Expert Appraisers Miss ‘Great Find’ Hiding in Plain Sight

Will Seippel, the founder, CEO and president of WorthPoint, recently discovered a pair of these 18th-century Sevres end pieces at an estate sale after many people passed them over, including a pair of expert appraisers, who tagged them at $125 each. Their true value is much, much more.

Will Seippel, the founder, CEO and president of WorthPoint, recently discovered a pair of these 18th-century Sevres end pieces at an estate sale after many people passed them over, including a pair of expert appraisers, who tagged them at $125 each. Their true value is much, much more.

Just as the everyday collector hopes to come across a Great Find—an item bypassed by many, purchased for a pittance and worth thousands—experts can miss a valuable item staring them in the face.

Will Seippel, the founder, CEO and president of WorthPoint, recently had such an experience.

Will wanted to attend a private estate sale in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta, but circumstances—in this case a late flight back from Ohio—had delayed his arriving at the sale. By the time he got there, there were only minutes left before it closed for the day at 5 p.m.

“I thought I could get them to apply their second-day 50-percent-off discount early, if I found anything,” Will said.

But after briefly talking with the organizers of the sale, Will had learned that most of the estate’s pieces had been sold ealier in the day, prior to his arrival. Additionally, the sales company had hired two appraisers to help evaluate prices before the sale. So, he thought, finding anything worthwhile was going to be a longshot.

Still, Will decided to look over what was left. His eyes were immediately drawn to a pair of white porcelain pieces—each with four cherubs surrounding a pillar holding up a low bowl. He looked at the tags: $125 each.

He picked one up and turned it over: “I thought I recognized the mark on the bottom and knew immediately I had something.”

The pieces were early porcelain, 18th-century French, Will thought, judging by the irregular salt-glazed finish. They were also made in pieces and then combined into the final piece, as the “technology” did not exist in the early 1700’s to mold such intricate and large pieces in one mold.

A mark and the iron assembly helped to determine the identity of this circa 1740 Sevres end piece.

A mark and the iron assembly helped to determine the identity of this circa 1740 Sevres end piece.

“They were also sophisticated in the detail and that the floral decoration is usually indicative of Meissen porcelain of the period, but the puttis/cherubs were typically French,” Will said. “The square iron bolts holding them together also dated them.”

What he had found, hiding in plain sight from all the experts and experienced buyers all day long, Will decided, were Sevres porcelain end pieces.

Still, he stood there for a few moments, blinking, because he couldn’t believe what he was holding.

Well, it was time to buy. Since it was 5 p.m. and the end of the first day sale, Will asked the persons conducting the sale to give him second-day pricing to save a trip back the next morning, and possibly waiting in line. He ended up with a very good deal, if not a textbook “Great Find.”

The sophisticated in the detail and that the floral decoration is usually indicative of Meissen porcelain of the period, but the puttis/cherubs are typically French.

The sophistication in the detail and that the floral decoration is usually indicative of Meissen porcelain of the period, but the puttis/cherubs are typically French.

After getting his buy home, he called Thom Pattie, WorthPoint’s chief Worthologist, who, looking at photos send via e-mail, confirmed that Will had indeed made a good buy: the pieces were marked in an early Sevres mark and were made about 1740.

Wow, a pair of Sevres end pieces in great condition, acquired at a steal at $100, that are easily worth $1,000 to $3,000 each. This story only goes to show that when on the hunt for a Great Find, don’t disregard an item just because an “expert” passed on it.

Gregory Watkins is the editor of WorthPoint.com.

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No Comments

  1. Gary says:

    Really a nice find and he ask for a discount on a set of porcelain pieces that were already severely under priced. What stopped him from paying the asking price when he knew he would/could make at least 20 times his investment. I know it’s evident to everyone that reads the story “greed” most likely took over.
    Respectfully Gary R. Smith CAGA

  2. Betty Ruis says:

    I agree with Gary. This is greed, pure and simple. Makes you wonder if you’d be taken for a ride with an “expert appraiser” by the “worthologist”. Especially since this was the CEO & founder of Worthpoint.
    Sure doesn’t say much about his integrity.

  3. Mary says:

    Not sure if I can comment here as I have linked to this website through kovels.com only.
    I have sold at antique malls and shows, nothing keeps a dealer for asking for a further discount or taking the added dealer discount if available on anything that they buy. The buyer of the Sevres pieces did not know for certain what he had. He could have very well been mistaken and even have overpaid had the items been other than Sevres. Many a bought piece has been found to have damage and repairs not seen until after the buy. A buyer must not pay too much for items or into a hole they will go.
    As a seller I would have given the man the next day pricing, fearing that the items might not sell at all had I waited. Occasionally, I may detect some excitement and hold my ground, glad to see them arrive back later to pay the orginal price. But I do remember the sale not made, if the piece goes unsold for long.

