Appraising Antiques

by Jim Woods

Antique appraisals can be very tricky and difficult to do. It's simpler when an item is frequently offered for sale and often appears in current price guides. Popular price guides used by dealers and collectors are Kovel's, Schroeder's, and Warman's. There are others but these are the most common.

These kinds of guides have many different headings. They are a composite of price checks with dealers and shows around the country. These prices can regionally be wrong for our local market or they list a bogus price from a dealer who guessed at their offering.

Unfortunately the different headings only include a small number of the known items under that heading. Often the item being researched does not appear in the guide. The trick is not to value your item on one that is somewhat similar in the guide. Mostly similar item under a particular heading can have vastly different values.

Now the hard part comesã actually locating information on your specific item. There are books on practically all classes of antiques and collectibles. If the needed book can't be found at a book store then it may be found at your local libraryã which is your best source. If the local library doesn't have a particular book then they may find it through the State Library System.

Unfortunately books on limited areas of antique and collectible fields may only be available directly from the authors. Examples of this are books on railroadiana, bottles, insulators, fruit jars, lightning rod balls and weather vanes. Access to these books is generally found at specific shows or from an active collector or dealer of these items. Most people approach an antique dealer for an opinion on

identification and/or price. You should know and be able to trust the dealer. It should be understood that a dealer has a selfish interest. The dealer is always looking for merchandise to buy and to sell. Any store has a 40 to 50 percent markup, with some exceptions. A free appraisal may merely be a wholesale offer to buy your item. Also, all dealers have at least some weaknesses in recognizing some areas of antiques and collectibles. The proof of this is some of the best buys I've ever made have been from other dealers. I make it a point to shop the other dealer's mistakes.

The down side is the customer who sold that item to a dealer took a big hit from not researching first what was sold. When a dealer is not familiar with an item but it still holds a buying interest for him he will probably make a "low-ball" offer due to lack of knowledge. There are certified appraisers who charge a fee, but often they do have to locate a book or a dealer who specializes in that particular item.

You can see that researching and valuing items can be very challenging. Nothing can drive me "nuttier" than not being able to find an item, then when I do find it, not being able to find a price for it. There are many dealers that hardly botherã but quality dealers do. They want to know what they are buying and selling which benefits both their wholesale and retail customers.

Anytime you want to research and/or sell an item, do your homework. Spend the time and effort; you'll be glad you did and will learn a lot from the experience.

Next month I will discuss one of my favorite areas and one that will likely be new to most readers: American pressed flint glass.

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