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How Much Does the Previous Owner Impact the Value of an Antique or Collectible?

by Mike Wilcox (06/08/09).

With appraisal work, no one aspect affects value in the short term more for an antique or collectible than an iron-clad provenance. Even the most mundane items can have huge variances in value depending on prior ownership.

Items such as a Tiffany’s ladies’ tape measure—which now retails for about $225—can be worth $48,875, or a $250 gold-plated cigarette lighter can bring in $23,000, while a $95 stereoscope can demand $9975.00. The catch is, of course, that they are only worth these amounts if owned by the late Jackie Onassis or Andy Warhol.

A Tiffany’s silver ladies tape measure sells for about $225. But the one owned by Jackie Onassis brought close to $50,000. The difference, or course, is the fact that she owned that particular item, making it much more valuable than any other of its kind.

A Tiffany’s silver ladies tape measure sells for about $225. But the one owned by Jackie Onassis brought close to $50,000. The difference, or course, is the fact that she owned that particular item, making it much more valuable than any other of its kind.

Not even the usual reasons for value, such as rarity or famous maker can top prior ownership to famous or infamous. How much of a difference such a provenance can make to any item is a mystery, even the most knowledgeable appraisers in the world who work for noted auction houses such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s can only offer estimates based on what comparable items with less famous owners (you and me) have sold for in recent years.

In the case of the “Jackie O Auction,” many items surpassed their estimates by a large margin; to the extent the total sales exceeded estimates by 750 percent. The Andy Warhol sale, stuffed with items such as figural cookie jars and Fiesta Ware, more than doubled its presale estimates at nearly $30 million dollars.

As fame is fleeting, it’s unlikely these everyday items will maintain the values they sold for at such high profile sales. One only has to look back at past celebrity sales and compare the prices knocked down by the auctioneer at the original sale with auctions years later of the same celebrities everyday knick-knacks. After a while, even the most famous media darlings are slowly forgotten and interest wanes in their former possessions. But it’s nice to know that the rich and famous often have similar tastes as the rest of us.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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