Monday, December 27, 2004

How Good is Your Story and Can You Prove It

The success of Antiques Roadshow focused the attention of fans and experts alike on the stories that are now brought to your televisions sets from all corners of the United States and Canada. As our experts intently question the owners of these fascinating objects, it may appear that the Roadshow invented the importance of a piece’s collection history. This notion is, of course, not true. Many of us who have been in the arts and antiques business for several years have always focused on this part of the valuation process. Your story is important and quite often interesting. More to the point, however, is that if your story is true, it can have a significant impact on value.

A true disadvantage of a lack of experience in the art and antique world is the inability to put your detective hat on and make the right decisions on authenticity, restoration, and collection history. After listening to over twenty years of bad information, you get a sense when things aren’t quite right. This sixth sense couldn’t be more relevant in assessing collection history. In Tucson during season six of the Roadshow, Don Ellis found the highest priced item discovered to date on the Roadshow. This Navajo made Ute 1st Phase Chiefs blanket was made between 1840 and 1860 and was one of less than 30 weavings of this type known to exist. The object represented the very beginnings of the Navajo weaving tradition. It was in every way such a superb example that Don Ellis quite correctly called it a “national treasure”. But there was more. The owner provided very credible circumstantial evidence that this blanket once belonged to Kit Carson (1809-1868). Carson’s history with the Navajos and their ultimate surrender and incarceration at Fort Sumner provided collection history for the blanket that was unprecedented in the collecting of Southwest art. The story was the third leg of the trifecta, for we had a superb object, great value, and a wonderful history. Bruce Shackelford, Don Ellis, and I discussed this story both before and after the segment aired. We all believed it, but there was no hard documentation. Had we had a photograph with Kit Carson and the blanket, add another $150,000 to the estimate of $350,000 - $500,000 that was provided. Even an old family letter describing the blanket and mentioning the Kit Carson provenance would have helped.

In Salt Lake City, G. Max Bernheimer, Roadshow's expert and Christie’s
International Specialist for Antiquities was confronted with an interesting situation when a collector showed him a 5" bronze statue of Osiris. The owner explained that he already knew it was real because it was found six feet below a fence post on his ranch in Utah. Max's better judgment kept him from pursuing further interrogation. Had this piece been real it would have dated from 500 to 30 BC and been worth from $800 - $1200 dollars. The point here is that no story is too silly to be presented to an appraiser as justification for a TV appearance, higher value, or the blessing of authenticity. One still wonders how the owner worked out the rationale of being buried in Utah to justify an Egyptian antiquity.

In Charleston, appraiser Leila Dunbar was confronted with a pretty ordinary set of golf clubs that had a very interesting story. A man stated that the clubs were a gift from his son-in-law who happened to be a doctor that treated Jackie Gleason. The clubs were marked with the initials “JG”. The doctor, a personal friend of Gleason’s, also was a beneficiary in Gleason’s will. The will documented the gift of the clubs and proved the connection. What was this solid documentation worth? Ms. Dunbar appraised the set at $3,000 - $4,000. How sweet it is...

Stephen Massey is a veteran rare bookman with nearly 40 years in the rough and tumble of the auction and Antiques Roadshow trade. Massey speculates that an ideal presentation copy of Ernest Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon would be a first edition, preferably in fine condition with a dust jacket, inscribed admiringly by Hemingway to the celebrated bullfighter Manolete, who features so largely in the book. Considering a well-known bookstore is advertising a copy of Death in the Afternoon inscribed in Hemingway’s drunken hand in lipstick to “Good Old Bonzo From his pal Ernest” for $20,000, one can reasonably speculate that Manolete’s signature would have more impact than an inscription to Philip Bonsal, Ambassador to Cuba in 1959. Massey was a bit more direct when he estimated the worth to be “say, $80,000 by comparison to a copy presented to some drunken autograph-seeking sot he lounged around Key West with one night and had forgotten soon after. An example such as that would only be worth about $10,000."

