We were incredibly excited to have Sarah Drury from Case Antiques Auctions & Appraisals join us for our first ever Live Q&A event. Sarah talked about education, identifying art and decor, working with auction houses and appraisers, and the industry related to COVID-19. Her answers to your questions are summarized below.
Having a general understanding of the appraisal process is very helpful for any estate sale professional. Of course, the best way to learn is through day-to-day operations of bringing in new material, cataloging it, and watching it sell.
However, several courses can help you learn about appraising specialty items, such as the Chinese Art Course offered by the International Society of Appraisers and other appraisal accreditation organizations. These continuing education classes are excellent ways to increase your knowledge.
Three prominent organizations accredit appraisers. They offer continuing education classes and the ability to find appraisers in your area (you could hire an appraiser to look through the house for anything noteworthy). Check with all three organizations as different regions tend to have greater concentrations of appraisers from each group.
Subscribing to antique trade papers can be an excellent way to keep your finger on the pulse of the market.
Finally, there are several online resources where you can view auction house closing prices and learn more about an item, such as Liveauctioneers.com (free), Invaluable, and Barnebys.
Working with Auction Houses
If you often deal with art, building a relationship with an auction house is a great way to obtain the highest sale price for your clients. Start by establishing an email relationship. Send photographs to that contact about important pieces you come across at your sales. Ask for their opinion and if it would be a good fit for auction. Case Antiques Auctions & Appraisals are always happy to work with you. Submit items for consignment on their site, and Sarah or her team will give you an auction estimate and let you know if they feel it is a good fit for their auction. Doing so does not mean you must turn over your client, though that is possible if that works better for you.
Types of Items Auction House Want
Auction houses are looking for specific items. Pieces that tend to do well in an auction setting are rare and hard to price. Auction houses that sell worldwide often look for smaller, easier-to-ship items. Look for things that seem out of place in the house. If you have a hard time identifying a buyer for a piece, consider an auction house. For example, a painting by a Japanese artist or an artist from Finland could be hard to sell locally and may not receive top dollar. Sarah says the items that tend to do best at auction are those that stump us—those that send you to the internet for a search or evoke a strong emotional response.
Art is often where the money is, so pay special attention. If you are not sure where to begin, download the document Sarah shared, “10 Questions to Ask About Art" . It is full of helpful information.
Identifying Art and Decor
Identifying art can be tricky. If it’s unsigned or unnumbered art, talk with the owner to learn as much information as you can about the piece. Conduct a Google Image search (not a text search—use a physical image of the work to search on Google) to find more clues. Talk with an appraiser you’ve grown a good relationship with as they are always a wealth of information.
Always look at the back of the art piece. There’s a great tip about identifying the age of a piece of art from the back in the video at (31:11). Sarah says,
The front tells you what you want to know. The back will tell you more about the story of it.
Asian Art and Decor
There was a specific question for Sarah about identifying Asian art and decor pieces. Sarah recommended the book The Wallace-Homestead Price Guide to Oriental Antiques - Sandra Andacht. It is an older book (prices are out of date), but it has good general marks you might encounter. She also recommends the ISA Chinese Art Course and other webinars offered by the appraiser organizations mentioned above.
As for jade, if it’s cold to the touch, even when the temperature outside is warm, that’s a solid indicator you’re dealing with genuine jade. It may be worth doing a scratch test (proceed at your own risk). Find a tiny, discreet area and use a safety pin for scratching the surface gently. If it scratches easily, then you are not dealing with jade. Instead, you are more likely dealing with hardstone or soapstone, which is still valuable but not near as valuable as something made of jade.
Use extreme caution when cleaning up art. Sarah recommends only doing so if the painting is marred by discoloration, such as smoke yellowing. Listen to her specific instructions in the video at (35:52) to learn more about cleaning art.
Industry and COVID-19
The industry has done surprisingly well despite COVID-19. Sarah attributes this to the extra time people are spending in their homes. She believes people are paying more attention to their surroundings and wanting to create lovely places, havens—places where they can find a lot of peace and joy.
As for items they have seen sell the most, art has been the superstar of pandemic era auctions. There seems to be an uptick in silver plate, and silver has done considerably well, likely related to the commodity prices of silver being high. The rare book and historical document market have also increased, probably due to people suddenly having more time to spend on these hobbies.
Some categories are not doing what they did 15 or 20 years ago. Still, across the board, it has been positive regarding prices and the number of people participating in online auctions.
Find the complete list of questions asked of Sarah below and their timestamps where you can find them in the video. We have provided chapters in the video, so navigating to specific portions is more easily accessible. We hope this Q&A helps you with appraisal and working with auction houses in the future. Stay tuned for future Q&As, and join our list to be notified of upcoming events.
Questions and Timestamps:
- Considering all of your education and classes you have taken over the years, what do you find most valuable to your current job (selling at auction and appraising)? Anything that sticks out? - Ashley Glass, A Crazy Love & Ashley Glass Luxury Estate Sales (1:33)
- What’s the best way to get started working with auction houses? If you have fine art in particular. - Meriann Roberts, Ginny’s Girls Estate Services (3:45)
- Under what circumstances would you recommend referring a client to sell on consignment through a specialist or with an auction house (when they have high-dollar items that would bring a much greater value when targeted to a specific group of collectors.)? - Zella Ruth Stambaugh, Respectfully Yours Estate & Tag Sales (6:28)
- What steps should we take with fine art to acquire the most money on our client’s behalf? - Maggie Shea, Ojai Estate Sales (11:29)
- We find art that has virtually no resale value and pieces worth significant amounts of money. What is the dollar threshold where an appraisal is appropriate and an added value to the customer/client? Would this apply only to original art pieces or signed and numbered prints at times? - Ryan Kaiser, Caring Transitions of NE Denver (19:59)
- Do you have any training courses that you would recommend for assessing and appraising fine art? Do you know of any services that prescreen art to determine if a piece is auction worthy? - Cynthia (Cyndi) Duenas, Lucy’s Estate Sales (21:02)
- How can we do better at identifying vintage asian art and decor pieces? Are there any resources you would recommend?- Theresa Blumer, Spotted Cow Estate Sales (23:04)
- Do you have any quick go-to resources to help in determining the value of an item? - Molly Schulz, Estate Solutions (27:42)
- Any tips to assess art when it is not numbered and/or signed? - Teri Standiford, Vintage Gardens Estate Services, Cheryl Cockrell, Cheryl Cockrell Estate Sales (29:52)
- What can you tell from the back of a piece of art that helps identify its age? - Kelly Charlshe, Grasons Co South Bay Beachside (21:11)
- Do you think oil paintings should be lightly cleaned before being auctioned? - Gene Evans, You Gotta Have Art (35:52)
- How has the pandemic affected antique values? - Melody Marrow, JM Estate Liquidators, LLC (37:01)
- Are you witnessing higher prices and sell through rates since COVID? Are these new buyers? What categories of assets are seeing the largest increase in price and interest? - Karin Costa, Costa Appraisal Service (40:03)
- What are the steps you take and services do you offer as an auction house to market the item to get the highest price? (41:49)
- It seems that people who I perform estate sales for give me values based on what they find for sale on “Craigslist” and “eBay”. How can I work with clients when their pricing for an item might be out of the ballpark? - Rich Brown, Archive Estate Sales (45:07)