Provenance

This article was published in the July/August 1999 issue of AntiquePrime Magazine & Journal.

For What It's Worth ...

Q. How important is an item's provenance to its value?  

A. Provenance is the origin and history of the property, including things such as its past ownership, any exhibitions or museums where the item was shown, mentions in literature about the particular property, etc.

For provenance to have an impact on value, first the provenance must be supportable, usually with documentation. In Emyl Jenkins' Appraisal Book, the author compares provenance to the "George Washington slept here" signs. If you can't prove George's presence, the provenance is meaningless. Auction houses may include a phrase such as "Property from the estate of ..." in the catalog listing, while an estate sale may provide a certificate of provenance with your purchase. These are means of documenting the history of the property.

The second factor contributing to value in regards to prior ownership is the celebrity of the owner. Your golf clubs up for sale at auction will not realize the price achieved by John F. Kennedy's clubs. That buyer paid a high price because they had belonged to JFK. Without the association with the former President, the clubs would have sold for much less.

Provenance and celebrity alone do not create value. The quality and condition of the item are also important. A flawed or damaged object's value may not be influenced by who touched or owned it. How well a piece was made and what the piece is, are often more important than its provenance. If you have something that is desirable and that other people want, they will pay for it, even if you are not famous.

Another influence on value, related to provenance, is the location where something is sold. I attended an estate auction in a South Dallas suburb. The woman whose estate was sold had been well-known in her town. Many of the town's residents came to the auction because they wanted something to remember her by, sending prices very high. Had the auction been held in another city, many of her friends and neighbors might not have attended due to the inconvenience of having to travel. The auction-goers in any other location might not have understood nor cared about the provenance of the things in her estate.

Here's another example of the effect of location. There is an Eastlake secretary for sale at an antique mall in Dallas. It was passed down through several generations in one of Waco's founding families. With that provenance, Waco might be a better place to sell the secretary. However, the last family member to own it was a Director at a prestigious girls school in Dallas for 37 years. Since the secretary's history can be documented, and the previous owners achieved some celebrity in Waco and Dallas, the value would be higher in either of these cities.

All items have provenance. The provenance may begin with you, or go back many generations. Value may be enhanced by provenance when the owner is noteworthy and when there is supportable documentation.

Price Guides

This article was published in the September/October 1999 issue of AntiquePrime Magazine & Journal.

For What It's Worth ...


Q. If I want to get an idea of something's worth, can't I just use a price guide?

A. Sure, as long as you realize that the emphasis is on "guide" rather than "price" when using price guides. Here are some things you might want to research about the price guides you select:
03 How were prices obtained? Where and from whom?
03 Are pictures included?
03 What are the limitations for use?
03 Are descriptions complete? Is condition included?
03 Is useful information, such as current market trends, included?

Let's look at two examples.

In the "Lyle Official Antiques Review", 1998 edition, a picture is included for each item along with a very brief description. Condition of the items is not addressed.

"All values are prices actually paid, based on accurate sales records in the twelve months prior to publication from the best established and most highly respected auction houses and retail outlets in Europe and America." Below each picture the auction house where the item sold is listed along with the value. A representative sample of auction houses includes Christie's, Bonhams, Sotheby's, Skinner, Phillips, and Spencer's.

Although the introduction states "... thousands and thousands of individual items carefully selected to give a representative picture of the current market in antiques and collectibles ...", there is no discussion of current market trends.

Limitations of the Review to keep in mind include the regional nature of values and the omission of the date of auction and lot number of the item. Also, in the editor's own words, "When dealing with the more popular trade pieces, in some instances, a calculation of an average price has been estimated from the varying accounts researched."

In the 17th Edition of Schroeder's Antiques Price Guide, there are very few photographs and the descriptions are extremely brief. The contributors, however, do attempt to provide information about condition of the items listed.

Sources for the prices in Schroeder's are varied. They use auction results and dealer lists, and they consult with national collectors' clubs, recognized authorities, researchers, and appraisers. You will not be able to trace any listed price back to its source. And you will find little information about market trends. You'll have to compare several year's worth of prices to determine this.

If you do not know what the item is that you are researching, you may find it difficult with Schroeder's price guide because there are no photographs to guide you. Price fluctuations by regions are not addressed. Items of local importance may not be found in a nationally published price guide.

Despite their shortcomings, there are some practical uses for price guides. Remember that they are guides only. Consult several different price guides to determine a value range. Take into account the item's condition when estimating its value. A damaged piece will be worth far less than any price quoted in a guide. If your treasure has geographic appeal, it's value may be higher in one part of the country and perhaps less elsewhere. A price guide can't adjust for all circumstances, but it can help you get a "ball park" idea of value.

Market Value

This article was published in the December 1998 issue of AntiquePrime Magazine & Journal.

For What It's Worth ...

Q. A few years ago I had my Victorian dresser appraised, thinking that I might sell it. Shortly afterwards, I saw one very similar to mine at an antique shop, with a much higher price on it. Was the appraiser wrong?

