Appraise or not to appraise
People often inherit antiques and collectibles from a family member or friend. It could be an oil painting, piece of antique jewelry, antique furniture, pottery or even what looks like antique silver. It can be difficult to figure what the piece may be worth, but also whether or not it makes sense to invest in an antique appraisal.
Surprising, ebay is not a bad starting place. Just remember to search for "sold" items by checking the sold box in the left-hand column box before you put your keywords into the search field. The results will be filtered by what people actually paid for the item instead of what the seller is asking for the item. You can ask for a million dollars, but that does not mean that anyone will pay a million dollars.
To make things more complicated, an un-experienced dealer will see an asking price and think they can get the same price for their item because it’s a similar item. Suddenly, there are several asking prices of one million dollars for something that might be worth a few hundred dollars or even less. The first dealer did not do the research and the rest were lazy.
Most personal property appraisers use sold results at auction, if possible, at least as a starting point. This typically reflects the fair market value and not the retail value, but it does give the appraiser an idea as to what the wholesale price might be.
Retail mark-ups vary, most antiques tend to retail at two to three times a legitimate auction value. When you see something selling for $500.00 but you have found several auction values at perhaps $50.00, you understand that the seller might be inexperienced or just neglected to research the price before he or she listed the item on-line.
There are some excellent on-line sources for finding auction values. Liveauctioneers.com, for example is free, but you have to sign up for an account by giving them your email address. They do not resell your email and you will not get spam emails from them. When you use their to research there are some filters you can use, like prices in the last year, but you will need to know the keywords. If you limit your keywords and receive 3,000 results, you can keep adding keywords until you narrow down the results. Using too many keywords could return zero results. You can also sort the results by the highest price first.
Once you have found a similar item to yours, it is a good starting place. Your item will probably have a similar value. If the price you find is less than a few hundred dollars, probably would not pay to have the item appraised as most appraisers charge by the hour, not by the piece.
If you think your piece could be worth thousands, you should contact the antique appraiser. While homeowners policies cover contents, many want appraisals on high-end items like fine art, jewelry, silver, furs, high-end antiques and sometimes extensive collections.
There are some on-line sources for valuing single items like Value this now. They are reasonably priced and will generally reject the appraisal if, in the opinion of the appraiser, the value is too low in relationship to the cost. Fine art is a different situation. With respect to fine art, this is generally an area where an online service is not helpful, as in-person inspection is necessary. You can visit the Fine art and fine art prints page of this website for some good pointers on determining if your art may be worth appraising.