Appraisals of Original Art Objects


(above: Carl McCoy, Cherokee Reservation, North Carolina, Wood Carving of a Bull, National Archives and Records Administration, Department of the Interior, Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Cherokee Field Office, Cherokee, North Carolina. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons*)


Traditional Fine Arts Organization (TFAO) does not appraise art objects, however there are many resources for art appraisals. Before considering an appraisal we suggest that you first read Authentication and Evaluation of Paintings. While slanted towards paintings, its principles are applicable to other kinds of artworks. Depending on the type of appraisal that you need, there are various solutions. Tax appraisals, insurance appraisals, purchase and sales appraisals may have dissimilar purposes and requirements -- and yield different results. Before obtaining an appraisal decide on the use for it and plan accordingly. Here is a referral list for your consideration, plus other useful information:



1. Hire a fee appraiser. Below is a partial list of professional appraisal societies and other resources.

American Society of Appraisers, P. O. Box 17265, Washington, DC 20041, 1-800-272-8258; 1-703-733-2108.
All disciplines, referrals given; regarding Fine Arts specialists who are designated as Accredited Members or Accredited Senior Appraisers -- ASA has 113 such specialists. Appraisers who have a designation in Fine Arts not only have to meet all the education and experience requirements for achieving a personal property designation, but they undergo specific testing in Fine Arts appraisal and their experience must be in that specialty. To qualify for the Accredited Member designation (AM), an individual must have at least two years of full-time appraisal experience and a college degree or its equivalent. To qualify for the Accredited Senior Appraiser designation (ASA), an individual must have a minimum of 5 years of full-time appraisal experience and a college degree or its equivalent. ASA is an international, not-for-profit, independent, multi discipline appraisal organization that was established in 1936 and incorporated in 1952. The society's purpose is to establish an effective profession-wide affiliation working cooperatively to elevate the standards of the appraisal profession. There are more than 6,000 ASA members in 88 chapters and branches located throughout the United States and abroad. To read an article furnished by the ASA which discusses tips on finding and evaluating appraisers, please click here. A Web-based art appraisal & research service
The International Society of Appraisers A nationwide network of professional appraisers headquartered at Riverview Plaza Office Park, 16040 Christensen Road, Suite 102 Seattle, WA 98188-2965. Phone 1-206-241-0359
Many art dealers are experts on value and provide fee appraisals. Some dealers are members of professional associations such as the Art Dealers Association of America, Private Art Dealers Association, Fine Art Dealers Association, and the National Antique & Art Dealers Association. In its web site, the Fine Art Dealers Association says " Because evaluating an artwork demands thorough knowledge of the artist's work, as well as the current market for both public and private sales, it is imperative that a dealer has current working knowledge derived from hands on experience. The ability of a dealer to discern the subtle nuances that can differentiate a "6" from a "10" comes from years of experience and study. " The Art Dealers Association of America argues the advantage of retaining art dealers for appraisals: "An art dealer's livelihood depends upon that dealer's ability to make aesthetic and economic judgments about works of art. For this reason, dealers are best qualified to make valuations of works of art within their areas of specialization."
To find names of appraisers, you may wish to contact the curator or director a local museum for suggestions about individuals or companies near you who may be of service.

2. Take advantage of "appraisal days" at museums.

"Appraisal days" are held annually by an increasing number of art museums. For a nominal fee, usually in the area of $10, members of the public may obtain verbal opinions on the value of objects of art from experts. Call your local museum to learn where and when such an event will take place. Or, your city may be on the tour of the popular Antiques Roadshow sponsored by PBS.

3. Obtain a free appraisal.

Auction companies (see list of Auction Houses) will often provide an auction estimate (appraisal) without charge based on a photo and description sent to them. Estimates provided this way can be a very rough gauge of auction value. Auction houses sometimes tend to evaluate objects at the lower end of the value range so as to encourage a sale. Lesser experienced evaluators at auction houses are often unaware of the true value of works by important artists whose works have infrequently been sold at auction. Prices estimated and paid at auctions are often considerably less than retail prices charged at galleries -- many art galleries purchase a large portion of their inventory at auctions. Markups of two to two and one-half times from auction price to retail price are common. Christie's and Sotheby's have information on how to buy at auction on their web sites. When contacting an auction house bear in mind that it is often best to choose an auction house that is located close to where the art was created, not close to where the seller is located.
Get an offer from an art dealer. Dealers often sell art in inventory for double or more than what they pay for it. Be aware that you may receive from a dealer a quote at deep discount from what the dealer will later charge to a buyer. If you let the dealer know you are getting bids from multiple sources, you may receive a much higher quote if art similar to what you have is in high demand by collectors.
Art museums do not appraise art works. An exception is "appraisal days"noted above.
TFAO readers may find of interest a cautionary article by Alan Bamberger, a San Francisco, CA-based art consultant, titled Beware of Free Art Appraisals and Appraisers.

4. Perform your own appraisal.

Unless you are an expert it is very difficult to estimate with precision the value of an original work of art. You may be able to determine, however, a rough idea of value by personal research.
Many elements may be considered when arriving at a value. Thirty-eight of them are identified below in our list of appraisal factors. You may wish to perform investigation work regarding some of the elements.
Conduct a keyword search using the artist's name in Resource Library. The results of the search may provide valuable clues as to the importance of the artist. For instance, search results may identify instances where the artist's work was included in a museum exhibition or is in a museum's collection. Checklists and object labels appended to Resource Library articles indicate names of museum and private owners of artworks in exhibits (see definitions of these terms). Works of art by an artist that are placed in museum exhibitions are evidence that a curator (see staff name definitions) was involved in the selection of the art and that the museum found the artwork worthy of exhibit. Museum exhibitions and museum collections including an artist's works are strong predictors of monetary value. The frequency of exhibitions over time is also important. The expertise of the curator of an exhibition and accreditation of the collecting museum are of importance when considering the weight to be placed on these predictors.
Look up the artist in Distinguished Artists. If an artist is included in the list that is an indicator that the artists's work may be of material value. Click here to learn how TFAO evaluates sources of information on artists and a warning on quality levels of online biographies.
Artcyclopedia provides links to images of art work held in museum collections. The fact that a museum has an image by an artist on the Web is a signal that the artist's work may be of significant value. The quantity of museums owning the artist's works and the prestige of collecting museums are both predictors of value.
In Dr. Roger Dunbier's essay Fine Art Comparables - Part Two (8/28/97), he argues that "...prices conform to the magnitude of the literature, indeed follow to a considerable degree the published word...." To study the magnitude of citation, conduct a Google search of the artist's name by placing quotation marks at the beginning and end of the name, e.g. "Franz Bischoff" plus the word "artist" so that a search is made for the exact name. The volume of search results are an indicator of popularity of the artist in published documents, and therefore an indicator of price. In December, 2010 Google introduced the Ngram Viewer, a tool for graphing the popularity of a phrase (e.g. artist name) over a span of time. Use the Ngram Viewer to study whether an artist's name is trending towards gain or loss in popularity over time. In cases where name popularity is rising, an artist's work may be gaining monetary value, or losing value if popularity is waning.
There are online and paper-printed sources of auction results. Popular online services are and They charge a fee to view the auction prices for thousands of American artists. There are also other online services that perform this service.
Many art dealers and galleries post names of artists represented and retail prices of available inventory online. In some cases prices are not placed online. Calls to galleries with works without quoted prices will often result in learning the prices. Bear in mind that retail prices charged by dealers are usually different than prices that can be obtained through auction.
A Web search may uncover a book or lecture mentioning the artist. Contact with the author can lead to identification of an expert who may then comment on value.
If you are not sure how the artist's name is spelled, search for the name using several guesses in Resource Library, Google and Artcyclopedia until you find possible matches. Then look at several pictures of the artist's work to see if the style of art matches via Google Images, Resource Library, and Artcyclopedia. Google Images will lead you to Web pages containing the images. You can then study the context of the images and more sources of information.
If all of these steps fail to identify an artist, there is a lessened probability that a work by that artist is of significant value.
If the artwork is unsigned, you may need to employ options 1, 2 and 3 to find out who created the work.

Appraisal factors: What factors do buyers and sellers consider and what questions are asked when arriving at the value of a one-of-a-kind painting or sculpture?

The following elements of value are not listed in order of importance and are not all-inclusive.

About the artist

How many articles and essays - in exhibition catalogues, other books, news and publicity articles, and critical reviews - have been published about the artist, in all media, by what authors, and when? What are the credentials of the authors? For interesting statistics see AskART's Most Book References for important artists

How often is the artist's name cited online in exhibition catalogue essays, other books, journal, magazine and newspaper articles? Again, what are the credentials of the authors?

What is or was the extent of the artist's participation in art colonies, artists' associations and other art-related community organizations?

Who were the artist's teachers and who were the artist's students, and what degree of fame did members of each group reach?

Where and when have there been museum exhibitions covering the work of the artist and what is the trend?

What are the credentials of the curators of exhibitions?

What collectors and what museums own the artist's work?

Which galleries and dealers sell the artist's work and what is their reputation?

What professional designations and awards were earned by the artist and how important are they?

If the artist's works have been sold at auction, what is the volume of sales, when were the sales, at what price, sizes of the objects, by which auction houses?

Is the price trend for the artist up or down and is the price trend for the class of subject matter (western genre, pop art, etc.) up or down?

What are recent comparable sales for the size of the work, the subject matter, the medium and other variables?

What is the highest sale to date for the artist and what is the highest sale per square inch for the artist?

What is the price ranking of the artist relative to other artists?

What percentage of a deceased artist's output remains in private hands as an indicator of scarcity?

If a living artist, what are the expected remaining years of productivity of the artist, is the artist full-time or part-time and how many works are produced each year and what is the trend?


About the object

What is the medium (oil on canvas, watercolor) used for the work?

What is the method of production (studio, plein air) of the work?

If signed, what is the quality of the signature?

If bronze, is there a foundry mark?

Is the work dated?

Where was the work created?

What is the size (height and width) of the work?

What is the condition (holes, tears or stains; pieces missing or broken, wear on the patina) of the work?

Has cleaning been performed and how has it affected the visual appeal of the object?

Is there evidence of repairs such as inpainting, lining or other restoration of the object? Poorly conducted restoration can impair value more than neglect.

Are there gallery or framing stickers on the back? Is there anything written on the back or on the work or mat?

Is there a title to the work?

If there a title to the work, how often is the title cited online and in what context for each citation?

How central is the work to the most sought after period and subject matter of the artist?

What is the quality of the frame, if any?

If the work has been sold at auction, when were the sales, at what price, by which auction houses?

What is the providence (history of ownership) of the work?

Was the work held by a well-known collection and the ownership verifiable?

What exhibitions are associated with the work; what are the credentials of curators of the exhibitions, and the reputation of the exhibitors?

In what articles, essays, catalogues and other publications is the work cited? Is there a photo of the work with the text? What are the credentials of the authors and publishers?

What certificates are available for the work concerning authenticity and condition?

What are the credentials of the authenticator?

What written appraisals are available?

What are the credentials of the appraiser?


Dunbier on Fine Art Valuation

In the column Fine Art Valuation by Roger Dunbier, sometimes irreverent, provocative and always informative Dr. Roger Dunbier speaks out on issues regarding the valuation of fine art:


Other information

The Business of Art: Evidence from the Art Market, an exhibit held March 16 - July 25, 2004 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, provides insight into the inputs of value Accessed 12/14

Thomas Cole Historic House has a website page dedicated to collectors, with questions answered on authentication, valuation and conservation.

What Is An Appraisal? and How to Find an Appraiser by Victor Wiener.


Note to sellers:

For resales of art objects, there may be an obligation to pay to the artist a percentage of the sale amount. If the appraisal is being made in contemplation of a sale, sellers should consult with advisors familiar with state and federal laws. For an article on this subject please see the Wall Street Journal's March 5, 2009 article titled "The Case of the $80 Royalty Check: a Mystery for Patty Milich, Art Sleuth" by Sarah McBride.


Return to Resources for Collectors, Life Long Learners, Students and Teachers of Art History

TFAO catalogues:

TFAO's Distinguished Artists catalogue provides online access to biographical information for artists associated with this state. Also, Search Resource Library for online articles and essays concerning both individual artists associated with this state's history and the history of art centers and museums in this state. Resource Library articles and essays devoted to individual artists and institutions are not listed on this page.

*Tag for expired US copyright of object image:

Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.


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