Learn to buy and sell antiques and collectibles

Antiques Appraisal Advice

I get a lot of questions about antique values. People come into the website and then send me an email asking for an appraisal. I don't do online appraisals except for toy trains so please do not send me questions about the value of your antiques.

Here's a link for online Toy Train Appraisals. I will only answer questions about toy train values that come from the form on that page.

In order to help people looking for an online antique appraisal, I have written this page of advice. If you have seen the Antiques Road Show you have seen appraisers in action.

I don't know much about how the roadshow is done, but I think the appraisers are all dealers or run auction services. I assume they provide their knowledge in exchange for the free publicity and a chance to find items to auction off. I know a few people who appear on the road show, and I will find out how it works and write more about it in the future.

Anyway, lets talk about how most antique appraisals work. Or rather should work. If an appraisal is offered to you that does not meet these criteria - run. Chances are you will get poor advice.

  • An appraiser needs to specialize. I said earlier I do train appraisals. I do not offer evaluations of other antiques or collectibles. I am not qualified to give advice about other antiques. If you have an old dish, get advice from a someone who deals in dishes. There are too many factors that influence price for a general antiques appraiser to know. You need a specialist.
  • All appraisals must be based on seeing your antique. Anyone who offers a value without seeing the antique is doing you a disservice. For online appraisals a picture is usually sufficient.
  • Never pay an appraiser a percentage of the quoted value for his service. Reputable antique appraisals are done on a per item or per hour basis. For example I charge $20 for an appraisal of up to 25 related toy train items. On average this works out to about $40 an hour. I am actually cheap. You can expect to pay between 40 and 100 dollars an hour for an appraisal.
  • Find an appraiser who is more than a book reader. If you wanted to know what a price guide says your item is worth go to a library. See my Antiques Price Guides article for more information about price guides. An appraisal should include information about protecting your antiques, and about selling them. You hire an appraiser for his expert opinion. Not to read a book to you.
  • Be wary of an offer to purchase as an appraisal. Some dealers offer "free appraisals" in order to buy stock for their stores. Many times these dealers will under-value your items so they can purchase them at a hefty profit.
  • Watch out for bogus claims by appraisers. There is currently no accreditation agency worth the price of the paper they print. For a few hundred dollars (less in some cases) anyone can get some fancy letters to put behind their name. These letters mean nothing. My step mother once took a class from a "certified" appraiser. The "expert" told her a defect in an antique dish was the maker's mark!

Here is a list of items that effect antique values. An appraiser needs to know the field well enough to spot these trends.

If you are interested in selling something, have a few reputable dealers make you an offer, then take the best offer. Most appraisals will give you values you will never hope to realize. I tell people when I appraise toy trains what the items would sell for on eBay or what price I would put on their trains if I was selling them.

If you are looking for an appraisal for insurance reasons, talk to your insurance agent to see exactly what format you need.

One other note before I end this article. Some appraisers suggest that an appraisal for insurance reasons should be higher. This makes no sense to me. These appraisers talk about replacement value. Wouldn't replacement value be the price a dealer will sell it for?

I think that some appraisers tend to inflate insurance valuations, thinking the insurance adjuster will knock them down a bit.

This sounds like fraud to me. And I don't think it is ethical. I had a burgulary in March of 2004. The insurance company paid me based on the values I set for the stolen items. I bet the adjuster checked the values, and then paid the claim.


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