An article in Fotomundo Featuring Penelope Dixon on Collecting

Penelope Dixon: About Appraising photography 

Specialist in the appraising of photographs, Penelope Dixon, was visiting Buenos Aires. What are the consideration taken in valuation of a photograph, interest in Latin American photography and how to participate / enter the art market, were some of the subjects we discussed during the interview that Fotomundo maintained with her.

Interviewer: Silvia Mangialardi

Which are the fundamental aspects considered in evaluating a photograph?First is the Author. If the work is from the 19th century it might be anonymous, but if it is from 20th we should know its author. If the work is from the last few decades it should be signed, if it is not we might have a problem.

Second, is the date of print. We must answer: is it a vintage or a recent print? For example, with Lee Friedlander, a print made in the 70’s has a different value than one made in the 90’s. This makes our work harder every day, because sometimes it is very hard to discover the difference. It was easier to distinguish work of the 30’s and 40’s but from the 80’s to the present, it is more complicated. This is why it is so important that photographers write as much information as possible on each print. In the case of a contemporary photographer who made a picture in 1995 but did not print it until 2003, this must be registered. In the future it will be then known that the print was made close to the time it was taken.

Third, is the how the photographic print should be signed. For example, if is an Ansel Adams, the latest prints should be signed in pencil while the oldest in ink, but they should always be signed, because he always signed his prints unless it was a commercial job. If it were, we would ask why. In other words, we must know what to expect from each author.

Fourth, if it is a  contemporary work, we need to know how many prints were made. Most photographers of the first half of the 20th century, like Cartier-Bresson, did not limit the number of copies they made. Some photographers were very careful like Edward Weston who kept detailed records of the print’s number and thanks to this it is easy to determine how many prints he made of each image. He limited his “editions” to 50, but he never got close to the number in any one photo.

Fifth, the process is also important, especially with contemporary photographers. It does not matter if the picture is taken in digital form. What is important is how it is printed. Is it on archival quality paper? Will the colors keep unaltered overtime if not kept in acclimatized environments? An important consideration here in Buenos Aires because of the humidity I have had problems with my own collection in Miami for not having a controlled environment. All work on paper must be well taken care of.

Is there a rule for photographers to follow so buyers can be sure of what they buy? There is no law, but in New York there was an attempt to have a ‘Letter of Authenticity.” I keep trying to convince the galleries to give a well detailed and complete invoice because these invoices become part of the history of the photograph. That way when someone needs to valuate a work, all the information will be available.

When I work with the archives of someone who has been collecting for ten years, I ask the collector to gather all the receipts. It always helps to call the gallery that sold the photographs to ask for help in the valuation on its verso is not easily accessible unless it is taken out of the frame and many people do not like that.

I always recommend that authors put as much information as possible: when was the picture taken, when was it printed, the number print relative to the total printed, who did the lab work (if the photographer didn’t), the process, etc.  In many cases we only see a signature, and the rest is guess work.

Then, it is about taking the word of the author.

Yes, that is why provenance is so important. If I buy a photograph from someone who bought it directly from the author, this information must be recorded in its history. When a photograph goes to auction, its provenance is typically published. This i part of its authenticity.

The same has been always going on in the world of painting and sculptures, and now that photographs are selling for over a million dollars, as it has happened in the case of one image by Man Ray and one that is presently being offered by Andre kertesz, it is very important to know from where the piece came, to know its complete history , if it has been restored, if has been well kept.

How is the work of a photographer without much history evaluated?

It is among the hardest thing to do, as much in photography as in any other art form. Some times it is just by chance that an artist develops a market (given the premise that he/she is a good artist). A work might be as good as another, but one is better liked by the gallery that offers it in an exhibition, by the art critic who reviews the show, … it is luck. Or perhaps a museum bought a photograph and it is therefore very important that it became part of the collection of a prestigious institution, resulting in a market for work.





Comparative Market Data Aproach

The comparative market data approach, the third approach to valuation, is the one most commonly used by the appraiser of personal property when preparing an appraisal. At first glance this may seem to be easier to calculate than the other two approaches, the cost approach and the income approach. But, upon closer examination, one sees that it is, perhaps, the most complicated, when applied to art and antiques.

The definition of the comparative market data approach is relative simple. It means that and object is valued by comparing it to similar and like objects which have been sold previously.

Finding the appropriate “similar and like objects,” can however, prove extremely complicated since works of art are not widgets; and no two pieces are exactly alike. Even two pieces of furniture or ceramics, which were produced by the same factory, are not exactly the same when one takes into consideration their condition or state of conservation in preparing an appraisal. For example, two seemingly identical pieces of the American furniture, by the same maker, can have vastly different values if one has been heavily restored and the other is perceived as being in pristine condition.