A. Your question raises two important concepts in the appraising profession. Let me first explain what an appraisal is and then I'll tackle the valuation issue.

An appraisal is a researched, written report that the appraiser should be willing to defend in a court of law, if necessary. Only accept an appraisal if it is not hand written, if it contains a description of the items appraised, and if the appraiser signs it. If your appraiser did not write and sign a report for you, you received a consultation or "verbal approximation of value", the appraiser's best guess as to the value of your dresser.

Since you told the appraiser that you were considering selling the dresser, the appraiser gave you "market value." The same item has many values, and the knowledgeable appraiser will know which value to assign based on the intended use of the information.

Market Value reflects the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and willing seller, neither being under compulsion to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts. Market value is appropriate in appraisals for client resale.

Replacement Cost, primarily used for insurance coverage and claims, is the cost to replace an item with another having similar qualities within a reasonable amount of time in the relevant marketplace.

The price tag that you saw on the dresser similar to yours is indicative of its replacement cost. Your appraiser gave you a value that you could expect to receive if it sold at auction, estate sale, or private sale, rather than at retail.

Price Value Cost


This article was published in the November/December 1999 issue of AntiquePrime Magazine & Journal.

For What It's Worth ...

Q. What is the difference between price, cost, and value?

A. Although sometimes used interchangeably, these three words are not synonymous. Price is the amount of money asked for. Cost is the amount actually paid. If you go to a garage sale and see an item with a $10 sticker on it, $10 is the asking price. If you are a good negotiator, you might pay only $7.50, the buyer's cost.

Value is always justifiable, but cost and price are not. Here's an example. You go to an auction and bid on an item that you like, but that you know little about. There is fierce competition with other bidders. The knowledgeable bidders drop out at about $100. You finally win the bid for the item at $250. The value of the item is not $250; it is the cost. The value, what is most commonly paid by informed purchasers, is $100. Let's look at another example. At an estate sale, you notice a dirty glass vase in a dark corner. It is tagged with just a few dollars asking price. You quickly snap it up, pay the full price asked, bring it home, clean it, and discover a Lalique mark. In this instance, price and cost are the same (you didn't haggle), but the value is much greater. You, either as a knowledgeable buyer or as just a lucky purchaser, have paid well below what a serious collector would have spent.

Sometimes prices are set high in anticipation of being lowered as an inducement to the buyer to make a purchase. Sometimes prices are high because the seller thinks an item is genuine, when in fact, it is a reproduction. If you make a purchase and pay what an item is worth, cost equals value. But cost is not synonymous with value.

Q. Where can I learn more about appraising as a profession?

A. If you want to read up on identifying, understanding, and valuing your treasures, reach for Emyl Jenkin's Appraisal Book, published by Crown Trade Paperbacks, New York, ISBN 0-517-88434-8. For training in the theory and principles of appraisal practice, the International Society of Appraisers (ISA) has just come out with a Distance Education course. You can get more information about the home study course by calling ISA at (888) 472-4732.

Loss of Value

This article was published in the March/April 1999 issue of AntiquePrime Magazine & Journal.

For What It's Worth ...

Q. Some of our possessions were damaged. The insurance company wants to repair them rather than replace them. Won't there be a loss of value?

A. Loss of value (LOV) is the amount of worth an item loses due to damage. However, LOV cannot be determined until the item has been professionally repaired or professionally restored. After the repairs are completed, the quality of the repair is also taken into consideration. Typically, the better the repair job, the lower the loss of value. Mathematically, the loss of value is calculated with the following formula: LOV equals value of the item before damage minus value of item after repairs.

Depreciating property (most furniture and bric-a-brac) normally does not suffer LOV after being professionally repaired. Appreciating property, such as antiques, might suffer LOV. There are several factors that appraisers consider when determining LOV in appreciable property.


03Pre-existing condition. Pre-existing repairs or damage similar to the new damage can minimize or negate LOV. For example, one new chip to the rim of a cut glass vase which already had several chips would not cause any measurable LOV.

03Severity of damage. There is a difference between a minor scratch and a missing drawer. A replaced leg on an 18th Century highboy is significant, but a repaired surface scratch on the same piece is not a major drawback. 

03The type of damage. Is this type of damage normally acceptable to collectors? Glass and ceramics in pristine condition are more desirable and command higher prices than damaged pieces. When it comes to antique furniture, however, collectors are more forgiving and accepting of repairs and restorations.

03Quality of repairs. Invisible repairs using appropriate restoration techniques are vital to preserving the integrity and value of a damaged piece. Any deviation from this desired level of professionalism will adversely affect the repaired item's final value.
Your possessions may or may not suffer a LOV. You might consider having an appraiser examine them before and after the repairs are made to determine if there is any loss in their value.

Ask an appraiser: Address your appraisal questions, including your name, address, and phone number to: