9th Circuit Rules That Auction House Appraisal is “Not Adequate” for I.R.S.

Just in from Appraising Association of America: “The Appraisal Foundation, the nation’s authority on valuation services, applauds the recent 9th Circuit Court ruling that agreed with a U.S. Tax Court opinion that found an appraisal from an esteemed auction house is not adequate assurance of appraisal expertise or competency. With this ruling, the professionalism of personal property appraisers has been confirmed for the second time by the judicial system in the United States. This is game-changer for the primacy of the personal property appraisal profession, and protecting consumers from biased and uninformed appraisals that can result in significant financial repercussions……”

“Consumers are the biggest beneficiaries of this ruling. Personal property assets will be better protected when a qualified and independent appraiser is retained to value one’s personal property assets, said John Brenan, vice president of appraisal services of The Appraisal Foundation. “This also means wealth managers and estate attorneys now have a greater fiduciary duty to their clients to fully understand appraiser qualification criteria and appraisal standards when vetting personal property appraisal experts.

“The ruling arises from the case of Estate of Kollsman vs. Commissioner. The Estate hired a premiere auction house to conduct an appraisal of the estate’s art collection. The U.S. Tax Court rejected the valuation of the auction house expert because of bias and a lack of objective evidence. The IRS appraisal expert found two of the paintings were significantly undervalued. The court also found that the auction house expert had a conflict of interest as the appraiser in question also sought to represent the paintings at auction. The 9th Circuit Court took the case up on appeal and agreed with U.S. Tax Court opinion.”

5 Natural Ways to Clean Your Antiques

Reducing the use of chemicals AND the plastic bottles they come in can make a big impact on our health and environment.  Appraisley tested several natural techniques for sprucing up some of your antiques, and these are our favs:

  1. Beer can be used to clean Gilt frames.  We tried this with a nice IPA and a gentle toothbrush. It actually worked and seemed to take off some of the tarnish after gently wiping off the beer with a soft cloth.
  2. Toothpaste can be used to clean ceramic doll faces.  A soft toothbrush makes a good small scrubber. Be careful not to scrub too hard, and be sure to wipe off the minty smell with a damp clean cloth.
  3. Ketchup is a great copper cleaner.  As it turns out, ketchup is not only good for getting the skunky smell out of your dog. We were amazed at how well this worked on copper. Using a soft cloth and a few squirts our copper pots brightened right up.
  4. Walnut oil and lemon juice make a great furniture polish.  Use 1/4 cup of walnut oil and about 4 drops of lemon juice.  Wipe on furniture with a clean soft cloth and buff to a shine.
  5. Coffee Grounds can remove the musty smell from a drawer.  As anyone who has gone to a wine tasting or smelled the various perfumes at Sephora knows, coffee grounds are known as a good smell neutralizer. Sprinkle about ¼ cup of fresh coffee grounds inside the drawer. Leave them for 24 hours and vacuum out (and we don’t recommend reusing the grounds for your coffee break.)

Want Your Kids To Care? Get Out The Good China

Too often I hear clients complain that their adult kids don’t care about all of their antiques collecting dust in the cabinet.  They have worked so hard to preserve great grandma’s tea cups, or sterling coffee service and now––no one cares (and Ikea is just down the road).  There is a real fear of losing family history associated with these things that sat like museum pieces, only to be looked at, dusted occasionally,  and rarely used.

On a recent trip to Toronto I stumbled upon THE most amazing antique store in North America:  Cynthia Findlay Antiques I spoke with some of the staff about how people need to let their kids (yes kids) use the fine things in the house.  Things will get broken, but what good are they if no one uses them?  And you risk losing touch with the traditions of the past.

Also, a generation who doesn’t know how to use delicate things will, according to the New York Times, be less capable with their fine motor skills In other words, you can’t teach this with an iPad.

I inherited some fine tea cups and saucers from my grandmother and I remember as a child that she would finish each meal with dessert and tea.  These memories create value for me.  You will find tea served at our office at least once a week in these fine vessels and our team members in their 30’s, who didn’t grow up around this tradition, are suddenly interested in the history and craftsmanship of Aynsley, Paragon, and Limoges.  So next time you have the grandkids over get out the good china, and tell them the story of their family.

