How can I get my collection appraised?

There are many reasons to get your collection appraised—for insurance, legal, tax, charitable, or estate-planning purposes, or simply to get an third-party assessment of its value. We’re not appraisal experts, but here are some tips for getting started:

  • Be clear why you’re getting the appraisal, in order to ensure that the appraiser and appraisal method will be acceptable to concerned parties such as your insurance company. Talk to other collectors who’ve gotten appraisals to get their advice. Note that insurance-related appraisals are often higher than, say, tax-related appraisals.
  • Don’t use an appraiser who might also want to buy your collection, like a private dealer. This is a built-in conflict of interest, and might lead to an appraisal which undervalues your collection.
  • Decide whether you need a specialist or a generalist. If your collection is highly specialized, you should try to find an appraiser who has domain knowledge in that category rather than someone who knows antiques broadly. Find someone who’s familiar with recent transactions in your category, not only on eBay but at auction houses and other traditional venues.
  • Find someone you trust, with demonstrated experience. Cast the net wide in your search for appraisers—talk to dealers, museum curators, and lifelong collectors who know your category well. Get references. Look at published directories from the Appraisers Association of America, the American Society of Appraisers, or the International Society of Appraisers. Some auction houses host regularly scheduled appraisal days when you can get a free preliminary verbal appraisal, depending on the items involved.
  • Agree on price and terms in advance with the appraiser. How will they charge? What documentation or itemization will they deliver? Appraisers typically charge a flat fee negotiated in advance or an hourly or daily rate. Do not pay a percentage of the value of the items—this conflict of interest may later invalidate the appraisal. Fees may vary geographically, depending on the number and type of items and how much research is required. If the items have been appraised in the past, this may lower the fee. Be sure to ask about potential additional charges such as research and fees for consulting other experts.
  • Provide as much information to your appraiser as possible. In addition to giving them access to your collection, provide relevant information including purchase price, receipts, provenance, repair or restoration work that has been done, etc. The more information they have, the more accurate an appraisal they can provide.
  • Make sure you get a detailed, itemized appraisal report in writing. An appraisal should be thorough, with detailed documentation on an item by item basis—this will become very important if your items are ever lost or damaged. The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) cites the minimum components of a proper appraisal—most professional appraisers use this format.
  • Don’t forget to keep your receipts, and store paper or digital copies of all valuable documents off-site. Update your appraisal every few years as the value of your items may change.

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