Tips of the Trade
How Do You Become an Appraiser?
For years you've rummaged around antique shops, you've become a devoted fan of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW and now you wonder: "Can anyone become an appraiser?" We asked that question of Kathy Bailey, an independent appraiser in and around Seattle, Washington. Her answer?
"It's definitely possible," Bailey says. "It's a little like working in real estate. The first five years can be awfully scary. What it takes is devotion and a lifetime of study."
In cities appraisers are often found in auction houses, appraisal societies and antique/collectible dealerships. Auction houses often hire and train people with fine arts degrees or museum backgrounds. However, Bailey says that most appraisers cut their teeth as collectors, antique/collectible dealers, insurance brokers and antique restorers.
"You learn about the product through the buying, selling, cleaning, handling, repairing and just basic cuddling of the goods," Bailey says. Many appraisers start the work part-time, as it's hard to make a living outside big cities as a full-time appraiser, she notes.
"Developing your own library is probably the single most important part of becoming an appraiser," Bailey insists. The reason, she says, 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, she says, should buy books and more books. "There are no bad books in an appraiser's library," Bailey says.
Appraisers are not licensed, but most professional ones belong to appraisal societies. These professional groups often give courses and teach the mechanics of appraising. This is important, because an appraisal is more than an informal or even an informed price estimate. It's a legal document often used for financial reasons for which the appraiser is liable.
Bailey says that she started as a collector, but learned the appraising ropes from a mentor, a woman who had been in the antiques business since 1928. "She looked at one of the pieces I brought in and laughed," Bailey remembers. That day was the beginning of an informal apprenticeship, one of the traditional routes to expertise.
"She always brought an antique to dinner that we could study," Bailey remembers. "Other people might think it a bore, but I loved it. You didn't leave the dinner table until you passed her test. And I always paid."
Bailey says that mentors often pass on their knowledge as they near retirement. "They're often looking for someone to carry on for them and take good care of their clients," she says. Until you find a mentor, and even if you do, Bailey recommends a college course in the fine arts or one at an appraisal society or local museum. And perhaps you too someday will find your way to an appraiser's table at ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a regular contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 1998.