Thursday, May 31, 2018

Announcing ISA's Private Client Services Program

Christine Guernsey, ISA CAPP
In the beginning of my appraisal career, I marketed to the general public. Marketing to such a broad audience was time-consuming, expensive, and not always fruitful. The clients I attracted usually needed an appraisal for a particular function and one time only. After every assignment I would need to begin marketing again for my next assignment.

I soon discovered that developing "clients who had clients" was the most efficient way to build my business. The professional service providers whose clients needed appraisals could and would refer me to many of their clients. This began my appraisal practice's marketing strategy of concentrating on large collections and working solely with the various gate keepers who specialize in the high-net-worth individuals market.

High-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) are considered those whose financial investments are in excess of one million dollars. In 2016, there were over four million of these individuals in the US alone. Their collections of antiques, fine art, decorative arts, and collectibles may comprise a significant part of their assets. Procuring, investing, protecting, and maintaining their collections requires a team of highly-trained professionals who work exclusively with this group to help meet their specialized needs. Developing long-term relationships with museums, curators, art and object shippers and handlers, private dealers and consultants, estate attorneys, lawyers, bankers, insurance companies, and charitable foundations, among others, are excellent sources for repeat referrals. As you work closely and regularly with these professionals, an appraiser learns exactly what they need and expect to best serve their clients.

This July 13 and 14, the International Society of Appraisers will present its inaugural ISA Private Client Services program, "Appraising in the World of High-Net-Worth Individuals," at UBS, Legacy, Plano, TX and as a live stream. This new ISA marketing program will provide appraisers who wish to become involved with this sector with an inside look as to who these private client professionals are, why and when they hire personal property appraisers, and what types of appraisal reports and valuations they require from appraisers to best service their clients. Those who attend this program, either in person or streamed live, will gain valuable information on how to market to this group, which they can universally use in their own markets and practices.

Register for this two-day seminar, "Appraising in the World of High-Net-Worth Individuals" in Plano, Texas or as a live-streamed course

Toro Quieto (Calm Bull), Tom Lea
The Bryan Museum
The opening presentation, "Starting Points: The Collection," features J.P. Bryan, a prolific, lifelong collector of western history, artifacts and art. His eclectic collection of over 70,000 objects led to the creation of the Bryan Museum in Galveston, Texas in 2015. Mr. Bryan will share his personal story of collecting, discuss which private client service providers helped him to develop and maintain his collection, and what factors led him to create a museum to house his vast collection. The Director of the Bryan Museum, Joan Marshall, will join Mr. Bryan in what promises to be a very engaging and informative presentation.

The presentations in this two day seminar will include a close look at which professions work most closely with HNW market. Friday's presentations focus on personal property collections and their procurement and management. Saturday's presentations deal with the business side of maintaining and protecting the future of collections, estates and taxes, loans, investing and charitable giving.

View the full course program

The July 13-14 seminar "Appraising in the World of High-Net-Worth Individuals" is part of a larger marketing program, ISA Private Client Services, which ISA has been developing to help our members learn best practices and promote their services to the HNW sector. Completion of this seminar along with other criteria will allow our interested ISA members to apply to the program and be promoted as an affiliate of the ISA Private Client Services Division. More details on this program will be announced July 13.

This seminar is open to all ISA members. Whether you intend to apply to the ISA Private Client Services program or not, you are still welcome to take this marketing course.

Explore the Legacy West area this summer
I hope I will see you in Plano this July, or tuned into our live stream. In addition to a fantastic learning experience, The Legacy area is a very cool and fun spot to spend a couple of days with plenty of great restaurants, shopping, and entertainment all within close walking distance. The on-site class is limited to 30 participants, so sign up quickly as the seminar is filling up fast!

Can't make the trip to Plano, Texas? You'll still be able to participate in our seminar! Register for the live stream and join us for the course as it happens from the comfort of your home or office.

