Antiques, Antique Dealers,
& Auction Houses in the
Beautiful Hudson Valley

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This column will discuss one of the questions most frequently asked by both experienced and neophyte antiquers: "What is that thing worth?" The question is easy, the answer is difficult. The first question to be asked by the appraiser is: "Why do you want to know?" No, this is not a sarcastic response, but a needed bit of information.

Are you going to keep the item for yourself and use it to decorate your home? Will you use it to fill some practical need (i.e.: a bookcase, a table, a chair) or is it going to be part of your collection of ________ (you fill in the blank). Is it a gift for someone else? Is it for resale? Is the estimate for insurance purposes? Is it part of an estate where the value is needed for estate taxes, or to help divide the estate equitably among several heirs? All of this information is important because value can never be an exact number.

Any qualified appraiser thinks in ranges: "That painting is worth between $1,200 and $1,500." Remember in the antique field one cannot go to the latest wholesale catalog or "Blue Book" to find the exact item currently available at a specific price. What about price guides? Read the disclaimers in the preface in all of the guides, and remember that they are called "guides." The prices are averages, estimates, or are based on auction sales. This leads us to where value is determined: that is on the auction block. For tax and estate purposes the IRS uses auction prices realized. Yes, I know that similar items may sell for different prices at different auctions, but on average, the prices tend to be within a specific range. One must also account for regional differences in pricing which exist, and we will dedicate a future column to that subject. Remember, one cannot use retail price, since dealers use different markups and have different expenses. Additionally, not all dealers are aware of the value of all of their inventory, and many items are priced based on cost (high or low) rather than on the item's market value.

If the item is for your home, the pricing question is a bit simpler: "What would a new one cost?" If you are not sure of the answer, check out a few new furniture stores. Then run, do not walk, to your nearest antique dealer or auction house - generally the prices are lower and the quality and construction much better. If one gets tired of an antique, it still has value in the secondary market. Have you ever tried to sell a three year old couch or a ten year old dining room set? If not, attend an auction and be prepared to be shocked; an upholstered chair for $1? Yes, really, and you probably can have the extra pillows included.

If the item is to add to your collection of Royal Doulton figural mugs, what is a fair price for that missing "Falstaff" you have been looking for since 1996? I think you get the idea: easy question, difficult answer. You will feel much more comfortable making buying decisions as you acquire more information. This is the fun part, go and visit your local antique dealers, look, ask, examine, and then buy. Attend auctions and keep track of prices; soon you will feel more comfortable in your decision making process.

Insurance valuation is usually based on replacement value - what would it cost if one went out to buy a like item? This is an educated guess, based on auction value plus retail markup.

Estate value is based on the low estimate of auction value (and must be justified by actual prices realized) since any taxes are based on the appraised value. If item is sold, obviously the sale price is the value.

f you have any questions, let us know, and we will do our best to answer them.

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