Jerry Holley, appraiser and auctioneer for Dallas’ premiere auction gallery, was asked to drive out to East Texas to look at an English long case clock. Prior to the trip, Holley thought that the clock was probably in the $4,000 to $8,000 range based on the family’s description. Jerry had been confronted with many clocks over the years and, therefore, had no reason to think this trip would be any different. Jerry stated, upon viewing the clock: “One quick look at the clock told me that this was not an English long case clock. Although it had a painted dial very similar to the English clocks of the period, the case was cherry and it had carved flame finials typical of the Philadelphia area.” Then the real bombshell was dropped. In an almost casual manner the owner said that the family story was that the clock had belonged to a distant relative who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence! While there was no proof, with research, Jerry was able to attribute the clock to a maker that worked at that time period making this story plausible. Although the clock was refinished, this story, if documented, would be worth thousands of dollars in additional value for this clock. Still on just this speculation alone, Jerry valued the clock at $30,000 to $40,000.

Leslie Keno, American furniture expert at Sotheby’s, did a now famous segment on the “Brewster” chair from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The chair allegedly belonged once to William Brewster a leader of the Plymouth colony from 1620 to 1644 and was only one of three known to be in existence. The problem here is that the chair was made by Armand LaMontagne in the early 1970’s and specifically planted in an out of the way antique shop in Maine. His dealer, who pretended to not have a clue, sold this “Brewster” chair for just $500. After passing through many hands and acquiring a story along the way, the chair sold to the Ford Museum in 1975 for $9,000. When LaMontagne revealed his hoax in 1977, nobody would believe that an artist would create a fake just to tweak the nose of the establishment. But that was just what he did. Leslie reminded us that “you must give the Ford Museum a tremendous amount of credit for having the courage to admit their mistake and then keep the chair on view for everyone to learn from this experience.” This was a case where the system created the story to fit the experts’ conclusions of authenticity.
Documentation certainly does matter. Proving your documentation and knowing how to present the history of your personal property is as much an investment in your future as planning your financial portfolio. Unfortunately, most collectors don’t pay attention to what seems to be fairly obvious. The best investment you can make is to hire a competent general appraiser… not a specialist, a generalist. These are the folks that among other things appraise entire estates. The good ones know what they don’t know and when to call in a specialist. So hire a generalist for a two-hour walk through of your home. For these two hours take notes or record everything; and most importantly ask questions. You will learn about your best pieces, your fakes, your objects with condition problems, what’s hot in the marketplace and what’s not. Show the appraiser your documentation on your objects and ask how it can be presented better. Or if you have no collection history, ask how you might document your personal treasures. If grandma said that old cowboy hat belonged to Roy Rogers, you might ask her to write or dictate a letter documenting her story. That’s worth far more than a verbal history twenty years from now. Understand that you can take a proactive position in documenting what you have and what you plan to buy. Before you sign the check, require the dealer to provide the collection history in writing. And above all find and rely on competent professionals to help you… because ultimately it’s your money.
American Society of Appraisers (ASA( 800-272-8258, 203-478-228 website -
Appraisers Association of America (AAA) 212-889-5404; website
International Society of Appraisers (ISA) - (888)472-5034, (206)241-0359; website
A searchable database of all three can be found on

What do you know about your appraiser?

What Do You Know About Your Appraiser? Caveat Emptor

Joe Smith was upset enough. His house had just burned and now he was confronted with all the problems he had to overcome to put his life back together. Fortunately, he did have photographs of his two favorite paintings done by a painter he had lost track of over the years. The appraiser he hired seemed nice enough; and, as a specialist in handling estates, everyone knew him and liked him. This appraiser was also convenient because he could handle the appraisal of all the property lost in the fire. The paintings were scheduled individually on the policy and were fortunately insured for full replacement cost. He looked at the photographs and at Joe's invoices, which indicated that Joe paid $500 apiece for the paintings. The appraiser couldn't find any reference to the artist in his books but remembered selling this artist's work at an estate sale a few years before for pretty much what Joe had paid a decade before. He used these figures as comparables to substantiate his appraised values. The insurance company did settle on everything; and Joe was paid $1,000 for his lost paintings. A year later Joe stopped by a gallery in his hometown to talk with a dealer that had been in business for a number of years. He mentioned the artist's name; and the dealer recognized him immediately. It turned out that the artist had moved to Northern California and had been very successful in this regional market. Joe tracked down the artist’s dealer who by chance was having a retrospective of this artist's work. The asking price for a comparable painting of the type that Joe lost was $5,000. Joe's policy did call for the replacement of the paintings. Replacement cost is based in this case on the asking price of the work of art and not the fair market value used by the appraiser. The appraiser didn't do his homework and it cost Joe $9,000.