Christine Guernsey, ISA CAPP, is recent past president of ISA and currently serving on the ISA Board of Directors. She appraises all areas of American paintings, works on paper, sculpture, and outdoor sculpture, specializing in 19th and 20th centuries.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Ask an Instructor: Using Comparables

ISA members are invited to send in their questions on all things appraising and education to ISA's instructors. One of ISA's instructors will share answers on the ISA Now Blog. Please send questions to

Question: If I have more than one item in my appraisal that are similar in nature, can I use the same comparables for each of the items?

Answer: The answer is yes, if the comparables are indeed applicable to both items. For example, I have a client who likes to purchase two prints from the same edition for his collection. As such, when I'm appraising the works for fair market value, I include the same comparables for each print when the two are in the same condition. If the prints were not in the same condition, then I would not necessarily use the same comparables for each of the prints. If one had a condition issue, then I would first look for a comparable with a similar condition issue as the best direct comparable. If comparables of damaged prints were unavailable, then I would use the same comparable of one in good condition and then explain my reasoning of why I'm discounting the value of the damaged print.
- Meredith Meuwly, ISA CAPP
Director of Education

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Appraiser, the Umpire, and USPAP

Cathy Peters, ISA CAPP
If you appraise personal property long enough, you will come across an assignment for a damage claim that will require you to choose a mediator, also known as an umpire. It took me 17 years of appraising to come across this situation. When it did develop in my own appraisal practice, it seemed contrary to the conduct requirements in the Ethics Rule of USPAP. I would like to pass on a few thoughts to consider in navigating unfamiliar waters of these type of insurance claim settlements.

Some homeowner's insurance policies contain a clause that requires an umpire be employed when a homeowner and insurance provider disagree on the settlement for a damage claim. The umpire decides value loss and offers it to the homeowner as an alternative and prior to an owner filing a lawsuit against the insurance company. Before this step, however, an appraisal report from two appraisers is required: one from an appraiser the insurance company hired and the second from an appraiser hired by the property owner. If the two reports are not in agreement, the hired appraisers must meet to negotiate a mutually agreed upon sum. If an agreement cannot be reached, the appraisers have to agree to bring in a third appraiser to act as umpire. The umpire will look at both appraisal reports, talk to each appraiser as they feel necessary, and choose one of the value conclusions as the definitive value or, alternatively, develop their own value conclusion.

In my situation, the appraiser for the insurance company (I'll call him Joe) was not a USPAP compliant appraiser. In fact, he was not an appraiser at all, although at one time Joe had some appraisal training. His company primarily worked for insurance companies in exhibition transportation and adjusting, but Joe had the power to negotiate on his client's behalf. I, on the other hand, did not feel I could responsibly negotiate for my client. I felt it would require bias on my part and be contrary to USPAP. The conduct clause of the Ethics Rule specifically states that an appraiser must "not advocate the cause or interest of any party or issue." I did believe, however, that I could defend and stand by the value conclusions that I reached through research and due diligence. We met, the opposing appraiser felt my conclusions were too high (his were based on auction results), and we left in disagreement. Per the insurance clause, the next step was to bring in an umpire.

I provided Joe with three names of appraisers. Joe was to pick one or offer another candidate as an alternative. It was important to me that the people I submitted be experienced with the type of art that was the subject of contention, that they were appraisers who were known experts in appraisal methodology, and they wrote USPAP compliant reports. I sent Joe the résumés of the three I chose, and he agreed with one of them.

During the course of the next three months, I spoke to the umpire several times, submitted additional sales support of comparable property that had appeared since submitting my initial report, and repeatedly talked to dealers to answer questions that the umpire posed and had not been previously answered. I never spoke to Joe again. Although asked many times to take off my "appraiser hat" and put on my "negotiator" hat, I did not feel I could do so. First, my client was extremely knowledgeable about this particular genre of art and would not give me the power to act on his behalf. But more importantly, I felt that I could not keep my objectivity as an appraiser if I were to advocate for my client, even after I submitted my report. In the end, I stood on my value conclusions, the umpire reached their own conclusions that were slightly less than my estimated replacement costs but much higher than Joe's initial stated values. My client was satisfied and that was the end.

