As an accredited personal property appraiser, probably fifty percent of my client’s telephone calls and emails are ones to gather information about an inherited article, a collection of objects or a “what is it” question. These items have been on display for years, were stored in an attic box, or they were found at a tag sale. The clients are curious about the object, its value, and they want to know whether to keep the item, pass it to their kids or sell it. The other fifty percent of the calls are for appraisals for insurance protection or claims, estate planning or settlement, donations or equitable distribution. Often questions in the later category usually come from families considering downsizing.

In the appraisal business, there are several myths about an appraised value. First, there is the Grandmother Myth. Every family has a historian, who tells a story about the importance of a family heirloom. “George Washington slept in our tester bed.” “Eliphalet Chapin made this clock.” “This fan was given to my great grandmother by the Empress of Russia.” “Of course, it’s from Connecticut. It’s made of cherry.” These are not unusual comments. From a family perspective, these statements are carried from generation to generation. The family treasures the objects and they are emotionally attached to the items. Sometimes, the statements are factually true and there is correspondence, a signature, a specific style, or other supporting evidence, but often the statement is incorrect or misquoted. In addition, word-of-mouth stories get distorted as they are passed down over time.

Second, there is the Value Myth. This takes several forms:

  1. a carpet dealer sells an oriental rug for $5,000. As a courtesy, he gives the buyer a Certificate of Authenticity and a statement that the true value of the rug is $8,000. One should understand that the fair market value is the price paid;
  2. another dealer buys an antique desk for $600 and re-sells it for $1,200. What is the value? The wholesale value is $600. The retail value is $1,200. Both can be considered fair market values; and
  3. a client’s insurance replacement value for a lamp is $800. The client dies and the estate sells the lamp for $200. This is a liquidation value.

In the Grandmother Myth, it is the appraiser’s job to examine the object and understand exactly what the object is, both from a valuation basis but also from a human interest point of view. While an appraiser is not required to authenticate an object, he may be called upon to show why the “historical” statement is not true. This requires a high degree of experience and careful research and an ability to show the client what the object is and what it is not. Sometimes this situation may require the help of a specialist and this is why the professional appraisal organizations certify or qualify their professionals. The real test comes from the appraiser and his ability to satisfy the customer.

In the Value Myth, the appraiser must meet with the client to discuss the item. That discussion will entertain some of the basic concepts in appraising. The first is the question of what the client intends to do with the object. There were the three choices mentioned above: keep it, pass it to the children, or sell it. The client may also want to donate it if it has historical value to a museum or university collection. Keeping the object allows the owner to enjoy it. Passing it to an heir or planning to pass it to an heir also allows enjoyment as does the donation. Selling the item converts it to cash. Once the objective is decided, the appraiser can then investigate some of the other concepts in the appraisal. These would include condition, materials and type of construction, style, measurements, inscriptions and markings, date or period, maker, etc. The appraiser then writes a description of the item or the group of objects, researches their value, analyzes the data and determines a value. He then delivers a final written report to the client.

This article deserves one last comment concerning the choosing of an appraiser. The individual should be a qualified, professional appraiser, who has earned an appraisal designation and is a member in good standing in a leading appraisal association or society. The designation will indicate that he or she has demonstrated competency in valuing the type of property being appraised or that he has met certain minimum education and experience requirement. Someone who is interested in buying an object should never appraise it. Verbal appraisals are hearsay and virtually worthless; and never pay a fee that represents a percentage of the total value of the items appraised. The report should be thorough and complete and the appraiser should include his qualifications and credentials in the report.

The author charges a fee for his appraisals of $150.00 per hour, with a minimum of $500.00. In addition, expenses for traveling at sixty cents per mile and other out-of-pocket expenses shall be charged to the client. The fee and incidental expenses shall be due and payable upon delivery of the written report. An advance of 50% of the estimated fee and/or expenses is due upon signing of a contract or letter of agreement. An additional fee will be charged for any required future legal or other services pertaining to this appraisal.


Nelson Clayton, ASA, ISA CAPP, is a personal property appraiser, accredited with the American Society of Appraisers, Inc. to appraise household contents and with the International Society of Appraisers, Inc., certified to appraise antiques and residential contents. His company, Appraisers of Distinction, LLC, practices in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York. His business partner, Patricia Shippee of Patricia M. Shippee Fine Art, LLC is a specialist in fine art. Mr. Clayton is a Member of the Board of Governors and the Personal Property Committee of the American Society of Appraisers, Inc.





Nelson O. Clayton is an Accredited Senior Appraiser of the American Society of Appraisers. He is designated in Personal Property Residential Contents-General and Antiques and Decorative Arts. He is also a Certified Appraiser of Personal Property of the International Society of Appraisers, Inc., approved to appraise Antiques and Residential Contents. He is actively engaged in the appraisal of household contents, and antiques and decorative arts and he is building his credentials in silver, and fine arts. With consultation with experts, he has appraised paintings and sculpture in the appraised range of $10-$550,000, individual items of silver in the $40,000 range, clocks in the $30,000 range, and furniture in the $125,000 range. His training at the Winterthur Museum helped him to develop these skills. In addition, he is trained in research and analysis, first as a senior bank-lending officer, and second, as an appraiser. In every assignment, Mr. Clayton continues to develop his skills by identifying and analyzing complete household contents, collections, and family heirlooms. Mr. Clayton’s appraisal business has been developed through personal referral and direct contact with families requiring appraisal of their household contents, primarily for estate tax planning and settlement, donations, divorce and insurance purposes. He has evaluated complete household contents as well as selected individual items.