The year is 1968 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and the family house has just been condemned by the state for an Interstate right-of-way. It was time now to downsize, move the parents into a smaller place, and think about selling some of the family antiques that had been around for a few hundred years. It was also time to call Ralph, the family "antiques dealer". Ralph came in and inventoried everything, making a list with a brief description. He was very friendly and concerned about the family. Ralph said he would come back in two days with the appraisal. Ralph was back and handed the appraisal to Elizabeth, oldest daughter and caretaker for the family. The appraisal was very easy to understand... it was simply a list with a number next to the object. Ralph explained that he really liked a few of the pieces, which he was prepared to buy outright. He couldn't pay retail of course; but he would pay cash. Elizabeth trusted him and believed that he was being fair and reasonable. Plus he was so concerned and thoughtful. So Ralph bought some pieces and arranged the sale of the rest. Fate does work some strange magic for Elizabeth's son, who had dropped art history in college after two weeks because it was boring, became an art dealer. In the early 90's John was now a member of the International Society of Appraisers and had taken their courses and happened to look back at Ralph's appraisal. Because he had low-balled everything, John knew that Ralph might as well have robbed his Mother at gunpoint. Ethical appraisers don't buy what they appraise. Trained appraisers provide comparables to support their values. John now understands up close and personal how vulnerable the American public can be when preyed upon by unethical or incompetent appraisers. Fortunately, he never told his Mother.

As American citizens we have come to accept the U.S. Government's involvement in our daily lives acting as our great protector licensing our doctors, lawyers, and real estate appraisers. But the next time you consider getting an appraisal of your personal property, think again because Uncle Sam's involvement here is non-existent. The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice is the only standardization on either a state or federal level. The Appraisal Foundation, whose membership then included the nine largest appraisal organizations in Canada and the United States, drew up these standards in 1987. As a consequence of the Savings and Loan debacle of the mid 1980's, the bulk of USPAP is real property related. Most of the appraisal organizations require adherence to USPAP. Real estate appraisers are licensed and must adhere to these standards or face losing their certification. Remember this licensing process is a state-by-state process overseen by the Appraisal Foundation. Personal property is considered a totally separate category. You as consumers are not protected unless you hire an appraiser that is a member of an appraisal organization that requires at a minimum compliance to the relevant chapters of the USPAP standard. The International Society of Appraisers does not require compliance with USPAP because its standards in report writing and ethics exceeds that recommended by the Appraisal Foundation.

So where does that leave you when you need to find an appraiser for your divorce, bankruptcy, estate, damage claim, insurance, liquidation, charitable donation, loan collateral, or one of the other many reasons for obtaining an appraisal. Quite frankly your choices are limited. There are three large personal property appraisal organizations in Canada and the United States. The American Society of Appraisers was founded 1936 and is based in Washington DC. The Appraisers Association of America was founded 1949 and is based in New York. The International Society of Appraisers was founded 1987 and is based in Seattle, WA. Real estate appraisers dominate ASA, which is the largest and oldest organization. ISA is the largest organization devoted solely to personal property and is well represented in both Canada and the United States. A significant portion of ASA’s listed personal property appraisers specializes in machinery and equipment and business evaluation. AAA is very strong on the East Coast and in New York in particular. All three organizations use the terminology “accredited” or “certified” to indicate that the appraiser has had some training in appraisal methodology. An appraiser must have both product knowledge and training in how to do an appraisal. So how many trained appraisers are there In the United States and Canada to serve your needs?

ASA has 1838 personal property appraisers - of these 993 are accredited.
AAA has 800 personal property appraisers - of these only 90 are solely accredited with AAA.
ISA has 1366 personal property appraisers - of these 662 are accredited.

That is a total of 1745 trained appraisers as of May 2002. Let's add another 1000 appraisers to encompass people that may have some training from an auction house, miscellaneous other sources, or may have left their appraisal organization after training. Assuming 2700 and acknowledging that some appraisers belong to two or three organizations, our number is still pretty optimistic. So what does this mean? By one estimate it means that as much as 90% of all the personal property appraisals in the U.S. and Canada are being done by untrained appraisers.

