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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Connoisseurship Outside the Classroom: Special Activities For Chicago Modernism Students

By Sarah Reeder, ISA

Modernism has been a passion of mine for many years, and I am thrilled about the brand new Modernism course that the ISA will be offering next month in Chicago:  "Modernism: Prints, Photographs, and Multiples," June 13-15, presented by Meredith Meuwly, ISA CAPP

The class will cover a wide range of topics related to editioned works of art, including the identification of modern and contemporary prints, photography and sculpture mediums and processes, the impact of condition on value, evaluating comparables in different marketplaces, authentication issues, and common legal concerns. Modern prints, photographs, and multiples is one of the most challenging and complex categories to appraise. This class will provide an invaluable introduction to the increasingly strong modern market and help prepare appraisers for encountering such items in future assignments.

Held in Chicago, a city known for its rich Modernist heritage, this course ensures that students will also enjoy a variety of local field trips and hands-on connoisseurship opportunities to enhance their knowledge. Class participants will visit the Art Institute of Chicago and be treated to special docent-led tours of the museum’s collection of modern prints, multiples and modern design currently on exhibit. 

The class will also tour the Museum of Contemporary Photography and study selections on view from the extensive collection. Later, bus transportation will be provided for an exciting visit to the iconic mid-century modern store An Orange Moon, where students can enjoy the opportunity to closely examine items in its award-winning mid-century modern design inventory. They will also explore other nearby galleries located in Chicago’s popular arts neighborhood, known as the "WOW District." The day concludes with an optional group dinner for students at Maggiano’s Little Italy.

I’ve had the pleasure of getting a behind-the-scenes peek at the course materials during the development of this brand new ISA educational offering. As a fellow mid-century modern specialist, I can attest that class participants are in for a fascinating and informative experience! I urge everyone to both read more about the course and register online at the ISA website.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The International Society of Appraisers and Chubb Announce an Educational Partnership

Holloway and Charleston-Rosenberg
By Libby Holloway, ISA CAPP, and Cindy Charleston-Rosenberg, ISA CAPP

The collaborative educational partnership between ISA and Chubb has officially launched! The first of an 11-part webinar series on specialty collecting categories has been presented to Chubb's appointed independent agents and brokers. The series, reflecting the depth and diversity of ISA member's expertise, will be presented monthly through the beginning of 2017. Each presentation will conclude with a slide directing to the ISA “Find an Appraiser” search engine, to assist Chubb brokers in finding ISA appraisers in their clients’ geographical region or areas of specialization.

Laura Doyle, North American Collections Management Specialist with Chubb, stated in a press statement released on April 25: “Chubb is thrilled to kick off a collaborative partnership with ISA through the launch of the Chubb Connoisseurship webinar series. The series will highlight the deep expertise of ISA appraisers, providing a network of resources nationally for our agents, brokers, and clients.”

This program is a continuation of the educational collaboration exchange between the two organizations which began in 2015 with Chubb's presentation, "Changing Demographics in Collecting: Covering Passion and Investment Collections." The two organizations look forward to deepening this collaboration to the benefit of their clients. A special Thank You goes out to ISA members on the vetting committee—Libby Holloway, ISA CAPP; Sally Ambrose, ISA CAPP; and Helen (Len) D. de Rohan, ISA AM—for carefully reviewing submissions. Many thanks to ISA members who have volunteered their time and proficiency to produce and present webinars:
  • How to Understand the Collectible Wine Markets - Leila Dunbar, ISA AM
  • Coin Collecting: The Hobby of Kings - Steve Roach, ISA CAPP
  • The Mystery of Luxury Watches - Darlene Wong, ISA AM
  • Understanding the Chinese Art Market: Five Things You Must Know - Susan Lahey, MA, ISA AM
  • Blanket or Rug? A Primer on Navajo Textiles - Vanessa Elmore, ISA
  • Collector Versus Investor: Understanding Today's Jewelry Market - Amy Lawch, GG, ISA AM
  • The American Portrait Masters: What's Hiding in Your Client's Attic? - Cindy Charleston-Rosenberg, ISA CAPP
  • What's Valuable in Your Silver Cabinet? - Kirsten Rabe Smolensky, JD, ISA CAPP
  • Rare Books, An Introduction - Robert Hittel, ISA CAPP
  • Identifying, Examining, and Comparing English and American Period Furniture - Todd Sigety, ISA CAPP
  • How to Determine Winners and Losers: Guidelines for Valuing Sports Memorabilia - Leila Dunbar, ISA AM
View full webinar descriptions

ISA is extraordinarily proud to have been chosen by Chubb as the professional personal property appraisal organization to provide connoisseurship training to their network. The webinars are being archived by Chubb and will be available to ISA members following completion of the series in 2017.

