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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Appraisals - What's that all about?

Are any precedents for appraising quilts? Yes, absolutely.
We have to do some pretty heavy research when we are appraising quilts, at least this is something we do if we are serious about our appraisal business.

I have been a certified appraiser since 1993. We practice by a set of standards called USPAP, and if you look that up on the Internet, it stands for Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. This is the Standard used by all professional appraisers - whether appraisers of real property (i.e. real estate),auto appraisers, antiques appraisers, art appraisers, etc.

 Anne's mysterious quilt block which has been cut through seemingly intentionally.It has been mended carefully by me. A block like this in excellent condition could run $225 or more, but because of this strange damage (it is cut diagonally about 7 - 8 times but more like slashing, and not all the way through. I am rescuing it, and why not? It cost me $2 at a quilt show. And yes, there is a stamped signature I could research on it. Likely ca. 1840.

We also sign a Code of Ethics in order to practice. The Code of Ethics basically states that we will not have a conflict of interest as we are doing business, and that we will perform all of our appraisals in an ethical and professional manner. It also dictates how we deal with our clients and how we treat other professional appraisers.

As for where we get our information to form a value, we have to do our research. For example, when we appraise an antique quilt, we will seek various market resources - perhaps antique quilt stores, swapmeets, the Internet, etc. and we will seek quilts of similar condition (first and foremost), similar style and age, similar workmanship and visual impact, etc. Sometimes it involves further research because an antique quilt might have items outside those elements specified above.

For example, I once appraised a quilt with many signatures that had been gathered and stitched on from famous people in the U.S.  What I had to do was to look up the values of the signatures of those people, and of course the other factors had to be added in as well.

But we are art quilters, so how does this apply to art quilts?

Actually, believe it or not, although each artist's work is generally not like anyone else's, we have to establish what we might consider a "baseline," so we are again going to look for quilts of similar complexity, similar techniques, size, styles, name and fame of the artists, etc. Sometimes there may be very little that is similar when we look at the pieces from one artist. An artist such as Hollis Chatelaine would be such an example.

When she first came on the scene, there really wasn't anyone with work quite like hers. But at the same time, we would again have to establish a baseline for the work, so we would look at things like her sales record(s), her awards, publications, etc. We would look at these things with other artists as well, but this might be the major things we would be looking at with her work. Then we would figure in cost of materials used, etc. but we would have to keep researching to be sure that we had some sort of baseline from which to start, even though the work might be considerably less (in value) than hers. It would give us a starting place, and we would work up from there, using some of her own sales, publications, etc. to begin to form a picture in our minds of where her work should be valued.  It takes a long time to do an art quilt appraisal because of the amount of research and thinking we need to do before we are able to come up with a good and fair figure.

Now there is one thing to beware of if you are an art quilter of any name and fame. It is highly bogus for anyone to appraise your quilt based on cost to remake the quilt. First of all, those remaking the quilt would not have the same name and fame as you, so it would never be a truly comparable value; you simply cannot remake a significant quilt - neither an art quilt or a significantly historical quilt, and think of it as anything but a copy, and therefore it would never be equal in value. Also, if you were an art quilter with name and fame, still alive and able to remake your own quilts if necessary, even if you chose not to do so, why on earth would you ever choose to have someone else do that?  I think of this kind of like elective surgery.  The fact that you just don't want to do it or that you want someone else to do it just isn't good enough reason to appraise a quilt that way.

If anyone appraises a quilt for you and you are anything but a traditional quiltmaker who makes quilts from patterns (where in fact, your quilt COULD be remade by anyone because it is a pattern), don't accept that as a valid appraisal value. You need to seek certified appraisers who are willing to do the necessary research to create their values, and that is, as I have noted, often a lot of work and requires some time to be accurate.

I often run into quilts for which there IS no comparable out there in the marketplace - no true comparable really.  But as I have noted, we have to do a lot of thinking independently and come up with a baseline figure, and a good reason or reasons for creating that figure.

As for the types of appraisals, we do "fair market" appraisals, which is what people use to get some sort of idea what to sell their work for. The one thing about a fair market appraisal is that it cannot directly be used to advertise or sell the quilt. It is ok to say, "It has been appraised at ___", but the AQS, our certifying body, doesn't want the appraisals to be used to directly be selling and neither do we as appraisers as it presents an appearance of a conflict of interest for us. Fair market appraisals are always accurate. It doesn't mean the quilt will sell for that because we are in a very volatile market, but it is a good baseline for an artist.

We also do insurance appraisals, donation appraisals, and estate appraisals. The insurance appraisals can be ones done for owners seeking insurance, or they can be what we call "after-the-fact appraisals" that are performed for an insurance company trying to settle an insurance claim after some form of loss. After-the-fact appraisals generally cover only the cost of materials..