–Annie Fox

Sometimes Appraising Is Like Archeology

Digging through an estate can be like archeology. Layers and layers of a person’s life are evident and sometimes we find the unexpected.  It’s great when we stumble upon an interesting object during our appraisal assignments.  Even though we are sometimes met with unexpected challenges and conditions, it’s never boring!

Sifting through a Denver home earlier this month felt like we were going back in time.  Layer by layer.  The 80 degree heat and poor lighting made it tough for our team. We shared the exhilaration Kacey discovered something interesting and of value in the rubble. After getting past magazines and newspapers from the 1950’s and 1940’s, she discovered several original, boxed 1930 Lionel toy trains (never played with).  And Annie found a mint-condition accordion with the 1957 with the price tag still attached. All buried beneath years of accumulated dust bunnies.

Like archeologists, we are witnesses to time and history.  The material remnants of the lives before us being broken down and pulled apart item by item.  If these things survive the landfill they will be given a new life of their own. And hopefully the toys will be played with and the instruments will be danced to.

Primary v. Secondary Art Market

What is the difference between the primary and the secondary market? These terms are important to understand when purchasing art or when getting an appraisal. 

The first sale of an artwork (from the artist to the first owner, or from the gallery to the first owner) is considered the primary market. If art is bought from an artist directly or from an art gallery representing the artists’ work for the first time, it is a primary sale. The majority of art galleries and art fairs fall under this primary market category.

The secondary market refers to any artworks that are being re-sold.  This could be any number of times AFTER the first sale.  Auction houses are the where most of these transactions would take place. There are also some galleries and fairs that specialize in secondary market pieces such like Mega Galleries that also represent very famous artists or their estates after they have passed away. These works are not coming to market for the first time.  The secondary market can include work from any time period including older works and contemporary works.

The main reasons that works would sell in the secondary market are famously referred to in the art world as “death, debt and divorce.” Estates can be liquidated for various reasons including these.  Actor Russell Crowe held a very successful auction in 2017 with Sotheby’s called “The Art of Divorce”. These celebrity auctions draw collectors who may wish to diversify their art collection or flip it for greater return.

Of course we recommend buying art because you love it, for an investment.  But if you are considering a big investment, we recommend consulting with an art advisor.

Estate Sales and The Landfill Pipeline

First Stop: Goodwill Retail Stores

There are over 3,000 Goodwill stores nationwide.  When you drop off your donated items, workers will go through everything and make sure they’re usable, clean and non-toxic.  Things that make the cut are sorted and priced. If things don’t sell after about four weeks, they’re taken off the shelf and go into a big container and shipped to the next phase….

Goodwill Auctions

Containers full of unsold Goodwill items are shipped to national auction sites.  This is where online bidding occurs.   Anyone can bid on huge bins of misc. items going for as little as $35. Sometimes you don’t know what’s inside—it’s kind of like the television show “Storage Wars” but for donated clothes. Then, if things still don’t sell at auction they’re sent further down stream….

Textile Recycling Centers

There are recycling centers that specialize in clothing and secondary materials.  They will take your clothes where they will be resold.  Lots of fibers will be processed.  Soft fibers are used for furniture filling and home insulation.  Some is sent overseas to salvage dealers.  And as the last resort, if things don’t get reprocessed here or overseas, they are sent to…


Evidence suggests that used home goods and furniture are taking up more and more room in our landfills.  Plastic especially is no longer welcome in recycling centers overseas.  Thankfully, only 5 percent of donated clothes are sent to landfills, but they contribute to the 12 million tons of U.S. textile waste that end up in landfills annually.

Picasso’s Stolen “Sugar Lift” Aquatint

Sweet Reward Could be Next–But What IS a Sugar Lift Aquatint?

