I am not a certified appraiser nor a member of an appraisal related association or group, all of my knowledge comes from 'field' work, I am out in the shops, reading publications, doing research for myself and others pretty much on a daily basis. I was raised around antique dealers and have been an active dealer for 30 years. While I do get paid for doing appraisals and my appraisals have been recognized by insurance companies, moving companies, courts of law, etc.
With that said, I want to warn folks about antique and personal property appraisers and how not all of them know jack about what they are seeing or saying. Due to my professional affiliations, job and interactions I have found a substantial amount of mis-information being given to people by "certified" appraisers.
I frequently do paid appraisals for people and also free appraisal services for non-profit groups and some non-profit thrift stores. The reason I felt the need to write this post is based on a recent experience I had assisting a group preparing to have a big boutique sale of donated item. I have worked with this group for about 20 years in helping them price items for their sales but this one in particular floored me.
For some reason this group had paid a certified appraiser to come in and assist them for this particular sale upon reviewing the prices and information they were given they knew something was not right so they called me to come in and double check the information.
I saw a Warwick IOGA lady portrait pitcher valued at $20, a praxinoscope in near mint condition labeled as a 'magic lantern' and valued at $50, a fully functional mint with box Charley Weaver bartender $10 and this went on and on. I was sickened an appalled that anyone claiming to be an expert could come in and be so ignorant. Or maybe they were pricing these items so low because they had plans on coming to the sale and purchasing the items. The ladies in charge of the sale still had the business card of the 'appraiser' and believe you me I was on the phone with this person as soon as I got the mess straightened out and returned home.... fuming.
We then set out on a mission to bring in several appraisers to appraise and give the history on a variety of items such as porcelain, jewelry, books, china, toys, sterling silver, coin silver and furniture. We did not do works of art simply because that is... or should be, a very specialized genre. All appraisers were paid for their time and out of 13 people only 2 knew what was what and had any knowledge of the items. One of the appraisers was honest with us when it came to the books and told us that she did not know enough about books to give an appraisal. This is after a 1949 printing of A.A. Milne's "When We Were Very Young" was appraised at $6,000 and we were told that it was a very rare first edition..... REALLY?!?! This particular book was first printed in 1924 and the book that was appraised even stated that it was the 59th printing.
I asked each appraiser how they gained their knowledge and stayed on top of the market and values and the were same two who gave reasonable appraisals and information said they regularly attended antique shows and stores and subscribed to a number of print and online publications and databases. The others told me that they read about trends and prices. Reading is good but it needs to be combined with field work.
I actually came across an article that said the following; "Developing your own library is probably the single most important part of becoming an appraiser," The reason, is that large numbers of reproductions complicate the antique world. Books, with their pictures and descriptions, can help separate the real thing from the impostor. The beginner should buy books and more books. "There are no bad books in an appraiser's library,"Anyone that has any dealings with antiques, collectibles, memorabilia or vintage items needs a good, healthy library of reference books but if you never venture out to shows and stores, handle items, look at reproductions that are on the market, fully inspect furniture and do all the things that a dealer or good appraiser does you don't know jack.
It might interest you to know that appraisers are not licensed they are certified and one can become certified through online courses and about $2,000.
If you need an appraisal for insurance purposes I highly recommend getting a referral from a friend or get references from the appraiser you pick to work with. An antique dealer who has been in the business for a number of years can probably serve you just as well and at a much lower cost.
I am prepared for the 'hate' mail I will get from this article. As I stated at the beginning of this post, this does not apply to all appraisers as a consumer YOU need to know what is going on out there.