it was the best decission we made contacting you Johanne.

    • Thanks for your kind words Wendy. I remember our visit well although it was several years ago – how time flies… I agree that books are an important source of information. Pricing based on books can be difficult however because items are pretty much always worth the most in their own back yard. A book, written in England by someone like Judith Miller, an expert on antiques, will generally list British items higher if they sell in the UK. These prices do not necessarily convert to local values. Buyers on Kijiji, and EBay are looking to buy things for the cheapest price and yes, often prices are crazy – too high or way too low. I also agree that the buyer needs to be very skeptical with descriptions, ages, sources etc of antiques.This lack of information, or incorrect information usually means that the seller did not spend any time doing research. I teach many classes on antiques and in one class I introduced eleven different variables that come into play when determining values of antiques and even household furnishings. There is no substitution for experience here.

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