  4. C. Mire says:

    The price of something is what one is willing to sell for and a buyer is willing to pay. Value is something different altogether. If they were willing to drop the price, then why not? Greed has nothing to do with it. Everyone dickers on price. What the heck do you think happens at auctions? Would you pay more for peaches at one grocery when you knew the higher price was being charged at another store? Of course not.

    Mr. Watkins – well done!

  5. tom curb says:

    Evidently Gary does not understand/have the soul of a trader. I once had a friend pull six grey iron soldiers out of his pocket. At the time they were worth 8 to 15 dollars each. When I asked where he got them, he said at a garage sale. Taking them to the owner, he had asked, “How much?” The reply was a nickle each. His counter, “Take a quarter for all of them?” The reply, “Sure.”

    I laughed, and he said, “I just had to try.” I understood -It’s not a “greed” issue – no true trader ever wants to lose his edge.

  6. Michael W. Batson says:

    Bizzness is bizzness

  7. J. Linville says:

    I conduct Estate Tag Sales for one of the banks in our town and have been doing this for about 10 years. You can’t possibly get every item priced right everytime, you will overlook something in the rush to get everything ready and I usually know when something I have priced modestly flies out of the sale during the first hectic 30 minutes. Like the sellers in this case if this was the end of the first day I would have wondered if they would sell on the second day or be left for goodwill. You just have to be thankful if you are the buyer and if you are the seller promise yourself to look more closely the next time. Judy

  8. I don’t see how greed enters into this.
    the buyer took a considered chance, and the seller was happy to apply the discount.

    Others have commented on how it affects their view of a “worthologist” — again very mistaken.

    As a buyer you have one responsibility – to purchase at the lowest or most reasonable cost you can find for resale.

    As an appraiser your responsibility has shifted to representing the best interests of your client.

    As an appraiser/buyer, your responsibility is to give your customer the best reasonable estimate of the real value of their item, and as buyer/appraiser you must clearly state that you will pay x% of that value to purchase immediately for resale.

    That’s it, no greed involved in any of these proceudres. It is just business. Greed can only interject itself if you actually MISREPRESENT the item, or it’s value intentionally.

    Doesn’t sound like that was done in this case.

  9. C. Isaacs says:

    The last moving sale I was at (at closing time, the last day), I saw an old chest of drawers I liked, and I asked the price. He said “five bucks”. I said, “no, no, no!” He looked at me oddly, and said “is that . . . ahh . . . too little?” I replied, “way too little!” So he said “how about $25?”–which I gladly paid. And so I carted away a pine chest with hand-cut dovetails and old square nails visible in the inside corners of the slides, which I discovered after I got it home. I also found an old pencil inscription on the inside giving the provenance and dating it to the mid 1800’s. I got a great buy, and I felt a little better about it than I would have if I’d bought it for $5.

  10. Mark says:

    Congrats Will, This sort of thing happens all the time. Imagine what bargains there were at the start of the sale! Or even the night before when some estate appraisers let their cronies in early to buy.

    Normally, the estate tag sale operators have 1-2 maybe even 5 people appraising and tagging items in preparation for a sale. There are not 5 people in the world who know everything about all valuable antiques, there are however people with a good instinct and the knowledge to ask a specialist for an opinion. Besides, if every appraiser priced everthing up to it’s full value or even close …they would not have many people coming to their sales.

    A note to Gary Smith and Betty Ruis who posted on this subject. Normally I would agree with you …if someone knows for certain an item they are purchasing was a steal, it would not be very ethical (greedy) to ask for a discount.

    …better to pay cash anonymously and duck out real quick …or be sued for taking advantage. LOL

    But this was certainly not the case here. If Gary and Betty had read the story thoughtfully instead of jumping to a quick vindictive conclusion, they would have noticed Will “thought” the items were 18th century and did not know the mark was Sevres. His first guess was Meissen and had that been the case, since they had no color or great detail as a good Meissen piece should, the value would be much less. For all he knew, they were Victorian or later fakes. One more point, if Will knew they were worth 20 times what he paid why would he have had to ask Mr. Pattie?

    One more point, antiques prices as of late have been falling, many reserved antique auction items are going unsold and other are being sold at price half of what they would have just 2 years ago. This is true for the more common and collectible antiques. Some of the rarest items in excellent condition remain strong but the antiques market is certainly readjusting itself.