Among the factors an appraiser must consider when selecting comparables to use in an appraisal, based on the comparative market data approach are: is the work by the same artist; was it produced at the same time; is it signed and dated; are the dimensions the same; is the medium the same; is the condition the same; was the piece sold at auction, through a gallery or by a private transaction; when was it old; is the data, which is being used to establish the comparison, reliable?

Painting by the same artists may only appear for sale once in a lifetime. For example, a portrait by he 16th century Florentine painter, Potorno, was sold at auction in the 1980s to the  Getty Museum of over $35 million. Does this mean that every portrait of the same sitter, Cosimo de Medici, created at the same, is worth a similar amount?

Another factor to consider is how close to a valuation date should a comparable be? Is it appropriate to chose as a comparable an object which may closely resemble the one being appraised but which was sold four years before the appraisal was written?

The are just two of the many questions an appraiser must bear in mind when deciding how much weigh to give to a specific comparable and how to compensate for factors which make the comparable less than a direct match to the object being appraised.

The question of reliability of data is also important. For example, some auction house are more diligent than others in listing the condition of objects in their catalogue entries. An appraiser can’t be expected to attend every sale or viewing; but if one can’t, how is one to know that the condition of the comparable item is as stated from reading the auction catalogue and scrutinizing the photograph (assuming that a photo has been provided)?

This article is from All About Appraising: The Definitive Appraisal Handbook, and was written by Victor Wiener.

A Short History of Photograph Collecting


by Penelope Dixon

Article published in the Center for Photography at Woodstock’s: October Auction Quarterly

The collecting of photographs was practically simultaneous with the invention of photography. P and D Colnaghi, a well-established art gallery in London, sold photographs as early as the 1850s, representing both the work of Roger Fenton and Julia Margaret Cameron. People became obsessed with capturing their own likenesses. A popular past-time in the mid 19th century was the exchange of carte-de-visites. People collected cartes of their friends and family and put them into albums, much like children exchanging school pictures today. Much like our present fascination with Hollywood personalities, they were also avid collectors of celebrity images. A recent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London, The Beautiful and the Damned. The Creation of Identity in Nineteenth Century Photography, [accompanied by a fine catalogue] explores the effects of early photography on society.

Travel photographs were another early collectible. The very wealthy would set off on long excursions, “the grand tour”, and instead of taking their own photographs [the cumbersome and complicated equipment precluded this] they would purchase photographs of each place they visited, later putting them into large albums. An English gentleman’s album of the 1860s might include photographs by William Notman of Canada, Charles Clifford of Spain, Carlo Ponti and Fratelli Alinari of Italy and Felix Bonfils or A. Beato the Middle East.

Many photographs were published in albums in the 19th century, presumably to be sold to institutions or wealthy private collectors. Examples include Peter Henry Emerson’s Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads or John Thomson’s Street Life in London. These early albums were precursors to the photographic portfolios produced today by contemporary photographers. Other parallels between 19th and 20th century collecting can be seen in government or corporation sponsored photography. The Glasgow City Improvement Trust hired Thomas Annan to record the Glasgow slums and this work was published in 1874 as Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow. Edouard Baldus was hired by the Monuments Historiques in France to document the architecture of the country on his 1851 mission heliographique. Many similar projects have been done in this century, beginning with Lewis Hine’s work for the National Child Labor Committee.

Photographic auctions also had their beginnings in the mid 19th century. The first auction of photographs took place in London in 1854. The first auction in America was a century later, The Marshall Sale, held by Swann Galleries in 1952. The prices from that sale would make you cry.

Although “photography as art” was still being debated, by the early 20th century photographs had become firmly established as a collectible. Alfred Stieglitz had various galleries in New York from 1905 until his death in 1946. Like many contemporary galleries today, he exhibited photographs alongside the work of modern artists. Along with Stieglitz, Julian Levy’s gallery in New York, open between 1931 and 1949, introduced many photographers to the collecting publish, including Weston, Sheeler, Strand and Atget. Famous in the 1950s was Helen Gee’s “Limelight” and after a dry period in the 1960s, the early 1970s saw the beginning of the photography market, as we know it today. From a few galleries in New York, London and other major cities, we can now find hundreds worldwide.

