Appraising for Provenance


Occasionally an appraiser is required to appraise an object that belonged to a well known individual, alive or dead. Determining value for said object presents a conundrum for the appraiser on many levels.

On one hand the object(s) may have historical value if the association is with a particular person or event and, as such, is not replaceable. Because of this, it cannot be placed in the same value category as the same object without provenance. For example, a desk that belonged to an important politician and which was used in that person’s office when they signed a ground-breaking piece of legislation would have value beyond the same desk without this association.


Provenance requires there to be evidence that the object did indeed belong to the person. Sotheby’s auction house represented the children of Jackie Onassis when they settled her estate. To illustrate the value of provenance, here is an excerpt from the Los Angeles Times after the auction was completed:

“A set of 38 decorated French drinking glasses went for $43,700, a mother-of-pearl-handled magnifying glass and letter opener, whose value was estimated at $200 to $300, sold for $24,150. A painted plastic model of Air Force One, the presidential plane, was bought for $48,875. It was valued at $300 to $500 in the catalog.”

How important something is, of course, relevant to the place where the person(s) lived or did their important work. There is also the issue of original material. The object cannot have been seen to have been tampered with or changed from its original appearance.


For example, the original covering of this chair would have been leather. Although there is no doubt that the provenance has been substantiated, the chair’s value has been undermined by the subsequent alteration of the upholstery. It never would have looked like this when it was being used so that affects its value.

2 thoughts on “Appraising for Provenance

  1. Hello Johanne.

    Did you receive the earlier email that I sent to you confirming July 26? I sent it the day after we spoke on the phone.

    Please let me know. We are looking forward to seeing you at our Wine and CHeese Night!

    Many thanks.


    Debra for Ibon Antiques

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