If you have quilts in your possession that are valuable or that you treasure, valuable or not, you should photograph them all in the context of your own surroundings. This is proof that they are in fact your belongings. I would also make up an inventory of everything you have and what is known about each piece. If you have pieces you have purchased, it is a good idea to keep the receipts, or at least document how much you paid for the item.  Now a caveat on this one:  if your prices that you paid are questionable, remember that a certified appraiser will likely be called in to confirm that the values seem reasonable.  I have actually had people "pad" their values, only to have them questioned by more than one of us who are certified appraisers, and in one case, I questioned whether the person had honestly ever even owned the quilts since the photos were photos anyone could get from any quilt dealer. So remember that having your quilts photographed in a context is extremely important.

Another thing that people believe is that because Aunt Lucy told your mom who told you that the quilt you have is a Civil War quilt, it is very valuable. First of all, the quilts that have survived the Civil War are far and few between and also things must be documented in a way that can be verified. I am currently working on an 1849 quilt that has a documented provenance and the genealogy of the people who made and owned the quilt is documented and can be verified via research. The more likely a quilt has a connection to an important historic event does tend to make it more valuable if it can be verified, and if the historic
 Don Beld - Reproduction Sanitary Commission Quilt. Don is coauthoring a book about these quilts, often referred to as "potholder quilts" because of the way they were finished as independent blocks (this particular one is not done that way) and then the blocks would be stitched together later on. Don also started the nationally famous "Home of the Brave" quilt project where people from each state make reproduction Sanitary Commission quilts for the families of soldiers who have fallen in the recent wars.

event was significant enough. My good friend Don Beld, a well-known and highly reputable quilt historian is currently doing research on the Sanitary Commission quilts that have been discovered.- if my memory serves me right, so far there are only nine survivors known, and of course not all of them are in excellent condition, so that will affect the values.  But, because of the provenance (the historical significance), the quilts are highly valuable.The Sanitary Commission was probably one of the single most important factors in turning the War Between the States in favor of the North. More men died from unsanitary conditions in the war camps than died from the wounds themselves (at least not directly from the wounds themselves).

As to why there might be a difference between fair market and insurance values, here is the best reason. Insurance Values are objective; they are based on looking at (for the most part) quilts out there in the market that are similar in value and would meet the "like and kind" criteria for replacement value. We generally look for multiple sources and then take an average of the total and generally it is right in there with the rest of the pieces

Fair Market on the other hand, is a highly subjective value, and fluctuates with the economy as well as geographic location. A quilt that might sell for a high value in Beverly Hills might be worth very little in my own area of Lomita, CA.  People in this area are not generally big quilt collectors with money to spare for their collections, and they don't have the interest either.  So the fair market value can vary from place to place. Right now, with the economy as it is, quilt values on the market are way, way down because people are anxious to sell and willing to sell for whatever a person wants to pay (in most cases).  Now the important thing to note here is that there ARE quilts that are higher priced for the same type of quilts as any of us might have, taking into our context excellent condition and quilts that are graphic and very beautiful.. But many of these have been sitting for a long time, unable to sell because folks don't have the money to purchase them.  The quilt on the left, for example, was valued for sale at $895 by my friend, Stella Rubin. When the economy was better, the same quilt might have gone for $1,500 or more. It is graphic and beautiful, in excellent condition. So the market always requires a willing seller, and more importantly, a willing buyer.

This is a buyer's market and this IS the time to collect if you are a collector or a would-be collector. And this is where the difference between the fair market and insurance values comes in. I could gather lots of prices online right now for quilts of comparable types, and I could find some truly decent values. And when we are talking about cost of replacement, I am looking at all of the values I find overall and then coming up with a good middle area for my value.  But that does not mean that quilts of these values are actually selling.  Still, it is like the housing market where the fact that houses are not selling all that well doesn't mean that they are less valuable.  A buyer might be able to pick one up dirt cheap if the owner or the financial institution wants to let go of it bad enough.

Hope this helps you out. There is no mystical involvement with values. They are what they are, for better or worse.  I have a lot of calls each week or e-mails from people wanting appraisals so that they can sell their quilts and I tell them for the most part that they should not have high expectations because it just isn't going to generally happen. I had a woman call me with a very desperate sound in her voice, and she was convinced that a quilt she had was worth $6,000. Now where she got this figure I have no idea, but I will tell you this.  The appraiser, not the client, sets the value, and it is ALWAYS (if we are ethical) based on fact, not fiction. You can tell me anything about the quilts, and it might make them very interesting, but remember that it is not documented and verified, so I listen carefully, but after that, I have to do my research and come up with what I believe is the correct value for a particular quilt.

I hope everyone is having a good weekend. This year has gone by way too quickly.