A Short History of the Market

Most people know the story of the rise and fall and rise again of the Ansel Adams’ market. In some ways it is a good example of the market as a whole. Photographs by Adams which were selling in 1975 for $400 were selling for between $4,000 and $16,000 by 1979, thanks to the astute marketing of Harry Lunn. By the early 1980s Adams prices had dropped to between about $2,000 and $10,000. Today, they are back up again, but this time coming close to the $100,000 mark for particularly fine vintage prints of his signature 1941 image, Moonrise Over Hernandez. What happened? First, the limitation in 1975 of his prints and subsequent creation of rarity, which coincided with a widespread demand for photographs and investors into the market. Then came a bad economy and supply began to exceed the demand.

A related change in the market happened in the early 1990s. Prior to this time, there had been less interest in vintage prints, that is, those prints which were made close to the time the photographer made his/her original negative. Hence, there were extensive reprintings by Ansel Adams, Andre Kertesz, Henri Cartier-Bresson as these photographers, and many others, jumped on the bandwagon.

Other effects on the market have been certain “blockbuster” museum shows which have contributed to a larger public awareness of the medium as well as providing new levels of understanding and an increase in value for a certain photographer, or period of photography. Also, blockbuster auctions, such as the multi-media Man Ray sale at Sotheby’s in London in the mid 1990s where only 1of the items offered failed to sell, contribute an energy and stability to the market.

Auction houses have changed the structure of the contemporary art market and will continue to do so. More public attends auctions than ever before, the houses now serve as middlemen between buyers and sellers.

Now, Why Should You Collect Photographs?

Investment potential is an obvious answer but aesthetic considerations are far more important to my mind. You might have to live with a particular photograph for some time before you can sell it, so you had better like it. I used to collect photographs because I loved the images, because of the accessibility of so many pictures on the market and the relatively reasonable prices. I stopped collecting and have sold most of my collection, not because any of those reasons changed but because I couldn’t take good enough care of the prints [I live in two humid locations] and any works on paper do need a lot of love and attention. Also, going back to the investment potential, many of my photographs had gone up in value so it was a good time to sell.
How to Collect: (1) What to Look For

My first memory of photographs was Edward Steichen’s Family of Man exhibition and book. I spent hours as a child pouring over the images. Some 20 years later the first photograph I bought was an image by Bill Brandt of the girl on Lambeth Walk, parading in her mother’s high-heeled shoes. I think I paid about $150 for it and recently sold it for over $2,000, not a bad investment, although I certainly didn’t buy it with this in mind. So, what should you look for when collecting photographs? There are a number of criteria to follow, which are same ones I use in establishing value in my photographic appraisals.


The artist

The particular image

Value Definitions

The following is a summary of values as defined by the Appraisers Association of America. The reader will see that there is some overlap between types of values and we, as the appraisers, often use a combination of values based on the purpose of the particular appraisal. We also do not necessarily totally agree with these exact definitions but have included them here for a preliminary overview of appraisal valuation.

Retail Replacement Value (RRV) – Highest Value (Usually for Insurance Purposes) is defined as the highest amount in terms of US dollars that would be required to replace a property with another of similar age, quality, origin, appearance, provenance, and condition within a reasonable length of time in an appropriate and relevant market. When applicable, sales and / or import tax, commissions and/or premiums are included in this amount. (NYU Appraisal Studies Program definition)

Auction Replacement Value (ARV) – (Usually for Insurance Purposes) is defined as a reasonable amount in terms of US dollars that would be required to replace a property with another of similar age, quality, origin, appearance, provenance and condition within a reasonable length of time in an appropriate and relevant auction market. Since the client regularly and routinely  buys at suctions, he appraisers rarely examined the retail market. When applicable, sales and/or import tax, commissions and/or premiums are included in this amount.

Retail Value (Used to Establish a price Guideline for Retail Pricing) Appraise “retail value” is derived from “retail replacement value.” It is defined as a reasonable amount in terms of US dollars that would be required to purchase a property of similar age, quality, origin, appearance, provenance, and condition within a reasonable length of time in an appropriate and relevant market. Unlike “retail replacement value,” “retail value” does not include any fees or additional costs, such as taxes, framing, conservation, restoration, and additional commissions.

Fair Market Value (FMV) – Middle “Secondary Market” Value (Usually for IRS Purposes) as defined by IRS Section 1.170 and 20.2031 (b) is the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having a reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.” According to Technical Advisory Memorandum 9235005 (May 27, 1992), fair market value should include the buyer’s premium.

20.201 (b) continues “the fair market value of an item of property includible in the decendents’ gross estate is not to be determined by the sale price of that item in a market other than that in which such item is commonly sold to the public, taking into account the location of the item wherever appropriate. Thus, in the case of an item of property includible in the market, fair market value of such an item of property is the price at which the item or a comparable item would be sold at retail.”

