The Art Trade and Appraisers, page 2 of 2


Every year hundreds of thousands of cultural objects worldwide are described and valued by appraisers, making the profession of great importance in the fight against the illicit trade in cultural objects.12 The written description is a key element in any appraisal.13 Indeed, it has been described as "the first building block, the foundation in the argument leading to the value conclusion."14 The Appraisers Association of America's Elements of a Correctly Prepared Appraisal states that an appraisal should include "Thorough descriptions of appraised objects."15 The American Society of Appraisers believes that object descriptions produced by an appraiser need to be sufficiently detailed that "Any layman reading it should, without any special knowledge, be able to pick out the subject with no possibility of confusing it with another property—even without photographs."16 Similarly, John Bernasconi, in his Inventories and Catalogues for Auctioneers, writes that "It is essential that the description given in an inventory describes the article sufficiently to enable anyone reading the inventory to visualize and identify the item."17 Photographs are seen as complements to the written description. For the American Society of Appraisers "photographs showing general, unique and value-making features are a basic descriptive tool."18

The importance of descriptions that adequately identify the objects being appraised is written into the Code of Ethics of the Appraisers Association of America, which requires that "All items must be described accurately and all factors affecting their valuation must be stated clearly and concisely with as high degree of accuracy as can be achieved."19 It is also written into the Principles of Appraisal Practice and Code of Ethics of the American Society of Appraisers (Article 6.9), which state that

Good appraisal practice requires that the description of the property, tangible or intangible, which is the subject of the valuation, cover adequately (a) identification of the property, (b) statement of legal rights and restrictions comprised in the ownership, and (c) the characteristics of the property which contribute to or detract from its value.20

Rule 7-2 of the Appraisal Foundation's Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice states that the appraiser must "adequately identify the property to be valued, including the method of identification."21

In recent years appraisers' inventories have come to be recognized by some insurers as a security measure, because the information they contain may enable law-enforcement agencies to recover any objects stolen from clients that have taken this precaution. A number of underwriters now offer reduced rates for clients who document their valuables, while some insurance brokers offer valuation services. Nevertheless, one participant in the Roundtable Meeting of Specialists in Art Insurance at Lloyd's of London (see Section VI, The Insurance Industry) declared that many appraisers' descriptions are not very useful when it comes to helping the police recover stolen objects, since they lack the information needed to identify objects uniquely. They went on to say that if the goal is "to get good descriptions that are useful to the police, then the process of training needed to be looked at in a different way."

Questionnaire Survey of Appraisers

The survey of appraisers was greatly assisted by the collaboration of the Appraisers Association of America, American Society of Appraisers, the Incorporated Society of Valuers and Auctioneers (U.K.), the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (U.K.), and the Nederlandse Organisatie van Makelaars, Veilinghouders en BeŽdigde Taxateurs in Roerende Goederen en MachinerieŽn. More responses were received from this sector than from any other survey carried out by the project, with 511 replies being received from appraisers, valuers, and experts in 12 countries.

The survey of appraisers showed the strongest support of all for the categories of information that constitutes Object ID. All but one of the Object ID categories were agreed to by between 90 and 100 percent of respondents—the only exception being Photographs, which was agreed to by 89 percent.

Related Written Material (93%) was the only category not included in Object ID to be agreed to by over 90 percent of respondents. Seven other categories scored between 80 and 90 percent, these being Date Documented (87%), Physical Condition (85%), Related Objects (83%), Place of Origin/Discovery (81%), Recorder's Name (81%), and Estimated Value (80%).

From the appraisers' point of view, Recorder's Name and Date Documented were essential parts of their records, since no appraisal is valid without this information. Some even wished the record to provide information about his or her professional qualifications. Contrary to the dealers' response, Estimated Value was regarded as important by the large majority of respondents, for the obvious reason that the appraiser's job is to estimate the value of the objects he or she appraises. However, recording the value of an object is meaningful only if the basis of valuation is also provided. For example, a valuation made for insurance purposes is likely to be higher than one made for probate.22 Another problem is that the Estimated Value of an object often changes from year to year. Unless it is kept up to date by periodic re-valuations, it may soon cease to reflect the true value of the piece.

There was very strong support for the category Related Written Material, in the form of published information and/or specialist reports concerning its significance, provenance, exhibition history, conservation history, scientific tests, contextual information about its maker, and references to standard texts. Many respondents saw Place of Origin/Discovery as important, especially in the case of archaeological objects, e.g., the location and type of site, the circumstances of discovery, and related finds. Cross Reference to Related Objects was seen as important because it enabled appraisers to record that an object is one of a pair, or part of a set. Distinguishing Features and the related category Condition of Object both scored high in the survey, with some responding that the documentation on an object should include condition reports and the history of conservation (where relevant), including the extent of restoration work.

Other categories of information were suggested: life dates of the maker, the quality of the object in comparison with other objects of the same type, use of object, the results of scientific tests made on the object, the iconographic significance of the subject matter, date the object was photographed, and any catalogue raisonťe numbers.

Nevertheless, some respondents shared the concern voiced by some dealers that the standard should be kept short and simple. They argued for appraisers to use their discretion when applying the standard, since it was impractical to make detailed descriptions of objects that are of relatively low value.