To this day, however, the clause bothers me. The situation is contrary to what I teach in USPAP. How can I negotiate a settlement with another appraiser and still remain unbiased, objective, and impartial? Being an umpire is not an issue. The job would be very similar to conducting an appraisal review, with perhaps conducting an independent appraisal assignment for value conclusions as well.

What about applying the Jurisdictional Exception Rule to act as an advocate for the client? That will not work because using an umpire is a policy choice of the company. It has nothing to do with laws or regulations that contradict sections of USPAP to which the Jurisdictional Exception Rule applies.

This year I came across a small footnote while teaching the 7 Hour 2018-2019 edition of USPAP. For those of you who have the student manual, it is on page 45. Under "Advocacy" in the chart entitled "Yes, I Can Accept That Assignment..." USPAP says that an appraiser can be an advocate and gives an example of representing one party in a court proceeding. However, there is a footnote. The footnote reads, "An individual may provide services as an advocate, or as an appraiser (one who expected to perform in a manner that is independent, impartial, and objective); however, one cannot act in both roles in the same assignment. When acting as an advocate, the individual must not misrepresent his or her role." (Conduct section of USPAP Ethics Rule and Advisory Opinion 21.)

In conclusion, remember that your role as an appraiser is to provide an unbiased opinion of value that is supported by facts. As an appraiser, you could be hired as an advocate, but USPAP states that you may not act as both an appraiser and an advocate in the same assignment.

Cathy Peters, ISA CAPP, has been a member of ISA since 1999. She specializes in appraisals of fine art and is based in Naperville, Illinois.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Looking at Buddha

Daphne Lange Rosenzweig,

Buddha = an awakened one (one who has achieved enlightenment)

Appraisers frequently encounter Buddhist art works in every form, from goldfish tank ornaments and modern cast concrete potbellied garden statues, to museum-quality textiles, paintings, and sculptures. The current Buddhist art market is very active, rising rapidly for extraordinary works, and with a constant presence for lesser works on eBay. Identifying when a work is Buddhist, judging its quality, and assigning a value estimate can be difficult. This brief article is designed to help appraisers understand these challenges.

Describing a Buddha

Buddhism is an extremely complex religion, born over 2,500 years ago in what is now southern Nepal, nourished in north India, then split into various schools and developing into today's active international Buddhist community.

Just as in the early centuries of Christian art, initially, the Historical Buddha (Sakyamuni, born as Prince Siddhartha) was not depicted figurally, but rather with scenes or attributes associated with the primary image ("aniconic" art). As centuries following the venerated figure's lifetime and people's spiritual and philosophic needs from religious art altered, the Buddha himself began to be portrayed ("iconic art"). The anonymous sculptors and painters needed to somehow indicate that this was not an ordinary person being represented but a figure of spiritually elevated status, a holy image.

For this reason, 32 major and 80 minor signs of a Buddha ("lakshanas") are assigned to this image, none of which would be possessed by a normal human being. For presentation purposes, the list is usually winnowed down to a few which are instantly recognizable as signs indicating that this image represents a Buddha.