(Treasury Regulation Section 1.170A – 13©) (3) (1998)

Marketable Cash Value MCV) – Middle/Low “NET” Value (Usually for Equitable Distribution, Resale or Estate Planning Purposes) is defined as the net value a willing seller realizes after disposing of property in a competitive and open market to a willing buyer. Both the buyer and seller must be reasonably knowledgeable of all relevant facts, and neither being under constraint to buy or sell. Marketable cash value takes into consideration insurance, dealer commissions, advertising, travel, and shipping expenses that may be involved in the sale.

Orderly Liquidation Value (OLV) – Low Range “NET” Value (Usually for Quick Sale Purposes) is defined as “the most probable price in terms of cash, or other precisely revealed terms, for which the property would change hands under required and limiting conditions in an orderly manner, generally advertised, with reasonable time constraints, in an appropriate and relevant marketplace, with knowledgeable buyer.”

Forced Liquidation Value (FLV) – Low Range “NET” Value (Usually for Quick and Forced sale Purposes) is defined as “the most probably price in terms of cash, or other precisely revealed terms, for which the property would change if sold immediately, without regard to relevant marketplace.” (ASA 1994 Handbook, p. 2)

Selvage Value (SV) – Rock Bottom Value – Can be a Negative Value (Usually for quick and forced Sale Purposes) is defined as the net price in terms of cash, or other precisely revealed terms, for which the property would change hands if sold immediately, without regard to relevant market place and appropriate use. In certain cases, this may be a negative value as labor and other costs mat be required to disassemble and dispose of the property in a quickly and expedient manner.

Object ID Checklist

In 1993, the Getty Information Institute initiated a collaboration project to develop an international documentation standard for the information needed to identify cultural objects. The new standard has been developed in collaboration with police forces, customs agencies, museums, the art trade, valuers, and the insurance industry.

The contents of the standard were identified by a combination of background research, interviews, and, most importantly, by the major international questionnaire surveys. In total, over 1,000 responses were received from organizations in 84 countries, The findings of these surveys, published in Protecting Cultural Objects in the Global Information Society, demonstrated that there was close agreement on the information needed to describe objects for purposes of identification. The result is the Object ID Checklist.*

Object ID is easy to use. Just follow the checklist and try to answer as many of the questions as possible, To find out more about Object ID, or to request permission to reproduce the Object ID Checklist, contact:

The Council for the Prevention of Art Theft
The Estate Office
Stourhead Park
Stourton, Warminster
Wiltshire BA12 6QD England
Telephone and Facsimile: 011.44.1747.841540


Take Photographs: Photographs are of vital importance in identifying recovering stolen objects. In addition to overall views, take close-ups of inscriptions, and any damage or repairs. If possible, include a scale or object of known size in the image.

Answer These Questions:

Type of Object: What kind of object is it (e.g., painting, sculpture, clock, mask)?

Materials & Techniques: What materials is the object made of (e.g., brass, wood, oil on canvas)? How was it made (e.g., carved, cast, etched)?

Measurements: What is the size and/or weight of the object? Specify which unit of measurement is being used (e.g., cm., in.) and to which dimension the measurement refers (e.g., height, width, depth).

Inscriptions & Markings: Are there any identifying markings, numbers, or inscriptions on the object (e.g., a signature, dedication, title, maker’s mark, purity marks, property marks)?

Distinguishing Features: Does the object have any physical characteristics that could help to identify it (e.g., damage, repairs, manufacturing defects)?

Title: Does the object have a title by which it is known and might be identified (e.g., The Scream)?

Subject: What is pictured or represented (e.g., landscape, battle, woman holding child)?

Date or Period: When was the object made (e.g., 1893, early 17th century, Late Bronze Age)?

Maker: Do you know who made the object? this may be the name of a known individual (e.g., Thomas Tompion), a company (e.g., Tiffany), or a cultural group (e.g, Hopi).

Write a Short Description: This can also include any additional information which helps to identify the object (e.g, color and shape of the object, where it was made).

Keep it Secure: Having document the object, Keep this information in a safe place.