Today’s Fox News has a story about a rare Picasso print that was stolen from the office of a Milwaukee art appraiser on Feb. 16th, 2018.  (This is why we have an alarm system, dogs, and locked doors, by the way!) Here is a link to the story “FBI working with police to recover stolen Picasso; reward could soon be offered”

But what caught my eye, is the method that Picasso used for this print of 30 editions.  I looked it up and found a great video by (African born) France-based artist Cedric Green, who’s work is not only beautiful, but he is also a leading figure in environmental ethics in print-making 

Sugar lift aquatint is a process in which the india ink is suspended in sugar (Caro syrup usually) which is then dissolved in warm water, leaving only the ink.  Print making techniques are easier to explain by watching (or doing) so here is a link to a YouTube video Green produced showing exactly what sugar lift is.

In the meantime, we will keep our eyes open for any signs of that Picasso!


The “Original” Tiffany

We recently had the opportunity to conduct an appraisal on a sterling silver flatware set by Tiffany & Co. Classy, elegant, and timeless, it is always intriguing to learn more about this luxury and well established retailer.

As with any appraisal of collectables and vintage or antique items, you have to  determine the production time frame of each piece – particularly for such high end manufacturers such as Tiffany. For this particular flatware set, the owners provided us with a clue to its pattern name – “Beekman.” In the unraveling of this dating mystery, we discovered that in fact it was not “Beekman,” but rather a much earlier version, simply called “Tiffany.” It became apparent that many dealers incorrectly label the “Tiffany” pattern as “Beekman.” After all, the two are almost identical, apart from a couple of key features.

The “Tiffany” pattern was Tiffany & Company’s original pattern of sterling flatware, designed by William C. Moore and released in 1869. The identifying features of the earlier Tiffany pattern, in addition to the stamping on the reverse, were found in two characteristics of the design details. The first was the antefix at the terminal tip of each piece. In the original “Tiffany”, it is pointed rather than rounded. The second characteristic was the floral “knobs” located at the base of the stem. They very clearly protrude, disrupting the smooth edge of the stem. Tiffany eventually rounded the antefix (a fancy word for the ornamentation found at the edge), sometime after 1891, but kept the knobbed flowers. The pattern went through a series of changes in the early 1900s and was reintroduce in 1956 and renamed “Beekman.” It still had the rounded tips, but dropped the knobs. 

Based on the distinguishing features of the design, as well as the manufacturer’s stamping, we were able to determine that the set was indeed the older, original “Tiffany” pattern rather than newer “Beekman.”

Flea Markets in Loire Valley France

A Little Lunch Among Antiques

In my travels last week in the Loire Valley of France, I came across a great little town called Saumur that holds a weekly flea market. Unlike some of the garage sales in my home state of Colorado, this little market was packed with great pieces!  Included in the usual knick knacks, were of lots of 19th century porcelain, bronze statues, some beautiful antique furniture.  There were also lots and lots of books and beautiful posters.

I got the feeling that these flea markets were a regular thing for the sellers and they all seemed very dedicated to their booths. And at 12:30 in a classic French style, they all set up their little café tables for a proper déjeuner, or lunch–all with their own china dishes, wine, and linens.  I decided not to ask about a prices during their feast, so I went and had my own déjeuner.

Paris’ Art, Antiques and Appraising District

The Mecca for Art Appraisers!

Paris, France–I know this is a city of art and antiques, but I am always amazed at the density of professionals.  Tucked away in the 9th arrondissement, are quaint little merchants and store-fronts that have grown up around the “Drouot Auction House.”  This auction house was founded in 1852 and consists of 16 halls with 70 independent auction firms. There are up to 8 auctions a day and, unlike the auction houses of Christies’ and Sotheby’s, anyone can attend without any credentials.

A short walk in the 9th arrondissement will take you by “houses” with specialists in stamps, coins, rare books, estate jewelry, clocks, and certain art and antique periods.  Of course, being Paris, there are even cafés for these specialists.

Paris is an art Mecca, and for this humble appraiser from Colorado, I feel fortunate to get to make the pilgrimage to it’s history, art and architecture.