Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Critical Thinking in Appraisals

It is common for an appraiser to find themselves serving a client that has very strong ideas about the identity or historical provenance or characteristics of their item or collection. Sometimes these ideas or beliefs are founded in family lore or some other long-accepted tradition or reason. However, it is the appraiser’s job to apply critical thinking to whittle things down to ‘just the facts.’

It’s probably not hard to imagine how uncomfortable that position can be, especially when faced with a client for whom their story means the world. They’ll wonder why you’re so concerned or skeptical over seemingly mundane background facts. After all, great grandma said George Washington once tripped over this!

One of my professional advantages is that I bring university training in historiography to my appraisal practice. The times when this training helps me shed new light on an item by identifying some hitherto unknown or underappreciated characteristic are truly momentous and among the most rewarding for me personally. Of course, clients are happy as clams if the detail adds value, but more often than not, they’re just as thrilled with the intellectual value I’ve identified. After all, there’s a lot of satisfaction in adding a footnote to history.

Now, this is not possible without me applying critical thinking, defined as the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment, to my historiographical formulae.

This means that I must view items dispassionately when I am valuing them for monetary worth. Instead of focusing on the good, brightest and most immediately attractive aspects, I must give equal attention to the flaws, the cracks, the chips, the repairs, the patina, the wear, the missing parts, the broken parts, the incompleteness, the anachronisms, etc.

The more significant a piece purports to be – historically or monetarily, the more sternly I must focus on the detractive or negative aspects. A thorough and honest valuation is the goal, so an item must stand up to the most rigorous and skeptical standards. This is the hard part because, like everyone else, I’d rather be celebrating greatness!

That’s not to say there isn’t nuance in this job. Often enough, an examination points toward the inconclusive on one or more points. All is not necessarily lost, but additional work must be done. For very significant items, the appraisal itself could be scuttled at this moment. At this point, I begin to search for why something may be the way it is. Has it been tampered with over the intervening years? Can we tell if the tampering innocently or maliciously executed? Was the tampering done to obscure another fact? Was the tampering done to enhance the item?

And, of course, the most important question I must answer in terms of the appraisal for monetary value is: does this impact value one way or another?

The answer may not always be to the owner’s liking, but the goal remains to get us closer to the honest truth.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

An Auction Result is Not an Appraisal!

Auction results are a large part of the data an appraiser interprets to for their value conclusion – but they are far from the only thing!

In any first consultation with me, a client identifies the intended use of the appraisal, and together we determine the objective. These two things help me determine the most appropriate market or markets to search for sales and pricing data, whether for comparable sales, or prices of like items or reproductions.

The most appropriate market is where the items are most commonly bought and sold by buyers and sellers in full possession of all relevant facts about the items and under no compulsion to either buy or sell.

On top of all this is an item’s physical characteristics, and often enough in my corner of the appraisal world, a provenance that establishes additional historical significance. Both can have an effect on value.

So you see appraisals are a multi-faceted process with many moving parts! It takes a mind adept at compilation, interpretation, and interpolation of data to reach a justifiable value conclusion – far more than a simple search of realized prices!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Confederate Monuments Should Go

Orbiting near the center of events roiling the United States today is the public display of symbols of the American Confederacy.

I really do think it's time for all busts, statues, sculptures, memorials and other representations of the CSA - excluding cemeteries - be removed from outdoor public spaces and placed in state or federal museums on permanent display.


As an appraiser that specializes in historical artifacts, part of my approach to value is to consider an object's highest and best use. This principle is tied directly to recognizing an object's value characteristics and possible uses.


I submit the highest and best use of these usually artful representations of a defeated regime whose existence was brutally supported atop the shoulders of their fellow men is in institutions where they will receive professional conservation and proper historical context, and serve to educate future generations.


Let there be no censorship or whitewashing of the people or cause they represent. Likewise, let there be no destruction. Just put them where they belong.


(Lead image by the author, taken at the Confederate Cemetery on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, VA.)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sometimes Originality Isn't So Obvious!

One of the issues appraisers face when evaluating antiques is the impact an object's current state has on its value versus its original state. Detecting subtleties can be tricky, unlike this example!

Always check your appraiser's credentials and experience!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Kandinsky Shows "Trump Effect" is in Effect?

 Bild mit weissen Linien
The so-called "Trump Effect" hinted at in my March 15th post seems in full effect now, based on the strength of Sotheby's June 21st Impressionist and Modern Art sale, which not only beat the same sale in 2016 by 45 percent, it also saw the record for Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) smashed – twice.

The first smashing painting was Murnau—Landschaft mit grünem Haus (1909), painted in his Fauvist period. It closed at a breezy $26.4 million, higher than the last comparable painting, at approximately $17 million in 2013.
 Murnau – Landschaft mit grünem Haus

However, a mere six lots later, Kandinsky's abstract Bild mit weissen Linien (1913) shattered Murnau’s new record by raking in $41.6 million.

It’s result – and in fact that of the entire sale - $187.7 million, may be seen as a barometer of the brighter mood of the higher end art market, even if only a few lots rose above their estimate.

It doesn't even really matter if the $41 million paid for Bild was within the estimate range – the record is impressive. The previous record for a comparable Kandinsky, $21 million set at Sotheby’s in 1990 for Fugue (1914) equals $39.3 million adjusted for inflation today.

As you might expect, Sotheby's is crowing these days and I expect there will be drinks all around this weekend.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

G.I. Joe Turns 75

June 17, 2017 marked the 75th anniversary of G.I. Joe's debut. Joe was first drawn and published by Chicago native Irving David Breger (1908-1970) in the very first issue of Yank Magazine, dated June 17, 1942.

Breger began drawing cartoons for his high school newspaper, and later edited Northwestern University's humor magazine Purple Parrot. Though without any formal training in art, he continued drawing cartoons during his college years, imitating the style of well-known 1920's-era cartoonist, John Held, Jr. After earning a degree in abnormal psychology from Northwestern in 1931, he spent a year traveling and selling cartoons to the German magazine Lustigeblaetter.

He was drafted into the US Army in 1941, even while freelancing for various magazines including Esquire, Collier's, The New Yorker and others. Employed as a truck mechanic by the army, he drew cartoons by night, with The Saturday Evening Post publishing them under the title Private Breger.

He was soon transferred to the Army's Special Services Division, and was eventually transferred to the staff of the newly-created Yank Magazine. Though he wanted to draw in a style reminiscent of The Saturday Evening Post, Yank's editors insisted on a unique name for his column. His character's real name was Joe Trooper, but Breger added the acronym for "Government Issue" to the equation, and created a name that would find itself adopted by both soldiers and the American homefront as the new 'doughboy' term for American servicemen: G.I. Joe.

Breger would go on to draw Private Breger for King Features Syndicate until October 1945 when the character was discharged from the army and became Mister Breger. The cartoon's popularity was enduring, and the Sunday panels would continue until shortly after his death in 1970.