Bidding Fierce for Pre-Civil War Cased Images of African Americans from the Jackie Napoleon Wilson Collection

An impressive selection of early and rare cased images of African Americans from the Jackie Napoleon Wilson collection were sold for record prices at Christie’s, New York on October 4, 2001. Wilson, a lawyer from the Midwest, began collecting photographs of black people in 1978, seeking to reclaim and champion a piece of his own heritage. His collection is historically based, documenting black life in mid-nineteenth century America with remarkable examples of some of the earliest photographic techniques, including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes. Dating from 1845 to 1865, many of these photographs are extremely rare because, during the period prior to the Civil War and Emancipation, few black people in America had the means, leisure or freedom to have their own likenesses recorded in photographs. Ever since he began the painstaking process of amassing these small cased images, Wilson has thought of his collection as a teaching tool. He once explained, “I believed that the collection had the power to change not only how whites felt about blacks, but that it had the power to affect how blacks felt about themselves.” As early as 1983, three works from Wilson’s collection were exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Then, in 1995, he collaborated with the J. Paul Getty Museum to mount the exhibition, “Hidden Witness: African Americans in Early Photography,” which included 22 examples from the museum’s holdings and 44 from Wilson’s collection.

The very same 44 images were offered for sale at Christie’s on October 4th, many setting record or near record prices for cased images of their size and photographic process. What is more, the sale itself was an historic event, marking the first time that such a large number of photographs of black people had been offered publicly at a major photography auction. Of particular note was lot #72, “Portrait of a mother and child,” also known as “Madonna,” a sixth-plate tintype, circa 1860 that sold for $47,000 plus the buyer’s premium. A classic Madonna and child image, this tintype captures the serenity and fortitude of a young black woman holding her infant child in her arms. A ring on her finger glints with hand-painted gilt highlighting. This image was also featured on the cover of Wilson’s book, “Hidden Witness: African-American Images from the Dawn of Photography to the Civil War (1999).

Other noteworthy sales include lot #71, “Freemen of Color,” by William A. Pratt of Richmond, Virginia, a quarter-plate, hand-colored daguerreotype dating from 1850 of two well-dressed men, which sold for $26,000, plus the buyer’s premium. The sixth-plate, hand-colored daguerreotype of a nursemaid and child by R.G. Montgomery, also of Richmond, lot #56, sold for $17,000, plus the buyer’s premium. A half-plate ambrotype of a Southern townhouse, circa 1855 sold for a remarkable $8,500, plus the buyer’s premium.

In general, bidding was fierce throughout the sale, with many lots finding several bids from within the room, on order or on the telephone. The top three highest selling lots, mentioned above, were all sold to telephone bidders in the end. Of the 44 lots offered for sale, only 4 failed to find buyers. It is interesting to mention that prices were high across the board for daguerreotypes, tintypes and ambrotypes, in some cases blurring the typical price differential between the three related, although different photographic processes.

The vast majority of the 44 photographs offered for sale were taken by unknown makers. The most noteworthy photographer in the group was J.P. Ball, the black photographer who worked in Cincinnati, Ohio and Helena, Montana. His half-plate daguerreotype of a family portrait dating from 1845 (lot #95) sold for $4,500, plus the buyer’s premium. In addition to individual, family and wedding portraits, the subject matter of the works offered for sale included occupationals, black nursemaids with white children, civil war material, and white men with young black male servants. Finally, it is important to note that, in general, these were not large cased images. Rather they were of the most common size, mostly sixth plate and quarter plate cased images. Nevertheless, this sale of property from the Jackie Napoleon Wilson Collection marks a turning point in the demand for photographs of African Americans offered for sale at major auction houses. It will be interesting to see if similar collections are to be had at auction in the near future.

Written by Cheryl Finley.

Clear Title

The question of whether a client has undisputed ownership, or clear title, to an antique or a work of art may prove crucial in establishing its value. If title is contested, the value of the object has clearly been compromised since prospective buyers may be understandably reluctant to buy a work of art which may be claimed as the property of another.

The most obvious disputes occur when a work has been stolen. Sometimes the fact that a theft has occurred is hard to establish, especially if there is no record that the object ever existed in the collection to which it supposedly once belonged. Although records in the form of inventories, insurance policies or photographs may not exist, if someone claims that the object had been stolen from them its value has been diminished unless the claim has been dismissed by legal authorities.

There are different types of theft. The most obvious is when a burglar breaks into a house and removes property; but there are more subtle and complicated kinds as well. Property claimed to be cultural patrimony of one country which has been exported illegally to another can present special problems. This is most common in parts of Asia Minor and South America where archaeological sites are plundered regularly by grave robbers and the ancient and pre-Columbian art markets have been plagued with claims from nations seeking to repatriate reputedly looted works.