The financial impact alone of bad appraisals is significant. Considering the cost of fraud to consumers and the potential federal penalties from an overstatement (charitable contribution) or an understatement (estate… you wonder why Uncle Sam has not stepped in with some licensing. To the contrary the IRS implies that if you hold yourself out to be an appraiser, then you are one. If there is an audit and you are pretty bad, it is possible for an appraiser to make a list barring them from doing Federal appraisals and to incur fines of up to $1,000 per incident. That is the extent of government protection for the consumer. My remarks seem to suggest that I am proposing that the U.S. Government step in. Actually, the solution is probably in state regulation permitting local government officials to work closely with the experts in their area.

There are questions that you can ask an appraiser to see if he is qualified. Do you belong to a professional appraisal organization? Are you an accredited appraiser that has been tested in appraisal methodology? How many years have you been appraising (applicable field) art? Can you provide references and can you show me an example of your work? Here's how you can reach the appraisal organizations.

ASA 800-272-8258, 203-478-228 website -
AAA 212-889-5404; website
ISA - (888)472-5034, (206)241-0359; website
A searchable database of all three can be found on

We should not denigrate the important contribution made by the auction houses. The auction houses are a major part of the market place in setting values on personal property through the results of consummated sales available to the public. However, an auction house estimate is not an appraisal. This figure is quite simply an estimate that the auction house hopes will entice the owner to sell their property at auction. If you call the estimate an appraisal, there clearly is a conflict of interest in providing an estimate with the hope of selling the property. An appraisal must be a well-researched document prepared after examining the property and considering the most appropriate market without the appraiser having any financial interest in the property. Experience suggests that trained appraisers understand more clearly their professional responsibilities and do tend to adhere to report writing and ethical standards.

If you need an appraisal, take the time to find the right expert. It will pay off in both time and money.

John A. Buxton, ISA CAPP
6717 Spring Valley Rd
Dallas, TX 75254
The Tribal Art Information Connection

If you are trying to sell or have something appraised

John Buxton is a certified appraiser from the International Society ofAppraisers with 26 years experience in the field, He is qualified to authenticate and appraise African, Precolumbian, Oceanic, and American Indian art. Buxton has been the primary appraiser of African, Oceanic, and Precolumbian art on the PBS top rated show,Antiques Roadshow since its inception in 1996. Buxton's fee is $200 per hour with a minimum fee of $75 for a verbal evaluation of three pieces or less. Fee schedules beyond basic services may change depending on the nature of the assignment.If you think I might be of service please contact me with the complete history of the piece/pieces, the dimensions, and any repairs the piece may have. Should you want to contact another appraiser ISA's web page at is a good place to start. If you have anyquestions, please feel free to contact me by email.

If you need additional references or background information prior to using my services, a Professional Profile and complete Fee Schedule will be provided on request. You may find some of the same information on my website under appraisers and my appraisal company BAACS.

If on the other hand, you are trying to offer me an object within my areas of interest, please send me a photograph with dimensions either by email or snail mail at 6717 Spring Valley Road, Dallas, TX 75254. If you do not know your asking price and you do not want an appraisal, please contact someone else. I will not appraise and then either purchase an object or take it on consignment.

I do not appraise, buy or sell objects out of my area. For other areas please search for an appraiser on the ISA website or contact 1-888-472-4732. You are also welcome to contact the Antiques Roadshow website at or my website at

John A. Buxton, ISA SCAPP

IRS requirements for an appraisal

Appraisal requirements for Charitable Donation –
IRS Publication 561 (Rev Nov 96)

1. A description of the property of the property in sufficient detail for a person who is not generally familiar with the type of property to determine that the property appraised is the property that was (or will be) contributed.

2. The physical condition of any tangible property.

3. The date or expected date of contribution.

4. The terms of any agreement or understanding entered into (or expected to be entered into) by or on behalf of the donor that relates to the use, sale, or other disposition of the donated property.

5. The name, address, and taxpayers identification number of the qualified appraiser and, if the appraiser is a partner, an employee, or an independent contractor engaged by by a person other than the donor, the name, address, and taxpayer identification number of the partnership or the person who employs or engages the appraiser.