A Tibetan Carved Blackstone Stele of
Shakyamuni Buddha, 10th century. Source

Generic indications of the Buddha body include:
  • Gold body
  • Elongated ear lobes (from his former life as a prince, bedecked with heavy earrings, not a lakshana, but a universal attribute)
  • A compound body with elephant trunk style arms, antelope-shaped thighs, lion chest, and elongated fingers
  • 3 circles in the neck (3 stages of enlightenment)
  • A protuberance on the skull ("ushnisha") indicating advanced spiritual knowledge
  • A tuft of hair or raised circle on the forehead ("urna")
In addition to these common features, there may be other visual signs associated with a Buddha:
  • Meaningful hand gestures ("mudras")
  • Meaningful leg positions ("asanas")
  • Attributes (hand-held objects or other objects accompanying specific figures)
  • Accompanying personnel (including high-ranking Buddhist figures, guardians, monks, animals, donors, etc.)
  • Mini-narrative scenes from the life or previous lives ("jatakas") of the Buddha
  • Body ambiance:(throne or snake ["naga"] seat; lotus base; halos encircling the head; and mandorla encircling the whole body
  • Frontal position (in a group composition, the Buddha usually faces forward with half-closed eyes, is dressed differently, and is larger and placed higher than other figures than who turn towards him)
All these indicators can aid the appraiser/viewer in identifying an image as a Buddha – though to compound the problem, there are many different Buddhas represented in Buddhist art, with their own particular attributes (the Buddha of Medicine with a medicine bowl, for example). In Mahayana School Buddhism (dominant in northern and east Asian School, but also present in some southeast Asian countries), there is a being called a Bodhisattva, one who is entitled to become a Buddha but remains behind on the journey to help others. Bodhisattvas can assume many of the lakshanas mentioned above, but also wear the heavy jewelry of a prince.

When in doubt, an appraiser might wish to just assign the title "Buddhist image," which is true, if far from informative! This method is particularly advisable in the arena of Himalayan art, with its multiplicity of male and female deities, including several important Hindu gods brought into Buddhist art. Given the current soaring market for Buddhist art generally, caution and consultation are advised.

Note that it is usually stylistically possible to distinguish a genuine Tibetan from a Thai from a Cambodian or Japanese or contemporary Western Buddha image, even when they are all portraying the same spiritual figure. There are regional preferences for a certain appearance, as well as chronological alterations in appearances even within one region.