Sometimes it may be difficult for the appraiser to make sense of conflicting claims. For example, while England, The Netherlands and Germany have very liberal laws concerning the export of art, Italy, France and Greece have more restrictive ones – yet all are members of the Common Market and works of art can cross common borders without being subject to inspection by customs authorities. However, the non-restrictive rules of open trade between the Common Market countries do not apply to works of art. Consequently, a painting which has been exported inappropriately from France, and subsequently sold at auction in London, may be subject to a messy claim. A bizarre example of such a restrictive situation concerns the one painting by Van Gogh which exists in Italy today. The Italians have stated that it can never be exported legally, although the Dutch artist Van Gogh never even visited the land of Raphael and Michelangelo. Nonetheless, Italy’s Ministry of Fine Arts claims that since this is the only Van Gogh in the country, it is now part of the country’s cultural patrimony.

Sometimes emotional factors are injected into claims of stolen art. This is especially true when property associated with the Holocaust is considered. A recent dispute centers around the recovered memories of descendants of art collectors who were killed by the Nazis and who now claim to have recognized a Degas in a museum catalog as one which belonged to their grandfather – although only disputed photographs of the object exist. Until the claim is resolved, the true value of the Degas, which could sell for more than a million dollars, has been vastly diminished.

Determining the rights of intellectual property, or claims of copyright violations, can prove very complicated for the appraiser who may not be knowledgeable of all the nuances of the law. Works produced before 1979 are subject to different regulations, under the Geneva Convention, than works created after that date.

The market for entertainment memorabilia is growing rapidly; with this growth, one has seen claims by Hollywood studios challenging the rights of collectors to sell photographs or drawings which had been produced by artists under contract to the studio, although the original art work may have been discarded or never used. A recent case won by Playboy Magazine challenged the right of artists, who had submitted work “for hire,” to the magazine. The court ruled that once the artists had been paid by Playboy they could not reproduce their works in other publications or sell the original cartoons.

The field of contemporary art is particularly complicated. Collectors who own a painting by a living artist may not own the rights to have it reproduced in a book about their collection. The reproduction rights to some fine art prints, created by famous artists, may be owned by the printers and not by the artists. Knowing who has clear title in such instances is a valuation consideration about which the appraiser must be well – informed.

Although the appraiser may not be expected to know all the subtleties of the law, one should know which situations may present problems and how to identify them when claims of disputed title on a variety of fronts may exist. When in doubt, a lawyer should be consulted. When the issue of simple theft is concerned, organizations such as the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR), the Art Loss Register and Interpol may be of help. In any case, when a claim of disputed title may exist, it is essential that this important fact is cited in the appraisal report.

Verification of clear title is one element of a correctly prepared appraisal. For a complete list of the “Elements of a Correctly Prepared Appraisal”, please contact the Appraisers Association of America at (212) 889-5404.

This article appeared in the Antiques and The Arts Weekly, January 31 1997, page 100 and was written by Victor Weiner.

Determining Authenticity

The determination of whether an object is authentic or not may prove to be the most important factor in establishing its value. The real Picasso is worth more than the fake; a real diamond will fetch a significantly higher price than its synthetic imitation. Yet, determining the authenticity of a piece may be the most difficult of all the functions an appraiser has to perform.

The concept of authenticity embraces two essential considerations: what is meant by “authentic” and who is the correct person to judge whether a piece is authentic or not. What is considered to be authentic for one type of object may not be considered to be authentic for another. Standards of authenticity vary greatly from field to field. For example, while collectors of European furniture see nothing wrong with major restoration, those who concentrate on American furniture may judge a piece with minor additions to be “fake.” Artists such as Rembrandt and Rubens had large studios fulfilling back orders from anxious clients, yet only a fraction of the paintings bearing the artists’ signatures are judged, today, to be truly “authentic.”

Given such conflicting data, one may rightly ask, “Who is the one to determine whether a piece is correct or not?” Many appraisers would agree that they are not the ones to make the primary determination. They would argue that it is too much to ask a generalist to pass judgment on an object in a highly specific category. Even when the appraiser specializes in a relatively small area, he or she may not feel totally qualified to authenticate a particular object – and the market may not be prepared to accept the opinion of the appraiser as the primary authenticator. For example, an appraiser of impressionist paintings would not be the one to authenticate a Renoir that is unknown to the market. An authenticator, by definition, is one who specializes in a highly specific and, frequently, narrow field. For this reason appraisers frequently rely on third party sources as authenticators.

If appraisers are not authenticators per se, one may ask, who is? Various categories of “experts” come to mind, but each category carries with it a history of academic and legal challenges to the opinions of specific experts.