    I’ve been to at least a thousand estate sales in my life (some humdingers in Atlanta) and know how it works. There are no returns and had they been fakes or otherwise worth less than he paid… he would eat it.

    Most of these sales are run “certified” appraisers and a members of some association, federation or guild of some type. Each requires going to a few seminars, classes or some minimal schooling to learn how to fill out appraisal forms and the like. You pay your money, get your fancy certificate and then (if you state requires one) a license. Thats is not to say licensed appraisers do not know antiques because there are some extremely competent ones. Those usually are the ones “with a good instinct and the knowledge to ask a specialist for an opinion”.

    Appraising antiques is not an easy business, yet it very easy to get a license or certification. Most appraisal schools teach the basic law and pencil work of the appraisal biz and comparitively little of item they appraise. I compare that to teaching a surgeon how to make out a bill for the patient and the hospital rules, but not showing how to repair or replace an organ! The best appraisers have established a large network of specialists who assist them in identification and valuation of articles. Even auction results cannot be trusted a some auctioneers report items as sold when in truth they have been bought in. It takes a knowledgeable specialist to see past the smoke screen and come up with realistic values.

    Here’s a true story…

    A long time ago in a place not to far away (New Jersey), an antiques dealer was called to the home of a sweet little old lady. In her basement was this very old grandfather clock in need of some minor repairs. She said to the gentleman “it was here when I bought the house years ago and I don’t want it anymore”. So the dealer asked “how much do you want for it” to which the lady replied “Five Hundred Dollars”. So the dealer took out his flashlight and inspected the clock very carefully, and finally said “well Mam, your clock is very nice, in fact much nicer than the $500 you are asking for it. I want to be fair with you, so I’ll pay you $2,500 for it”. The woman gasp and her head sunk low. After a moment she looked up and said “No, no I’m going to keep it, the clock is no longer for sale. She thanked the dealer and showed him to the door.

  11. Gregory Watkins says:

    Just to clarify a question Betty asked, namely: Makes you wonder if you’d be taken for a ride with an “expert appraiser” by the “Worthologist.”

    When you engage a Worthologist through WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service, you are hiring a professional who is pledged to provide an unbiased, expert opinion of a collectible or antique, including an estimated range of its fair market value. We are working for you. Furthermore, the Worthologist, and any member of WorthPoint, for that matter, is contractually banned from making an offer to buy the item. This assures that there will be no low-balling on the value in an effort to make an easy score at the expense of the customer.

    • Debi says:

      I know very little about the true value of antiques. When you mentioned…”Furthermore, the Worthologist, and any member of WorthPoint, for that matter, is contractually banned from making an offer to buy the item…” does that really matter? Who is to say they don’t have a friend or family member buy it at the beginning of sale? It is done with undervalued real estate & in other fields. I always tell people to make offers not to ever pay asking prices as we are all aware of mark-up. I think it says so much as to the integrity we where raised with. Sadly in today’s society so much has changed, not for the good either.

  12. As a Worthologist, I would like to echo Greg’s comment above, which I was just about to post myself. Worthologists are not allowed, by contract, to buy any of the items they are asked to appraise.

    Worthologists know their reputations are at stake when they are valuing antiques and collectibles, so quite a bit of background research goes into each opinion. The valuations are not only based on years of experience but also on historical data – including prices realized from recent auctions, catalogs, antique stores and the like.

    We enjoy doing evaluations and strive to provide comprehensive background material and very accurate estimates. It’s always fun to share information about vintage items. And I’m totally delighted when I can tell an owner that he owns a hidden treasure!

  13. V Smith says:

    As a professional appraiser, the problem here is really for the appraisers. They did not exercise due diligence. They did not research the item. With a modest amount of due diligence they would have compiled enough information to realize that what these items were and what they were worth. They would have realized the items should not have been offered at an estate sale. Furthermore, if the previous owner discovers that pieces were sold for nothing considering the real FMV then they could sue the appraiser and the appraiser could be penalized and his certification revoked.

    Also, it has not been discussed as to the professional status of the appraisers. People can call themselves appraisers;however, one should always check their credentials and level of expertise and experience appraising items they are being hired to evaluate. Appraisers who have studied, passed tests and received accreditation through one of three major appraisal organizations are professionals. They have invested time and money to prepare themselves for the job.

    If the estate sale manager did not hire professionals then the problem of liability becomes theirs.

    Moral of the story, make sure you are dealing with professionals.