Friday, May 6, 2016

ASK AN INSTRUCTOR: What is a reasonable formula to help create an inventory in the estate of a noted historian?

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

I am working on an inventory in the estate of a noted historian. He’s well known in certain circles, but not a household name. What is a reasonable formula to assist in this area?

Answer: You ask a difficult and repeated question from many members, i.e. regarding what role ownership plays in determining value. The notoriety or celebrity status of ownership does play an important role in determining value since it is a value characteristic of an item. Unfortunately, there is no formula or set method I can suggest that would provide a quick and easy answer. However, I do have some guidelines that might be useful.
  1. Ownership must be viewed in both a short term and long term perspective. Short-term perspective is based on current fads and pop culture. It may affect the value significantly, but is apt to drop rapidly depending on the fortunes and tastes of the fickle public. If Michael Jackson owned a sofa, the value at the time of his death might be considerably more than it is right now. A sofa owned by Elvis might not have peaked. In the long term, one looks for a traditional historical or cultural significance of the owner, i.e. if George Washington owned or sat on it. These examples are much easier to substantiate and document with parallel comparables.
  2. The object’s value is proportional to the relationship it might have to the owner’s notoriety or reputation. For example, a cigar humidor owned by George Burns, the well-known cigar smoking comedian, would be worth more than a humidor owned by another celebrity since it doesn’t have that symbiotic relationship. A chair owned by Joan Rivers that sat in her guest room will not have the same value as one she used constantly while hawking her jewelry on QVC. It could be the same chair, but the emotional ties are not present.
  3. Notoriety may be select and difficult to market, unless there is an attempt to promote and eulogize to the public. Al Capone’s cocktail shaker sold by Leslie Hindman years ago brought in more than ten times any other shaker would have brought, partially, if not completely, based on the fact that she made a fanciful and very successful effort to publicize the sale, even having all the auction staff wear “gangster” clothing to the preview. Since as appraisers we do not often know if there will even be an attempt to promote and “embroider” the objects, we must be more objective and value them in light of what is currently known and recorded.
  4. One of the tests an appraiser must consider is the “highest and best use” of the goods. Although I am not suggesting every single item has another employment that might result in a higher value, it often is worth the time and effort to consider it. USPAP states in Standard 8-2-a-ix that “value can be a function of the current and alternate use of the subject property, the choice of the appropriate market or market level for the type of item, the type and definition of value, and intended use of the report.” What if you had to appraise the Jackie Onassis estate? What would you have done with the strand of costume pearls? I doubt you would have appraised them at over $75,000, unless you were aware that they might be considered a “prop” in an advertising campaign to sell reproductions of the strand.
  5. The public can be both more savvy or less discriminating at any given moment. Short-term fads have a way of become even shorter. I would be very cautious of using overnight recognition to base serious value conclusions. On the other hand, narrow areas of knowledge have blossomed in the past few years, and science (scientists) and history (historians) are two of those areas. Part of that comes from the amazing sale results of Nobel prizes and related archives and material owned by prominent and respected world leaders in their respective fields. You are right in considering the fact that a well-known historian’s objects may have added value.
I once appraised the household goods of a “famous” couple who were part of the “housewives of …” television series. They were declaring bankruptcy and the court ordered a bankruptcy appraisal to learn the forced sale value of their assets. The items were appraised based on similar sales of contemporary household goods and accessories in bankruptcy situations. The appraisal was sent in and an auctioneer was chosen to hold the auction. Since even bankruptcy auctioneers have discovered the potency of the Internet, they listed the upcoming sale on their website. In the first 24 hours, they had over a million hits! The trustee called and questioned whether this might be a bigger event with higher prices than anyone had imagined. We decided to write a letter to the court suggesting that the marketing and publicity of the case might alter the outcome and raise the potential proceeds much more than the original values given in the appraisal. To make a long story short, the sale never occurred.

If I could only provide a handy formula, I would probably become the toast of the town (the appraisal town), plus I might get a shot at a few late night talk shows. It certainly would make a good book! (Not a bad idea.) Too bad it just doesn’t work that way.