Auction houses may be considered, by many, to be the most qualified to determine whether a piece is authentic or not since all sales are public, and catalogues receive worldwide distribution and scrutiny. But auction house experts frequently defer to the opinions of others, and even that has not protected them from lengthy and nasty lawsuits. Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s have been entangled in litigation connected with objects ranging from Faberge eggs to Mary Cassatt paintings.

Dealers of deceased artists are frequently called upon to authenticate objects, but they, too, have had their opinions challenged in court. Klaus Perls, the exclusive agent for Alexander Calder was recently disqualified by the court in a case concerning a contested Calder mobile. And, the internationally prominent print dealer, David Tunick, challenged, in court, the opinion of the internationally prominent Swiss auctioneer Eberhard Kornfeld over a Picasso print with a disputed signature.

Famous scholars are frequently questioned about their judgment when problems of authenticity arise. The recent exhibition of all the Rembrandt paintings owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented numerous challenges by the Museum’s staff to the opinions published by the Rembrandt Research Project, a group of Dutch scholars, who, for decades, had passed judgment on the authenticity of Rembrandts held in public and private collections.

On the other hand, museum staff members frequently are not in agreement with one another. At the same time as the Rembrandt exhibition, the Metropolitan held an exhibition of its Goya’s. Gigantic chat labels on the walls revealed to the general public an internal controversy among the staff concerning the authenticity of two versions of Goya’s Majas on a Balcony. One version, belonging to a private French collection, is universally accepted as a genuine Goya, but the Metropolitan’s staff is divided in its judgment of the Metropolitan’s version. The curatorial staff believes it to be a copy by a follower of Goya, but the Conservation Department of the Museum believes it to be an authentic work whose authorship has been obscured by its poor conservation. Unable to make a firm public commitment, the Museum displayed both paintings, side by side, and called upon the general public to make up its mind for itself.

Recently, authentication committees have been established by the estates of deceased artists. But, the judgments of these committees have been hotly contested – especially when the members of the committees are also involved in the marketing and sales of the holdings left to them by the estate of the deceased. Charges of “conflict of interest” have been raised against the authentication committees of Keith Haring, Yves Klein and Alexander Calder, among others. Disgruntled owners of disputed works have claimed that these committees are reluctant to authenticate works owned by others because the art market is not large enough to support too many works by one artist.

In some European countries, such as Italy and France, family members of deceased artists are legally the ones to have the ultimate word on authenticity, even though they may be generations removed from their ancestors. As strange as this may seem to an American audience, the “moral right” (droit moral) of these descendants is well established in the local courts and American appraisers must take this into consideration.

The opinions of living artists, about their own works, have been questioned as well. Giorgio de Chirico (1888 – 1978) was accused of painting fakes of his earlier, metaphysical paintings, during the last years of his life, since the earlier works were more valuable than the ones painted circa 1970.

In today’s litigious climate, even if the spirit of a venerable artist such as Rembrandt could miraculously be brought to testify in a court of law, one runs the risk of hearing a judge say that his opinion about his own work is not legally acceptable because he is too old to remember what he had painted over 300 years ago. As implausible as this may sound, an analogous decision was rendered by a court in discrediting an affidavit written by the French artist, Balthus, about a contested nude drawing of his former mistress.

As one can see, authenticity is a concept which changes constantly, both from the point of view of how one defines what is an authentic piece and from the viewpoint of who is best qualified to determine whether a piece is authentic or not. The appraiser must make an objective judgment about which opinion, (including that of the appraiser), will be accepted by the market and which opinion will not.

In such a changing universe the appraiser’s primarily function is to determine how much an object is worth as of the date of valuation. If it would be universally accepted as “genuine”, its value has not been compromised; it there is any dispute concerning its authenticity, its value may be diminished and the appraiser must then decide just how much the value should be lowered. Clearly this is not an easy job and only the most skilled appraisers can make these value judgments with a certain degree of accuracy and precision.

Determination of authenticity is one of the Elements of a Correctly Prepared Appraisal. For a complete list of the “Elements of a Correctly Prepared Appraisal”, please contact the Appraisers Association of America.

This article appeared in the Antiques and The Arts Weekly, September 20, 1996, page 61 and was written by Victor Wiener.

Liquidation Value

Bankrupt corporations or households will frequently require appraisals to help in assessing the values of the viable assets which may have to be liquidated, within a short amount of time, to settle debts. In such cases a special type of appraisal based on “liquidation value” should be written.

Liquidation value is distinct from other types of value because the element of time is the overriding consideration in deciding how much an object is worth. Unlike fair market value, which is used in IRS situations, or marketable cash value, which is used in divorce cases, liquidation value is structured with the assumption that the appraised objects must be sold in the very near future in a forced sale situation.

