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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

The value of antiques such as old furniture, crockery, paintings and jewelry can vary enormously. There are well documented cases of people buying an old plate for a few dollars or pounds at a garage sale and later discovering it’s a rare 200 year old item worth many thousands. If you have an old cherished piece of furniture or other item in the family, or a more recently acquitted item you think could be valuable, it’s a good idea to get an appraisal done. This applies even if you’re not planning to sell it. You might simply want to insure it, as valuable antiques are not usually included in normal household insurance policies. Other reasons to get antiques appraised are for estate tax purposes, damage claims, donation and marriage dissolution.

Perhaps the most important thing to do when you want to appraise an antique is to get a valuation from more than one appraiser. At least three appraisals should be sought. That way, you are less likely to become the victim of a rip-off merchant who is simply trying to get themselves a bargain at your expense. Next day, this person could be selling the item to an antique dealer for several times the amount you were paid. But keep in mind that quotes for an antique have been known to vary by as much as sevenfold.

Do your research into appraisers. Ring them up, visit their premises, and check their website. Anyone can call themselves an antiques appraiser as there are no licensing laws governing this occupation.You could make sure the appraisers are accredited under the American Society of Appraisers (www.appraisers.org). You can then be reasonably assured the appraiser knows what he or she is talking about, and also won’t be underhanded. They have a section on their website called “Find an Appraisal Expert”. You can use it to search outside the US too. Their appraisers specialise in six disciplines. Those relevant to antiques mainly include personal property, and gems and jewelry. The ASA has specialists in areas such as antique furniture, glass and firearms, as well as in musical instruments, books, clocks and so on. Accredited appraisers need two years of appraisal experience. An accredited senior appraiser needs five years experience.

You can do other web searches to find appraisers. I just typed in the words “antique” “appraisers” and “Brisbane” (my home town) into my search bar and found a number of relevant sites. Your bank or solicitor can perhaps recommend qualified antique appraisers. The Yellow Pages is also a good place to find appraisers. Once you have found some suitable appraisers, carefully put your antique items into your car and take them to each appraiser. Get a valuation in writing if you can. Appraisers should be able to give you more details about an item than just price, such as age, style, history, perhaps who made it, and how to care for it. Be aware there are different prices such as fair market value and insurance value, the latter usually being higher. If you sell to a dealer who then sells to a final buyer, you will get far less than if you sell independently or by auction. A dealer needs to meet his costs, and the mark-up is often high. It’s a good idea not to sell to an appraiser for this same reason.

If you live in an area visited by a television show that appraises antiques, this would be an excellent option. These shows use the best and most experienced appraisers. In the United Kingdom, the Antiques Roadshow has been touring the country since 1979. Local residents bring in their antiques of all descriptions for appraisal. Approximate valuations are given on air. An American version of the show, under the same name, has been operating since 1997. Similar programs are or have been seen in Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, and Sweden.

While it is best to have an appraiser see and handle the item, there are many online services offering antique appraisals these days. Getting an appraisal done can be expensive, with many appraisers charging large sums by the hour. Online appraisals are cheaper, usually costing from about $10 to $30 per item. Sometimes a collection can be valued online. This obviously costs more but is still cheaper than in-person appraisals. To obtain an online appraisal, you will need to fill in details of the item online and include photos. Make sure the photos are good quality and include all angles.

The main disadvantage of online appraisals is that the appraiser doesn’t actually see the items live and may miss important aspects of the piece just from photos. While you can talk to a live appraiser and ask questions, you don’t always know what you’re going to get online. You might get little more than a valuation, without additional details about the history of the piece. An advantage with online services of course is that you can use them any time of day or night and don’t have to wait until Monday morning and spend half an hour driving to an appraiser’s premises. Most online services offer quick turnaround. Try and check the credentials of any online appraiser. There might be something on their website, and you could check if they are a member of the American Society of Appraisers.

Whether you use appraisers who are online or in person is up to each individual and their circumstances. Some antiques experts advise against online appraisals, saying an item can’t be valued properly from photos. Others say online appraisals can be a useful tool. Whether you go one way or the other, or use both methods, the important thing is to get your antiques valued so that you at least have an idea how much to insure them for against loss, damage, theft or fire.