This article was published in the October/November 1999 issue of AntiquePrime Magazine & Journal.
For What It's Worth ...
Q. What do you think of the TV shows about antiques and collectibles?
A. I am amazed at how often I am asked this question! I have mixed feelings about these shows. On one hand, I am pleased that after watching, so many people are questioning the value of the items that they possess. On the other hand, the shows make it look as though an appraisal can be completed in a matter of minutes and at no cost. It is important to keep in mind that the primary purpose of these shows is entertainment, not education.
The appraisers that you see on most shows are unpaid and not reimbursed for their expenses to get to wherever the show is being taped. Why would they volunteer under those conditions? For the publicity.
Not every "appraiser" you see on a show is one. Some are employees of auction houses, some are dealers, but there are some appraisers with credentials, too.
Many of these experts who participate never appear on TV. You probably have noticed that the segments which air usually involve someone who has something of value and didn't know what they had, or someone who thinks they have a treasure, but it turns out to be a fake or reproduction. This is because of the entertainment aspect. The producers won't bore you with a simple this-is-what-you-have-and-it's-worth-this-much, because that doesn't make for good TV.
I would not categorize as "appraisals" any of the exchanges between the experts and those who bring in the items. A "verbal opinion of value" is a more accurate description. Keep in mind that an appraisal is a researched written report, and both these elements are lacking on TV: thorough research and a typewritten or word processed report.
Recently I've noticed some of these shows have subtly begun educating the public about the different type of values. Often the auctioneer, dealer or appraiser now qualifies a value by stating whether it is an auction price (market value) or a retail price (replacement cost for insurance). Listen carefully when the value is being given and see if you can detect which value is stated.
These shows leave viewers with some incorrect impressions that are not addressed.
- Outside of the show environment, appraisals are not free. Appraisers are professionals who charge for their services. These fees are based on an hourly rate, per item rate, or contracted flat fee, never a percentage of the stated value.
- If you have an item similar to one shown on TV, yours is not necessarily valued the same as the one in the broadcast. It must be inspected by a qualified appraiser to determine its condition and value characteristics.
- Know why you want your items appraised. The appraiser determines the type of value given based on your reason for the appraisal (i.e., Fair Market Value for estate taxes, replacement cost for insurance coverage, market value for resale, etc).
- Much behind-the-scenes research is necessary to arrive at a stated value. The opinions you see being given on TV make it look easy, but appraisers must stand ready to defend in a court of law the values they arrive at. Guesses are not good enough.
Should you bring your treasures to one of these shows if they film in Dallas? In return for a free consultation, you may have to spend hours standing in line for a few minutes with an expert. I'd rather sit back and watch on TV. I have appraiser friends and colleagues across the country that I get to watch from the comfort of my living room. The shows are entertaining, and sometimes even educational.