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What do the numbers really mean?

If you've seen ANTIQUES ROADSHOW UK, you may have wondered before exactly how the experts assign values to objects they examine on the show... and what those numbers mean.

Though it may seem a bit flip at first, in many ways the only correct answer to the question "What's this worth?" is "It depends." There are so many variables: age, initial quality, and condition of the object itself; changes in the market; even geography—something may be worth more in London than New York, or more in Texas than in Boston.

Then there's the context of the value an expert places on an object. We encourage viewers to listen carefully to the qualifiers, phrases like—"at auction, I'd expect this to bring..." and "If I had this in my shop I'd price it at..." and "I'd suggest you insure this for..."—they can make a big difference.

You could consider an auction sale price to be roughly the same thing as a wholesale price. An auction house typically takes a 10 to 15 percent commission—a "buyer's premium," added to the price the high bidder pays. There may be a similar commission charged to the seller. An auction estimate is likely to be conservative, at the lower end of the expected price range, perhaps to encourage bidding and keep sellers' expectations realistic. Of course, when highly motivated people bid against each other for an item—or "lot," as it is known in the trade—the final price may have nothing to do with anyone's expectations. On the other hand, if there's little interest, the lot may sell for less than the estimate, or even "pass"—not be sold.

Conversely, you might think of a dealer's price as retail value. Unlike auction houses, a dealer keeps an inventory, perhaps for long periods; when you want to buy a piece at a specific time, he's had it there for you. Depending on market conditions, a dealer may routinely mark things up from 30 to 100 percent ... something to keep in mind if you want to sell an item to a dealer.

Another type of value viewers will often hear on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW UK is an estimate for insurance purposes—a valuation concerned with an object's replacement value. In other words, how much a particular object should be insured for in order to be able to replace it if it should be lost. Typically this is based on retail value (except, of course, for an item that is unique or otherwise irreplaceable). However, to carry through with insuring an object, the owner will probably need to obtain a written appraisal.

Which brings us to the last point about the values ascribed to objects on ANTIQUES ROASHOW UK. Though we commonly refer to "appraisals" taking place on the show, that is not, strictly speaking, what they are. A formal appraisal is a legal document, a written opinion, generally paid for by the recipient. The appraisal is made for a specific purpose—for insurance, for the IRS, for settling estates. Lastly, a written appraisal assigns a fixed amount, rather than the range of values you'll usually hear on show.

What the appraisers actually deliver on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW UK is what appraisers call "verbal approximations of value." Most people who come to the US ROADSHOW events are interested in whatever information an expert can add to their own recollections and speculations about their object. Usually they find that information—including the approximation of value—to be a useful and entertaining part of everything they have learned about it.

We hope as a viewer you receive the same pleasure and satisfaction from watching, even amid the sometimes dizzying flurry of numbers.


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