6. The qualifications of the qualified appraiser who signs the appraisal, including the appraiser’s background, experience, education, and any membership in professional appraisal associations.

7. A statement that the appraisal was prepared for income tax purposes.

8. The date (or dates) on which the property was valued.

9. The appraisal FMV on the date (or expected date) of contribution.

10. The method of valuation used to determine FMV, such as the income approach, the comparable sales, or market data approach, or the replacement cost less depreciation.

11. The specific basis for the valuation, such as any specific comparable sales transactions

Appraisal of art objects
1. A complete description of the object, indicating the:
a. Size
b. Subject matter
c. Medium
d. Name of the artist or culture
e. Approximate date created

2. The cost, date, and manner of acquisition

3. A history of the item, including proof of authenticity

4. A photograph of a size and quality fully showing the object, preferably a 10 x 12 inch print

5. The facts on which the appraisal was based such as:

a. Sales or analyses of similar works by the artist, particularly on or around the valuation date.

b. Quoted prices in dealer’s catalogs of the artists works or works of other artists of comparable stature

c. A record of any exhibitions at which the specific art object had been displayed.

d. The economic state of the art market at the time of valuation, particularly with respect to the specific property.

e. The standing of the artist in his profession and in the particular school or time period.

A qualified appraisal is an appraisal document that:

1. Relates to an appraisal made not earlier than sixty days prior to the date contribution of the appraised property.

2. Does not involve a prohibited appraisal fee.

3. Includes certain information (covered later), and
Is prepared signed, and dated by a qualified appraiser

Hiring a personal property appraiser?

From the International Society of Appraisers website

Seven Questions to Ask When Hiring an Appraiser
1. "What qualifies you to appraise my property?" A qualified appraiser has formal education in appraisal theory, principles, procedures, ethics, and law. The appraiser should be up to date on the latest appraisal standards. Continuing education and testing are the only ways to ensure this competence.
The appraiser you hire should be familiar with the type of property you want appraised and know how to value it correctly.
Expertise on a particular type of property is not enough if the "expert" does not know how to evaluate an item for its appropriate worth. Without appraisal training, these "experts" have no way of understanding the complicated variety of marketplace definitions that are used to determine appropriate values for appropriate uses.
For example, a museum curator may be able to authenticate a work of art, or a jeweler may be able to determine the identity of a gemstone, but neither may be able to value those items correctly unless they follow appropriate appraisal principles and procedures.
2. "Do all appraisers have similar qualifications?" No! There are many self-acclaimed personal property appraisers who have not completed any professional education!
It is important to ask the prospective appraiser what type of formal appraisal education training he or she has received. Obtaining a copy of the appraiser's professional profile or resume can help you evaluate the appraiser's credentials; the burden is on the consumer to evaluate an appraiser's qualifications.
3. "Do you belong to an appraisal society that tests its members?" There are many appraisal organizations, but only a few require members to take courses and pass tests before being admitted as "accredited" members. ISA is such an organization.
Membership in an appraisal association is important because it shows that the appraiser is involved with the profession, has peer recognition, has access to updated information, and is subject to a code of ethics and conduct.
4. "Have you been tested? Do you take continuing education classes?" If the appraiser claims membership in a group that trains and tests its members, be sure to ask if this appraiser has personally gone through the training and testing.
Some organizations have "grandfathered" members into high membership status without testing them. "Grandfathering" means allowing members to retain their titles and status if they joined before new rules or testing standards were required. ISA has an absolute non-grandfathering policy.
Continuing education is also important for appraisers. Procedures and regulations are always changing. Because of this; ISA constantly updates, expands and re-writes its courses to ensure that its members will perform the work you need with knowledge of all the latest professional standards.
5. "How will you handle items which may be outside your specialty area?" No appraiser should claim expertise in everything. ISA recognizes over 220 areas of specialty knowledge. A good appraiser knows his or her limits, and is expected to consult with other experts when necessary.
6. "What is your fee and on what basis do you charge?" DO NOT hire an appraiser who charges a percentage of the appraised value, or charges a "contingency" fee. These practices are clearly conflicts of interests, and may result in biased values. The IRS will not accept an appraisal done with such fee arrangements.
ISA Appraisers are prohibited by their Code of Ethics from charging a fee based on a percentage of the value of the property appraised. Hourly fees, flat rates, or per item charges are acceptable.
7. "What will the appraisal report be like?" You should receive a formal, type written report that presents the information you need in a complete and organized way.
Some appraisal societies only teach appraisal theory with no 'real life' examples. ISA is the only major appraisal society in the United States that specifically trains its members in how to write standardized, comprehensive appraisal reports. Each accredited member has been tested on these standards

