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What Type of Appraisal Value Is Needed?

Posted on November 3, 2016 by in Appraisals with Comments Off on What Type of Appraisal Value Is Needed?

Wine Pot, C. 1725, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Appraisals are not simply one size fits most, and need to be customized to fit the specific reason for a written appraisal. Formal appraisals are well-suited for many reasons – those who seek to have values assigned to items they own in order to sell them, those who are seeking valuations for estate purposes or marriage dissolutions, for people who wish to donate items to charity and claim them on their income tax returns (IRS rules dictate single non-cash donated items over $5000 require a written appraisal by a qualified appraiser to accompany form 8283) or for gifted items given with a value over $14,000 (or $28,000 for a married couple). Many people we talk to need valuables assessed for insurance purposes in order to record them on their coverage. Different values apply in each of these cases, and the value conclusions are calculated in different ways.

Estate, donation, and divorce appraisals are calculated using fair market value. The IRS definition of fair market value essentially states that two willing parties agree to transfer ownership of an item, that neither needs to sell or to buy, and that both parties know all relevant facts about an item.  Sound like a perfect world, doesn’t it? And it is absolutely acknowledged to be a ‘best case scenario’ in buying and selling. Most of what we appraise as fair market value is assessed as an auction value (for those types of items that are commonly sold at auctions, both live and online – and if you think about it, if an item has a good description where all relevant facts are presented to a buyer and seller) or a solid price we have seen an item priced at at an estate sale – and observed it sell within a reasonable amount of time. This value would include any buyer’s premium if any comparable sales the value is based upon is a comparable sold at auction.


Sterling bowl c. 1950. A fair market value for this item would be about $450.00, whereas its retail replacement value would be approximately $1200.00.

Market value is the value definition we would use for items appraised for people who come to us wishing to have a price assigned to items they would like to sell. This value differs from fair market value in that it factors in some compulsion to sell. It would not include buyer’s premium if sold at auction, but the value given to an item based upon comparable sales could still be based upon an auction result since there is normally some compulsion to buy and sell present when selling at auction.

Insurance values are calculated using retail replacement cost – which is exactly what it sounds like – the price you could replace an item for in a retail setting. For fine art and furnishings, silver, and jewelry, this would be a high value based upon comparable sales in the retail market. Looking for exact or close comparable sales is what you hope to have for a value conclusion, with tax and any possible shipping and framing factored in. Insurance valuations should be updated every five years – it may be a good time to check those appraisals on your items to make sure they have been done! Foss Appraisal is always available to provide professional valuation services for all of these situations.


Mexican Art and Objects

Posted on November 3, 2016 by in Decorative Arts with Comments Off on Mexican Art and Objects

As appraisers and valuers, it is important for us to know about current trends and developing markets, and to know how to recognize items that may be currently spotlighted for their day in the sun, value-wise. After watching the market for Mexican art and antiques for more than a decade, there appears to have been an interesting very slight surge in certain sectors being more chic among southern California high-end dealers, art dealers in population centers, and mid-20th century design dealers. A few benchmarks were reached in the last years that show the relative strength of Mexican art and antiques.


Mexican 17th c. Archangel, Blackman Cruz auction, Wrigh.

Last year, very high-end Los Angeles dealers Blackman Cruz curated an auction for Wright that highlighted Mexican items alongside their goth take on Western style, and included some very esoteric items like a wide variety of folk art, custom- and artist-made items, leather-clad midcentury chairs from around the globe (including examples by Mexican silversmith/jack-of-all-trades William Spratling) and outlandish decorative items like heavy-framed mirrors and statement lamps, yet it appears that a percentage failed to meet healthy reserves. How interesting to see items like Santos (carved saint figures made throughout the Americas, the Phillipines, Goa, etc.), metates (grinding stones used for millennia) and sculpture fragments from mesoamerica alongside incomparably exotic furniture by mid-20th century master Paul Laszlo and 19th c. Italian Orientalist Carlo Bugatti! Black Cruz’s commitment to skull-form decorative items is a testament to these dealers’ love for that most Mexican of motifs, the calavera. 

