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.

Reasons to Hire a Professional Appraiser

What is an Appraisal?  Why should I get one?

Document your Valuables Prior to Loss:

Documenting your items with a certified appraisal prior to loss is essential to settle a claim. Most insurance companies will limit coverage without it, even if you have photographs of your items! Appraisal reports are written to the exacting specifications of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), which is governed by the Appraisers Association of America.

Division of property (AKA Divorce):

For equitable division of personal property between heirs, separating couples, etc.

Maximize Financial Return to Your Estate:

Trustees and heirs receive peace of mind and exercise due diligence when they have estate personal property reviewed by an expert.  This way you will know what your items are really worth and you can make an informed decision.


What are your items worth today? What are your options to sell them?  We offer many options including specialty and major auction houses, to obtain the best placement and terms for your more valuable art, antiques, and collectibles.

Benefiting Charities–Marie- Kondo Style!

It can be very joyful and satisfying to have a tidy space.  Even if it’s just a closet of set of drawers.  But don’t just throw things out or put them in storage. Donate them for someone else to find joy.  And don’t forget to keep track of your donations.

Marie Kondo, the Japanese-downsizing-celebrity makes it clear that it isn’t just about washing and re-organizing, letting go of things that no longer “Spark Joy” for you.  Your things can spark joy for someone else through a donation to The Goodwill or any number of charities that accept household goods and clothing.

If you are having trouble deciding on where to donate the results of your clean out, try contacting Donation Town and they will come and pick up your items and let you pick from a list of excellent local charities!

You can use Appraisley’s handy (and free) DONATION CALCULATOR that you can use to find the estimated values for some of your household donations.

Just Make Sure You Look INSIDE The Piano!

Finding Hidden Treasures Where You Least Expect them

Here is a great story out of Britain where about $90,000 in gold coins were discovered by a piano tuner inside a donated piano months later: Washington Post . Even though the piano had been in their home for three decades, the donors were not entitled to any of the money found according to the courts.

I don’t suppose there are very many appraisers who would have thought to open up the piano, but it is amazing how often we find things stashed in unusual places! On a personal note, just as we finished packing up everything from the historic house of my late great aunt in Jonesborough, TN, my mom glanced under the rug on the stairs and found $3,000.00 in cash stashed there.

I suppose this should be a reminder to us all to be thorough when inspecting art and antiques, and also once it is given away, it is GIVEN AWAY!