Under such circumstances, an “orderly sale” is not possible; and those overseeing a forced sale would not be able to sell the objects at a major auction house because the sales procedure – frequently stretching out between five to eight months, from moment of consignment to receipt of final payment
– would prove much too long for the pressing needs of a bankruptcy liquidation.

The time constraints of a bankruptcy preclude many common practices consignors rely on when dealing with major auction houses. In such cases, one will not be able to sell objects in specialized sales. The American highboy cannot be sold in a sale of important American furniture and decorative arts which take place only twice a year; but it will have to be sold in a general sale of all types of furniture and decorative arts mixed together with any paintings, works on paper and collectibles which may also be part of the collection. Nor will one have the luxury of time to research and catalogue properly the appraised objects. Most likely the only catalogue which will be produced, by those selling the collection, will be a photocopied list of works, with phrases such as “attributed to” and “in the style of” liberally peppered throughout whatever text there may be. It is also highly improbable that any of the objects will be photographed for the sale list. There simply may not be enough time to take photos.

In all likelihood a bankruptcy sale will not receive much publicity. Perhaps there will be time to place an ad in a local newspaper or weekly trade publication, but a display ad in a monthly periodical will probably be out of the question because glossy publications require ad copy to be delivered months before the scheduled publication date. The Japanese collector of impressionist paintings will never know that there are some available in a U.S. bankruptcy sale, unless the Japanese collector is lucky enough to have a U.S. agent with a keen eye on local newspapers.

Consequently, those selling objects in a bankruptcy situation pay a steep price for the convenience of receiving payment in a short amount of time. They will not receive the higher prices the same objects would fetch if they were to be sold in an orderly fashion.

The appraiser, in turn, should be well aware of such economic realities and the liquidation value(s) of appraisals for bankruptcy purposes should be significantly lower than values used in other types of appraisals.

In sum, if one were to construct a pyramid of values, replacement value for insurance purposes would be at the top as the highest value and this would be followed, in descending order, by fair market value for IRS purposes, marketable cash value for equitable distribution and, at the bottom, liquidation value for bankruptcy situations.

The selection of the correct value for a specific valuation purpose is just one of the many elements of a correctly prepared appraisal. For a complete list of the “Elements of a Correctly Prepared Appraisal”, please contact the Appraisers Association of America.

This article appeared in the Antiques and The Arts Weekly, March 15, 1996, page 53 and was written by Victor Wiener.

Marketable Cash Value

The type of value commonly used in divorce settlements is “marketable cash value.” Unlike fair market value, which should be used only in IRS situations, (estate tax appraisals, donations appraisals and gift tax appraisals), marketable cash value represents the amount of money one would receive from the sale of a work of art, net of all expenses connected with the sale. These expenses may include the buyer’s premium, which a purchaser may have to pay to an auction house; the seller’s commission, due to an auction house or art dealer; cataloguing expenses, photography; transportation costs; advertising and promotion, insurance premiums, at al.

Fair market value, on the other hand, represents the gross value received from a sale which would include all these expenses. For Example, the purchaser of a painting at auction may pay $110,000, including, the buyer’s premium, for the work or art, while the seller, after expenses have been deducted, may only receive $88,000 would represent the painting’s marketable cash value and this would be the value userd in the appraisals written for equitable distribution purposes.

Using this illustration, it is understandable why marketable cash value would be the preferred type of valuation in a divorce settlement where a couple’s assets must be divided equally and fairly between the two parties,

For example, a husband and wife, during the course of a twenty year marriage, may have accumulated many assets among which may be, cash in the bank, stocks and bonds, real estate and an art collection of Picassos and sacrifice $1,000,000 in cash for this privilege. However, if, shortly after the divorce, she comes to the realization that she now hates the Picasso collection because “it reminds me of him” she should have knowledge and security, rendered, through a properly prepared appraisal, that she will actually receive $1,000,000, and not $700,000, should she now wish to sell the collection.

Under such circumstances, marketable cash value, and not the more abstract IRS term, fair market value, should be used as the basis for the valuation. Otherwise, the distribution of assets, agreed upon in the court proceedings would not be equitable’ and, by extension, a appraiser who has not used marketable cash value for an equitable distribution appraisal may be vulnerable in any cross examination during the divorce proceedings or in legal action for negligence which may arise at a later date.

This article is from Marketable Cash Value One of the Elements of a Correctly Prepared Appraisaland was written by Victor Wiener.