Of course, there are famous artists that immediately spring to mind when thinking of Mexico, and many of them have had exhibits and record sales recently. The auction of a major Frida Kahlo painting in New York earlier this year resulted in a record price for the artist, a real feat considering the painting was a more challenging and mystical image. Exhibits in 2015 focusing on Kahlo from unusual angles, (notably as a visitor to Detroit with her husband Diego Rivera for his work on the spectacular mural there and as a cultivator of her private garden at her residence in Mexico, as recreated at the New York Botanical Garden).


Image of Kahlo by Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Image from website of the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum.

Mexican photography and prints by acknowledged masters like Rivera and photographer Manuel Alvarez-Bravo have been in the mainstream for decades (ie. Bravo’s 1997 exhibition at MoMA). Yet attention in the museum field and open market can re-focus easily on forgotten masters like Alvarez Bravo’s wife Lola , whose own work was forgotten for decades until her entire life’s work was discovered in her former residence. Since then, prints have come up at auction. Her profile is bolstered by her photographic portraits of Frida Kahlo, which have realized between $2000-$4000 at auction and in galleries. Respectable, but nowhere near the five-figure results garnered for photos of Kahlo by her husband, who has a more robustly developed market. Both are important not just in the canon of Mexican artists, but in the wider history of art photography.

And there are artists who definitely loomed large in the history of Mexican art that are unknown in America due to their being political/mural artists (Rivera, Siquieros, and Rufino Tamayo, the artists with the highest auction prices of all Mexican artists, were all muralists but saw fit to execute at least part of their oeuvre as easel paintings due to collectors clamoring for portable during their lifetimes). Arguably the most important Mexican artist most have never heard of is an artist named Leopoldo Mendez, the anchor artist of a cooperative of printmakers called the TGP (Taller Graphica Popular – or Popular Graphics Workshop). The TGP felt that art should have a definable sensibility and also depict the sociopolitical realities of what was going on around them. The prints made at the w198314_3130701orkshop were, democratically enough, multiples on paper – media that could be afforded by many.

A small number of Mendez’s works come up at auction each year, and many sell for low prices or are passed without meeting their reserves, even post-2014, after a major TGP retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago. The centerpiece print of the show (entitled “What May Come” – also translates to “What Must Not Be”) is an unflinching look at a country torn apart by WWII-era fascism and undeniably discomfiting to behold, with the eagle of Mexico being attacked by the snake – a reference to the coat of arms of Mexico – and war being waged in Mexico City in the background. Since it is a linchpin image by an artist who specialized in political art, it will always be important historically and is technically valuable (I own a copy of this print and sent an inquiry about sale to a large auction house, who stated they would not have a market for it), but the print’s historical significance may always supersede its nominal value.

Northwest Basketry Identification

Posted on October 31, 2016 by in Decorative Arts with Comments Off on Northwest Basketry Identification

Northwest Coast basketry is as varied as the topography and the natural materials native to the region – from the desert plateaus above the mighty Columbia to the moody Olympic peninsula beaches. From first encounter to current day, the uses and presentation of baskets have remained remarkably consistent and changed drastically with each artist’s novel interpretation of motifs and techniques. If we have baskets from our families going back generations or find one for sale in the open market, it can be tricky work to identify where an item may have come from.

The best knowledge in issues of identification is first-hand knowledge, and being able to closely examine the construction and material of items that are for sale either at auction or in a retail shop would be ideal – though not all of us have time to access the showrooms of reputable dealers and auction previews all the time. Luckily, there are manifold resources in public collections if you live in Seattle –  at institutions like the University of Washington’s Burke Museum and the Seattle Art Museum. The Burke’s online resources make their extensive holdings accessible any time of day or night, and they are the repository for some truly spectacular examples of older work and contemporary baskets as well. Their excellent newer website has searchable collections and a great home page for exploration of all their NW coast baskets.

Makah Basket. Photo: Burke Museum.

