Cash in the Attic?
March 11, 2007 9:06 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend's mother died recently, and he and his father are starting to "take stock" of the household. They spent a lifetime traveling and collecting so there are lots of items that we believe are worth something, but we really need to get them appraised. We aren't sure how to do this given the wide range of stuff including art, pottery, furniture, antique costuming, and ephemera.

Some of our questions:
I know that I could track down individual appraisers, but would they come to the apartment? Most of items are too bulky or voluminous to take somewhere.

What should be expect to pay for this kind of service?

How specialized of an appraiser should we be looking for? The TV appraisers seem to have a large repository of general info about lots of things. We aren't looking for exact value. Rather we just want to know which items should be considered more carefully in his father's estate planning. Are there people like this around?

Or should we look for people with more specialized in the following areas:

Art -20th century artists of varying stature, with Whistler being the most "known"

Furniture- Roomfuls of high end Mid-Century Modern in great condition, with some random antiques thrown in.

Pottery- about two dozen pieces including Roseville and Rookwood

Antique Costuming/ Jewelry- 17th/18th century lace fans and kid leather gloves. Beaded bags. Lace collars. Antique silver and gold jewelry and accessories

Ephemera- Filing cabinets full of Victoriana. 18th and 19th century illustrations, advertisements, posters, prints, etc. Not reproductions.

They aren't planning to liquidate the household, although some of the items might be sold to reduce the clutter.

This is in Manhattan.
posted by kimdog to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm completely guessing, but I'd suggest calling somewhere like Sotheby's. They're used to appraising stuff, and can point you in the right direction and/or offer their services. (And hey, if you're going to liquidate, may as well be at auction, yeah?)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:19 AM on March 11, 2007

Are there people like this around?

At my high school reunion, the captain of the football team and all-around jock had turned into an antiques dealer. He basically had the job you are looking for. I don't think he worked for a special company or anything, he was just the "first pass general appraiser" guy at a regular antiques buying place.
posted by DU at 9:21 AM on March 11, 2007

Any estate buyer or auctioneer will also be willing to simply appraise, for a suitable fee of course. All you have to do is find someone who sells the sort of stuff you have.

What would it cost... well, it's personal service. Are you a pain in the ass to deal with? Do you want a single range for all the stuff (cheapish), or detailed estimates for each item (expensive!)? What are you going to use the appraisal for? (Insurers want to know what they'll be on the hook for if the house catches on fire, banks want to know how much collateral you have for a loan, etc. etc. They have different standards in how to appraise things.) Replacement value, current market value, fair market value, liquidation value... these are all different ways of looking at an item. A certain piece of furniture might be worth $5,000 sold to the right collector, $1,000 sold to some other collector, $700 sold to a dealer, $500 sold at a quickie auction. So what is it worth? Depends.
posted by jellicle at 10:33 AM on March 11, 2007

The Franklin Report is like a Zagat for services--the book lists several more than the online edition.
posted by brujita at 11:46 AM on March 11, 2007

This won't be a definitive guide, but ebay can be a surprisingly useful tool. Search for items like the ones you have and see what they sold for.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:51 AM on March 11, 2007

As jellicle noted, valuables frequently need an insurance appraisal. Check with the father about insurance policies (even expired ones), and contact those insurers. Maybe you can get a copy of the appraisals, or at least a list of which items had special riders. Something like that would narrow things down considerably by telling you which items have already be identified as valuable.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:19 PM on March 11, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far.

With regards to insurance... there is none. They are life long renters with no renters insurance (eeek! I'm trying to get them to address this at present. These are bohemian folks who just collected for pleasure, without thoughts about value and things have accumulated over 60 years.

The main reason for the valuation at this point is for estate-planning... there are some difficult familial situations, and knowing what things have not only sentimental value, but also monetary value is important for avoiding future conflicts.
posted by kimdog at 1:41 PM on March 11, 2007

Call an insurance agent, esp. one specializing in art work (e.g. Chubb) and ask for names of appraisers. The auction houses will do it as well.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:52 PM on March 11, 2007

Best answer: I recently went to the apartment of a deceased relative as the representative of a family member who had been given some of the contents of her apartment.

The relative had made an estate lawyer her executor, and they used Doyle New York to appraise the contents of the apartment as the contents were to be divided between several people.

I don't know what the service cost, but they had to have come to the deceased apartment to make their very complete list and would seem very competent with the kind of objects you are talking about.

Click the "contact us" link for their estate and appraisal services.
posted by extrabox at 6:06 PM on March 11, 2007

Start with the Appraisers Association of America -

you can find appraisers in your area through the site.

For a general "what's what" kind of appraisal, to simply take stock of things, a few local appraisers with a wide range of knowledge would be sufficient in separating the wheat from the chaff. I would however, get at least two opinions. Then, for insuring major items, I'd get at least a third opinion from a specialist in the field. If you were to sell a bunch of items, I would then check in with a bunch of auction houses, which will do their own appraisals and consultation, a lot of the time anyway.

BTW, it's not unusual for whistler paintings to sell in the high six figure range, and even above $1 million, so, yeah, make sure the insurance is in order!

And if an appraiser ever makes you an offer for your belongings, get rid of the appraiser!
posted by Salvatorparadise at 8:29 PM on March 11, 2007

My family used ebay to deal with my grandmother's vast doll collection which had a wide range of values. One relative checked a few items out by researching on the net and after finding out that ebay was hitting in the ballpark, settled with the ease and lack of commissions of ebay for the rest of the collection.
posted by kch at 9:07 PM on March 11, 2007

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