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Blogger host credentials

As host of this blog I hope to be able to discuss issues relating to the buying, selling, and appraising of tribal art... meaning African, Precolumbian, Oceanic, and American Indian art. I have listed my profile below for your information:

John A. Buxton, ISA CAPP
Professional Profile

Professional Education & Designations:
2008 – Tested and passed AAA course USPAP, Gayle Skluzacek, instructor
2003 – Speaker, “Discovering America’s Hidden Treasures: A Private Evening with
Antiques Roadshow”, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum
2002 – Ellen A. Amirkhan NTISA Distinguished Service Award
2002 – Featured in full page “High Profile” Article, Dallas Morning News (July)
2002 – Speaker, “A Special Evening with John Buxton”, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Lawrence Gussman’s Central African Art Exhibition (June)
2000-2001 - National Board of Directors, International Society of Appraisers
2000 – Speaker, Kimbell Art Museum, African Connoisseurship (November)
2000 - Designated Member of the Year, International Society of Appraisers
2000 - President, North Texas Chapter, International Society of Appraisers
1999-1997 - National Chairman, Electronic Information Services Comm., ISA
1999 - Vice President, North Texas Chapter International Society of Appraisers
1999 - Designated Specialist, Certified Appraiser of Personal Property
1998 - CAPP Re-qualification Course, Los Angeles
1997 - Seminar 97, Dallas, Texas
1997 - ISA Expert Witness Course, Dallas
1993 ‑ Completion of Appraisal Principles Core
Courses of the Certified Appraiser of Personal Property Program (CAPP) of the International Society of Appraisers (ISA). Core Course 101 ‑ Ethical Conduct and Communications and Business Practices; Core Course 102 ‑ Terminology, Identification and Authentication Procedures, Market and Price Research Methodology, Preliminary and Limited Appraisal Report Writing; Core Course 103 ‑ Narrative Report Writing and the Principles of Appraising for Federal Tax Functions, Legal Aspects of Report Writing.
1993 - Designated Member ISA
1993 -The Appraiser as an Expert Witness - Legal Research.

Employment Background and Professional Experience:

2009-1997- Appeared on Chubbs Antique Road Show - PBS Television
2000 - Designated Expert Witness Roadway Express vs. Dr. Martin Trepel
1997 - Designated Expert Witness Roadway Express vs. Dr. Martin Trepel
1996 - Established Buxton, Appraisal, Authentication, and Consulting Services
1996 - Selected for Chubbs Antique Road Show - PBS Television
1974 to present ‑ Appraised, authenticated, evaluated tribal art for private and institutional clients.
1993 ‑ ART TRAK, Inc. online nationally as a computer network for art information
1991 ‑ Founded and incorporated ART TRAK, Inc., an art services computer co.
1991 ‑ Designated Expert Witness for City of Kenner vs. Mince
1990 ‑ Designed computer database, AUCTION TRAK, for the appraisal, research, evaluation, and authentication of Tribal art
1976 ‑ Established Shango Galleries dealing in African, Precolumbian, South Pacific, and American Indian Art.
1974 ‑ Established The Bahraini Chest, an import shop, in Dallas, TX (November)
August 1973 to November 1974 ‑ Traveled extensively throughout Africa, India, Pakistan, Iran, and the Middle East.

Formal Education:

1968 ‑ Graduated Tulane University, Bachelor of Arts
1963 ‑ 1968 ‑ Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana.
1959 ‑ 1963 ‑ Williston Academy, Easthampton, Massachusetts.


v Appraisals ‑ computer searches for comparables
v Expert Witness
v Authentication of African, Precolumbian, Oceanic, and American Indian Art
v Auction bidding for Museums and Collectors
v Art expert/appraiser locator service

John A. Buxton, ISA CAPP
6717 Spring Valley Rd
Dallas, TX 75254
The Tribal Art Information Connection