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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ask Leon: What to do when people want you to appraise everything

ISA members are invited to send in their questions on all things appraising and education to Leon Castner, ISA CAPP. Leon will share his answers on the ISA Now Blog. Please send questions to

Question: I just finished the Core Course. I was at a party and I mentioned the class. Now people want me to appraise everything including stamps and rings. How on earth do I start appraising rings? (J.M.)

Answer: The short answer is that you only appraise what you are competent to appraise-no matter what class you took. However, we all have general specialties, either fine art, antiques & residential contents, gems & jewelry, etc. It’s the next step in the education and membership process. Take a specialty class! It will provide guidelines for many of the things you will encounter on a fairly regularly basis. However, classes do not take the place of hands-on experience, which one learns diving into things. In a sense, it’s like a Catch 22-if you recall the old Joseph Heller book. (You shouldn’t appraise items you’ve never done but you can’t get to the next step until you actually appraise them.)

Many of our members have a mentoring process and/or use interns and new appraisers. They assist the appraiser in physical examinations, research, and ancillary jobs that provide them training in items they may not be qualified to appraise on their own.

We learn by doing. Almost every job provides an opportunity to expand our expertise and broaden our specialty field and, yes, we often encounter items we haven’t seen. (The methodology you’ve learned usually applies across the board.) How else does one learn to skate or swim or ride a bike without attempting to do it?

Of course, I think one should be very careful about tackling a type of item they’ve never done before, particularly if it falls out of the general category of one’s background and interest. After all, we not only have ourselves to think about but our clients and third parties! (If our bike crashes they go down as well!)

To your particular question: Stamps are a paper collectible that are not the same as furniture, glass, or art. If you’ve never heard of a Scott’s number or a perforation, stay away. “Rings” could be anything, but in all probability involve precious metal and gemstones. Having no training in either leaves one up the creek without a paddle (and probably without a boat).

That’s why we love to network at ISA. We can often share our assignments with those who are competent. We can send emails and digital photos. We can ask questions and be the eyes and ears for others more qualified. As we share we begin to see the fruits of our labor. Our own expertise begins to grow and we develop a strong network of associates. The business pie gets bigger…and so does our slice.

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