One of the most common baskets in the Seattle area are the round, flat-bottomed trinket baskets primarily made by the Makah. Their hallmark is the finely woven body with some restrained decoration in older pieces, and thicker weaving with an interwoven cedar bark bottom that sometimes covers more or less area, possibly depending upon the artistic choice of the weaver and the period in which it was woven (since it is larger on newer baskets, it is a possibility that weavers now spend less time doing difficult weaving at the bottom surface since it is normally unseen when displayed). Notice on the Burke site that the Nuu-chah-nulth weavers make a nearly identical form, and the Quileute also make baskets with linear patterns with figural motifs at the sides, and the differences are very subtle. If you are attempting to identify a basket with this degree of tiny differences, it is best to notice all these different tribal affiliations. 


Interior Salish creel. Photo: Portland Art Museum

The Seattle Art Museum has a photo online of an older, more rare Makah basket of a different shape and a motif that highlights the whaling tradition of the Makah nation (a motif that is seen over time in many Makah baskets, even brand new baskets). Since we live so close to Makah country, a real option for research is traveling to Neah Bay for Makah Days in August and purchasing baskets from contemporary weavers who are selling in addition to looking around in thrift shops and antique stores along the way. The other type of baskets found most often in the Seattle area are generically referred to as Salish baskets  from anywhere around the northwest U.S. to British Columbia; these baskets have very thick weaving and strong geometric decoration. Nearly every auction in the NW that includes Native American material has one Lillooet lidded hamper, and a quick trip to any local antique mall will yield at least one small coastal or interior Salish basket to compare to any you try to identify.  

Foss Appraisal Service is available to answer questions regarding your NW basket collections.

How to Tell if it’s Sterling Silver?

Posted on August 18, 2016 by in Silver with Comments Off on How to Tell if it’s Sterling Silver?

Sterling silver is an alloy of silver containing 92.5% by weight of silver and 7.5% by weight of other metals, usually copper. The sterling silver standard has a minimum millesimal fineness of 925.

Although the origin of the word “sterling” is controversial, there is general agreement that the sterling alloy originated in continental Europe, and was being used for commerce as early as the 12th century in the area that is now northern Germany. (www.wikipedia.org)

Silver plate typically refers to a process of applying a veneer of silver alloy in extremely small (thin) quantities to other metals often copper. One of the most commonly seen types of silver plate is electroplated nickel silver (EPNS).

EPNS was introduced in the 19th century as a considerably cheaper alternative to sterling silver.  In many ways silver plate is sterling what costume jewelry is to fine jewelry.

How to tell the difference between sterling and silver plate:

In America: In the US sterling silver comes in many forms, flatware; knives, forks, spoons etc. Holloware: Vases, teapots, cups etc. Jewelry (both fine and costume), Sculpture, and many other forms.   All of these pieces, if they are sterling silver will be clearly marked with the word “sterling”.  There are makers out there who try to deceive the buyer by marking their wares with confusing symbols trying to give the impression of being sterling.  These pieces usually use a system similar to the British hallmark system with a series of 3-5 small symbols that often will have Old English-style lettering reading EPNS or EP or SP.  The primary rule to remember is if it is American and it does not say “sterling” it is NOT sterling.  Once you have determined it not to be sterling the subtleties of which type of silver plate it might be have very little effect on the market value.

In the UK: In the United Kingdom the history and practice of marking sterling silver goes back hundreds of years.  The practice of accurately marking silver and gold is overseen by the Assayers office.  Each year the assayer assigns a unique symbol to be stamped on the sterling object to differentiate the year of production.  Records of such unique mars date back to the 16th century.

Typical Marks (www.925-1000.com)

A typical set of antique British silver hallmarks showing (left to right); 1.Standard Mark, 2.City Mark, 3.Date Letter, 4.Duty Mark and 5.Maker’s Mark.

This set of marks tells us that this piece was made of Sterling, in the city of London, in the year 1789, during the reign of King George III, by the silversmith Thomas Wallis.

The rest of the world: The marking practicing for the rest of the world can vary greatly and can often be confusing if not read properly.  We recommend contacting a professional silver appraiser if you have any questions.

Foss Appraisal would be happy to assist any readers with identification of silver marks.