Table 7. Summary of Findings of Questionnaire Survey of Appraisers
Category of Information Percentage

Object Name 99
Materials & Techniques 97
Measurements 97
Inscriptions & Markings 97
Date or Period 96
Title 97
Distinguishing Features 96
Maker 96
Type of Object 95
Subject 94
Description 94
Related Written Material 93

Photographs 89
Date Documented 87
Condition of Object 85
Cross Reference to Related Objects 83
Place of Origin/Discovery 81
Recorder's Name 81
Estimated Value 80

Custodian of Object 78
Object ID Number 72

Normal Location of Object 68
Legal Status of Object 64

Acquisition 59

Object ID categories are in bold.

Winterthur Roundtable Meeting of Organizations
Representing Art Dealers and Appraisers

In October 1996, representatives of dealers and appraisers met at Winterthur Museum in Delaware, U.S.A., to consider ways in which the new standard could be promoted.

The participants agreed on the importance of the categories of information identified by the questionnaire. In keeping with the enthusiasm for additional categories as expressed in the survey, one appraiser hoped that "all appraisers. . .are writing appraisals which include all of this information, in addition to a great deal of other things which are not included in this standard, such as provenance information and publication history."

The importance placed on images of objects led the group to call for appraisers to include photographs in their appraisals. They argued that the image and the descriptive text should be mutually complementary, with the photographs illustrating points made in the written description. As one participant pointed out, increasingly "image and the words are linked. . .digital cameras are becoming accessible and portable, videotape is certainly cheap, so the potential is there to add photo-documentation to a verbal description."

Some concern was expressed about the category Distinguishing Features, a number of participants believing that dealers would not wish to record information about damage, defects, or repairs because of the impact on the value of the object. However, one participant argued that in the case of antiquities, where multiples are very common, descriptions of distinguishing features, such as breaks and marks, are essential as complements to photographs.

Both appraisers and dealers agreed on the need for discretion in applying the Object ID checklist. To document low-value objects in detail would be inappropriate and uneconomic, whereas some high-value objects might well require more information than the checklist calls for.

In the discussion on implementation, one participant declared that if Object ID were incorporated into a standardized theft report form that had the support of key organi-zations, its real value to the trade would cause it to be widely used. For him, defining the standard was only the first step; the next was to disseminate information about it as widely as possible.

The appraisers saw training as an important element in any implementation strategy for Object ID, and that this should be aimed at both students and current members of the profession. Moreover, they saw scope for appraisers' organizations to build on and incorporate Object ID into professional standards or guidelines for the preparation of appraisals.

The participants believed that within three years the Internet would be more widely used by both dealers and appraisers, and would therefore become a conduit for information on stolen goods. One participant commented on the timeliness of Object ID because the increasing use of the Internet by the trade meant "this is the critical time to set a standard for describing objects." Another called for the dissemination of the standard on key Web sites, along with other publications that can be used to answer questions concerning the identi-fication of objects, including ones relating to terminology and provenance.

Finally, the group agreed on the need to educate the general public about the importance of documenting their valuable possessions. One suggested that the standard be disseminated in the form of a "simple checklist that people can just use to enter this data" (a suggestion also made at the Edinburgh Roundtable Meeting of Documentation Experts; see Section III). A number of participants believed that insurance companies should be encouraged to distribute the checklist to their clients, with a covering letter pointing out that by describing items of value they might simplify and speed up the processing of any claim made with regard to these objects.



12 The term "appraiser" is used in this publication to stand for all the professional bodies that conduct professional appraisals of personal property, including "valuers" (U.K.), "experts" (France), and "taxateurs" (The Netherlands).

13 Black's Law Dictionary defines an appraisal as "a valuation or an estimation of value of property by disinterested persons of suitable qualifications." P.C. Soucy and J.N. Smyth, eds., The Appraisal of Personal Property: Principles, Theories, and Practice Methods for the Professional Appraiser (Washington, D.C.: American Society of Appraisers, 1994), 1.

14 P.C. Sorlien, "Valuation Research and Analysis," in A Handbook on the Appraisal of Personal Property (Washington, D.C.: American Society of Appraisers, 1989), 13.

15 The AAA's Elements of a Correctly Prepared Appraisal also include "Provenance (if available)," "Exhibition and Publication History (if any)," and "Statement of Condition of Appraised Object." Elements of a Correctly Prepared Appraisal (New York: Appraisers Association of America, n.d.).

16 Ibid.

17 J. Bernasconi, Inventories and Catalogues for Auctioneers (London: Estates Gazette Limited, 1976), 1.

18 Soucy and Smyth, 13.

19 Appraisers Association of America, Inc. By-Laws and Code of Ethics, May 1987, 15.

20 Ibid., 220.

21 Uniform Standards of Professional Practice, 1997 edition, Appraisals Standards Board (Washington, D.C.: The Appraisal Foundation, 1997), Rule 7-2. A comment attached to this rule states that "An adequate identification of property should accurately describe the property as understood within its market."

22 The Personal Property Committee of the American Society of Appraisers accepts the following definitions of value: Fair Market Value, Market Value, Replacement Value, Replacement Cost New, Replacement Cost, Orderly Liquidation Value, Liquidation Value, Actual Cash Value, Estate Value, Donation Value, Marketable Cash Value, Appropriate Market Level, and Highest and Best Use. (Source: A Handbook on the Appraisal of Personal Property (Washington, D.C.: American Society of Appraisers, 1989). See also Bernasconi, 1976.)


Protecting Cultural Objects in the Global Information Society — Copyright © 1997 The J. Paul Getty Trust