Value Estimate Considerations

Because of the current art market popularity of Buddhist art with collectors from Hong Kong to New York to London, there have been many major auctions devoted to this subject. Some of the values achieved are stunning and unexpected, way beyond what an appraiser, having conducted a professional appraisal with well-chosen comparables, might assign as a value estimate. Listed in no particular order, here are some value estimate considerations for Buddhist art following the initial description:
  1. Authenticity. Reproductions are rampant, in theory because of respect for renowned older models, or, buyer's preference for a traditional style without any concern for age, or in an attempt to deceive (think "Remington bronzes"). Choice artist signatures, temple seals, Chinese reign names or workshop logos may be added onto a painting, sculpture or textile reproduction. Accompanying boxes may not reflect the original date of the work of art, etc. Really, live in doubt and hope for the best, and research and consult where necessary.
  2. Rarity. Subject, period, technique, inscription, etc. Here, expert advice might be needed. Note that artist names are very unusual on earlier work, but workshop names may be documented or ascribed on the reverse of some works. Some Zen paintings from the 14th century on do bear signatures, although authenticity is an issue. Many modern Tibetan thangka paintings may bear an artist's name (contra to tradition because that places ego over egolessness, the ideal) due to some current Western collectors' demand to know an artist name, and certain of these artists have considerable value.
  3. Materials. Precious, common, legal; unobtainable today; bronze or brass; silk or wool; all from original period, or later additions; permanent or built in obsolescence; etc.
  4. Dimensions. With many museums today, in accepting a work of art as a non-cash charitable contribution, the curators and boards want ready-to-go "display-quality" art, not too small to make an immediate impact. This often means that a larger work might be more desirable than it might be otherwise, except of course if a smaller work is truly "choice"; and see 5.
  5. Condition. Loss of wood or metals; corrosion, or permanent fading; torn textiles; water or fire, insect (active or dead) or incense damage; loss of original mounting, base, setting; need for conservation, cost of repair, and possibility of repair, etc. - the usual value deterrents. Museums may be reluctant to accept even important works if they are in poor and beyond repair condition and in need of conservation in order to be displayed; there may be no funding or expertise available to perform this task.
  6. Provenance. The more respected the former owner/dealer/auction, the more confident an appraiser might feel; that may be an error, however. Modern scholarship may have changed interpretations from previous ones, and today's opinions about a work may not reflect the opinions or taste of a previous era (not to mention, opinions of the current owner!). Any "outside" (not self-published) publication or museum exhibition of the work, with documentation certainly has to be taken into account. There may be legal ramifications to this aspect of provenance. It also is desirable to learn the date of entry into the US or Canada.
  7. Date. This can be tricky, because prime earlier examples are relentlessly copied as reproductions (as in 1.), but also because workshops traditionally used illustrated wood block print depicting the correct way to depict Buddhist figures, in order to create a specific, identifiable image.
  8. Country of origin. Obviously having an accurate geographic identification is important, which brings up an important matter, the work's having a clear provenance (6.) and not subject to an MOU, or Memorandum of Understanding (which can involve repatriation), between country of origin and current country location. Some countries forbid the export of Buddhist figures – or may want them back when they have come west and become public knowledge.
  9. Subject desirability. This includes clarity of design, appealing coloration, interesting or appalling elements, richness of the iconography. Apart from the generalist Buddha collector, there is an active sub-group of collectors who specialize in works with erotic imagery though nudity per se is seldom portrayed outside of the greater India area.
  10. Association with a revered figure or temple. The handprint of a famous teacher or abbot on the reverse of a thangka, for example: Reliable provenance and expert advice may be needed. This can be a major value consideration. If you cannot remove a painting from its current setting, to review the reverse or view the base of a sculpture, this should be stated as a limiting condition.
  11. Quality overall. Museum quality, decorative, other descriptors, with reasoning. These are subjective descriptors, and recommended to be used carefully and only under a specific request for such analysis by client: Well or poorly cast; heavy brass misidentified previously as bronze; inferior, damaged, and faded painting; wood sculptures and textiles in ruinous condition; reproductions of famous works; marks that are just not correct, and why, these are objective descriptors and are rightfully noted.
Of course, so many of these considerations which can affect the value of a Buddhist work of art are familiar ones from other art traditions, but a few are specific to Buddhist art.


Appraising Buddhist art can be difficult. Buddhism alone, with its ancient history, philosophic and religious foundations, and regional and chronological variations, is such a complex subject, with a huge bibliography, some truly awful movies and certainly numerous "Hum"-along lengthy DVD performances. For the use of appraisers of Buddhist art, I have added a few recommended references to Buddhist visual arts and marketplace sites below. There are many more sites, both scholarly and commercial.

Helpful references

  • Tibet House US - Associated with the Dalai Lama; many exhibitions of modern Tibetan and Mongolian art
  • Onmark Productions - Go to the side-bar on Buddhist art. So much information! Japanese-oriented but useful overall
  • Asian Art Museum of San Francisco - Essays and videos; excellent resource, much developed in connection with Khan Academy
  • Asia Society Museum, New York - Top quality examples by region
  • Buddha Museum - Sale source with values
  • BuddhaNet - Very useful for iconography, history, philosophy, etc.
  • Leidy, Denise, The Art of Buddhism: An Introduction to Its History and Meaning (Shambala 2008, paperback) - General introduction by region and period
  • Rubin Museum of Art - Himalayan art; excellent exhibition materials, site can be difficult to navigate
  • The Four Noble Truths: A Study Guide - Guide to major concepts, etc
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History - Many thematic essays on Buddhist art by countries, periods, general discussion
  • The Buddha Gallery - Commercial site
  • Baronet 4 Tibet - Commercial gallery by devotees to and purveyors of Tibetan art, primarily thangka
  • Thangka Paintings
- Daphne Lange Rosenzweig, PhD, ISA CAPP 

Don't miss ISA's upcoming webinar, "Goddess of Mercy: Buddhism and its Symbolism in Asian Art" on April 24.