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RINKER ON COLLECTIBLES—Column #1126

by Marc (12/10/08).

What Do I Do When I Cannot Afford An Appraiser?—Part II

Researching the value of an object on your own is a three- or four-step process: (1) authenticating the object, (2) determining the value you want to research, (3) doing price research and (4) consulting a professional appraiser if the value you find exceeds $500. A previous column (#1124) outlined the authenticating process. You need to know what you have to accurately research its value.

There is no fixed value in the antiques-and-collectibles field. Value is determined by time, place and circumstances. This is a tired refrain, but it bears repeating.

What are you planning to do with your object—keep or sell it? If you are keeping it, you want to find its replacement value. Replacement value is the retail price you would pay to buy an object that is identical to the one you own. It sounds simple, but it is not. Assume you are replacing a dinner plate from a china service and found identical examples on eBay, an Internet storefront and from a replacement service. All three values will be different, and the difference may be a multiple of five times or more. Which is the right price? They all are. The immediate needs of the buyer determine which price applies. The inexperienced price researcher favors the highest of the three. While obviously it has the greatest appeal, it is not always the best answer. Should the three prices be averaged to obtain a valid replacement price? The answer is no. The researcher has to consider the most likely source to which an average customer would turn to acquire the piece.

Determining replacement value

Historically, replacement value was the retail price asked by a dealer at an antiques show or at an antiques-and-collectibles mall. The difficulty is that this value is often negotiated downward, especially in the current economy. As more and more collecting categories on eBay are reaching price stabilization, i.e., identical goods selling in a narrow price range, eBay is becoming a better source to determine replacement value. The researcher must examine several months of eBay data. One month’s data is not sufficient.

If your goal is to sell your object, the price varies depending on sale venue. The traditional sale venues are auction, dealer, garage sale, flea market, Internet (eBay) and private. Research the potential value in all six categories. All have hidden costs, not the least of which is your time and expenses. Do not ignore them. Auctioneers charge a commission to sell objects. The hammer price includes this commission, which is deducted when the seller is paid.

A dealer has to buy at 25 to 30 cents on the retail dollar to maintain a profit margin that allows him to remain in business. The trade-off is a quick sale and cash in hand. While you keep all the monies received in a garage-sale transaction, your return is reduced. Garage-sale shoppers are 10 to 20 cents on the dollar buyers. Flea-market costs are low, but the sell-through rate is low unless you offer your items at 50 cents or less on the dollar.

Understand all fees

eBay fees are rising. Note the plural. The listing fee is only the start. Internet sellers should have a thorough understanding of all fees before pursuing this approach. Private buyers will pay the highest amount provided what you have is what they want. However, private buyers are often advanced collectors. The list of what they want is relatively small. There is a 90-percent chance or greater that a private collector already owns the object you are offering. Further, finding a private buyer is a time-consuming and difficult process.

Valuing an antique or collectible is a complex process. It becomes even more complicated when condition is factored into the equation. When searching for identical objects or comparables (very similar objects when the exact object is not found), the condition of the object you are researching must match the condition of the object you own.

Antiques-and-collectibles price guides are usually the first price-researching tool consulted. Others sources include auction catalogs, Internet pricing, field research and “expert” opinion. The more sources you check, the more accurate your price valuation will be.

Check price guides’ condition criteria

Before consulting the listings and values in any antiques-and-collectibles price guide, read the front matter, paying close attention to the condition criteria assigned to the values. If the price guide provides a single value, it most likely is for a complete object in near-mint condition. This provides the highest price possible. High values sell price guides. In reality, these are “dream” prices, i.e., the only place you will get them is in your wildest dreams. Less than 5 percent of surviving objects are in near-mint condition or better. Not surprisingly, the front matter normally does not tell how to adjust the “book” value downward when an object’s condition falters. Price guides prefer a good-news, rather than bad-news approach.

When a price guide contains multiple prices, the lowest value is C6 (very good) and the highest C10 (near mint or mint). Again, less than one-third of surviving objects meet the C6 grade. The minimum requirement for C6 is a complete object with no visible surface damage when held at arm’s length. Do not forget to keep your glasses on when making this condition judgment.

Price-guide prices are not absolutes. They are guides, just as their name implies. In reality, their values are high and not as reflective of the buy/sell marketplace as their authors would have users believe. Price-guide authors are biased. They are in love with the collecting category, either as collectors or dealers.

Comparison shop price-guide prices

All price-guide prices need to be field checked, first at flea markets, antiques malls and shows, and then on the Internet. The goal is to identify a percentage by which the prices need to be reduced to obtain a more realistic retail value. In some cases, the percentage will be small, less than 10 percent. I applaud those price-guide authors whose prices fall within this percentage. Alas, there are some price guides, e.g., the Hummel price guides, where the deduction is closer to two-thirds to three-quarters of the listed value. The authors deserve your contempt. They already have mine.

Collecting has become more specialized and sophisticated during the past two decades. The auction community has followed suit. Specialized auctions ranging from majolica to toy soldiers are commonplace. These specialized auction catalogs have replaced price guides as the primary value-research source for these categories. Once again, prices need to be analyzed and understood. Who was the final buyer? If the buyer is a dealer, then the value is low. The dealer will mark up the items he bought when reselling them. If the buyer is a collector, determine the amount of competition. Did two rival buyers lock horns and drive the final price into the stratosphere? One auction’s results are not enough to establish a pricing trend. Ideally, research should be done with catalogs covering three years or more.

The Internet offers the quickest price-researching tool. Again, all values need to be interpreted. If the information comes from a dealer’s Internet storefront, what is his discount policy? If the information is from an auction site, how long a period does the pricing data cover?

Field research is time intensive. Select those venues from flea markets to antiques malls and shows that are most likely to offer an object identical to the one you own. Carry a picture with you for comparison purposes. List price is not always final sale price, albeit it is close.

When it comes to “experts,” caveat emptor

Antiques-and-collectibles experts are a dime a dozen. Be careful who you believe. Far too many “experts” tell you what you want to hear to make you feel good as opposed to the truth. Double- and triple-check all opinions, mine included.

The most difficult aspect of pricing research is accepting the truth that the object you are researching is not worth as much as you thought it would be. Shattered dreams are not fun. Yet, they are an integral part of the antiques-and-collectibles business.

Once in a while, the research story ends differently. When it does, take the final step, and have a professional appraiser confirm your findings. Share the research you have done with him. It will save the appraiser time, thus reducing your fee.

Finally, do not forget to take time to learn about the object as you are doing price research. Objects become alive as you learn more about them.


Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.

You can listen and participate in “WHATCHA GOT?,” Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT?” streams live and is archived on the Internet.

“SELL, KEEP OR TOSS? HOW TO DOWNSIZE A HOME, SETTLE AN ESTATE, AND APPRAISE PERSONAL PROPERTY” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web Site.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected letters will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5093 Vera Cruz Road, Emmaus, PA 18049. You also can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.com.

WorthPoint—Get the Most from Your Antiques & Collectibles

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