Monday, May 23, 2011

Commentary on ARTnews article

Contemporary Turkish Rugs
With the recent onslaught of weather related disasters, there’s been a lot of recent media attention to the

 need for appraisals on fine art, antiques and collectibles. And rightly so, as the valuation of art, sterling silver, period furniture and other decorative arts items is virtually impossible if the item is destroyed or lost during a disaster. In a recent article in the May 2011 issue of ARTnews by Eileen Kinsella titled “In Praise of Appraisals” Kinsella interviews several insurance experts about insurance and appraisals, and outlines the need for collectors to have both. In the article various insurance alternatives are discussed, and the need for Insurance appraisals is emphasized.

Sterling Silver

Also discussed in the article is the fact that appraisals need to be current, as values do change. In the article, Vice President Mary Pontillo of the insurance firm DeWitt Stern is quoted as saying “You definitely want to be insured for the value the current market would sustain.” And I agree; appraisals need to be current in order to adequately reflect the replacement cost, as values to fluctuate up and down.

Although the article focuses on fine art, the article and insurance appraisals are applicable to the decorative arts area as well. For example, sterling silver spot prices hit a record breaking high last month, and values for sterling silver hollowware and flatware have increased. It is evident to this appraiser that old purchase records are no longer a good source for determining replacement cost. And values in old insurance appraisals are probably obsolete as well.

In the decorative arts areas, additional insurance coverage may or may not be required, but proof of valuation will always be required in the event of a loss. Ms. Kinsella does discuss the fact that many collectors don’t have items appraised due to the cost involved. And I agree that a lot of collectors don’t have current appraisals as they think appraisals updates are costly.

However, appraisal cost perception is probably unwarranted. I would like to suggest that for most art and decorative arts items, appraisals can be procured at a reasonable cost, especially when considering the value of the item! I offer the following suggestions:

     *Have all of your items appraised at one time. There is a “sunk” cost associated with the appraiser’s writing the core appraisal document, and that cost would be incurred multiple times if you have your items appraised at different times.
     *Procure the services of an experienced and ISA certified appraiser. Don’t waste your money using a least cost appraiser who doesn’t have the right credentials, as it may result in an appraisal that cannot be defended in court in the event of a loss. Appraisals should contain certain elements and be written to USPAP standards, as I have discussed on my website, and using appraisers who don’t adhere to these practices will be a waste of your money.
     *Use an appraiser who archives electronic appraisal records for five years. Our firm retains the document in electronic form, so as values change during a five year period, our clients can have items revalued at a lower cost, as some of the original appraisal information can be reused. As appraisals become outdated, a new appraisal can be obtained at a fraction of the original cost.
     *Get an appraisal estimate in advance. Professional appraisers will normally quote you an hourly rate, but once they see the items and understand exactly what you need to have appraised for insurance purposes, they should be able to provide you with an estimated number of hours.

The other thing that I found missing from the article was the overlooking of the International Society of Appraisers (ISA) in the list of appraiser credentialing organizations. ISA is one of only two organizations that test their members on appraisal theory as well as subject matter material AND retest their appraisers on a routine basis. I am a member of this organization, and in order to maintain my certification, I am request to retest every five years.

I appreciate ARTnews addressing the subject of insurance appraisals, and hope that not only art collectors, but collectors of sterling silver, period furniture, Chinese pottery and ceramics, Chinese export porcelain, Asian art, cloisonné and other collectible items will make sure they have current appraisals that not only reflect current valuation but also accurately document the items in the collection, as you never know what can happen to your precious collection.

Vicky Nash Shaw, ISA CAPP
Certified Antique and Art Appraiser
919 475-6930

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Art In Clay" – The Best of North Carolina Colonial Ceramics

St. Asaph's (Alamance County)  Sugar Bowls

If you like ceramics, have an interest in North Carolina history, or are interested in Moravian and Quaker ceramics, the “Art in Clay” exhibit at MESDA (Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts) is a must see exhibit. Even if you haven’t previously had an interest in North Carolina redware, this exhibit may pleasantly surprise you.

Moravian Owl Bottle
As the culmination of four years of work, research and study, the “Art in Clay” exhibit showcases early North Carolina pottery by presenting examples from some of the premier collections in the country. Ok, so you’ve seen North Carolina early pottery before, so, what’s the big deal about “Art in Clay”? It’s just mud, correct? Redware? Think again. What makes this project and exhibit unique is that the work and research culminating with the exhibit has literally re-written history. And then there’s the fact that this slip decorated redware North Carolina pottery is some of the most beautiful pottery every made! Plain redware it is not.

Due to the combined efforts between ceramic experts, potters, historians, archeologists, and chemists, this pottery from the Piedmont area has unquestionably been identified, dated and attributed, even reattributed in some instances. Moravian pottery has been appreciated for many years due to its originality, beauty and form, but now we know that some of this previously attributed Moravian pottery was actually made by German immigrants who lived and worked in other areas of North Carolina, particularly in the St. Asaph’s area of Alamance County. That’s what has changed history!

Moravian Aust Shop Sign
And now the WOW factor kicks in; we are talking about highly decorated slip pottery, dating to the 1770’s into the early 1800’s. And this is not plain, glazed pottery, but beautifully decorated and brightly colored pottery. There are not only plates and mugs, but these really cool lidded storage containers that we now know are sugar bowls, animal forms and flasks. Very little of this pottery is signed, and attributions have been made by researching potters’ kiln sites, inventory records and other early documented sources. By comparing signed or known pieces and using pottery sherds from the archeological digs, dating and geographic attribution of the pottery can be determined. And the Moravian Aust shop sign, a cornerstone piece of the exhibit, is a fabulous one of a kind ceramic bowl style sign that will dazzle you when you walk into the exhibit room.

Work by the early Moravian Potters of Aust and Christ are included in the exhibit…no surprise there. But, works by the German potters from the Loy family living and working in the St. Asaph’s area of Alamance County, and works by Quaker Potters, have also been identified and are included in the exhibit. And these Quaker made pieces are also highly decorated and beautiful. There are about 120 items included, many borrowed from private collectors (some being heirs of the original potters), the Henry Ford Museum, MESDA, Colonial Williamsburg and others. And the items from private collections will be returned to their owners at the end of the exhibit; this two year travelling exhibition is the only way to ever see these privately owned pieces.

Punch Bowl
I was fortunate to attend a symposium dedicated to this exhibit, and heard from some of the researchers who worked on this project. There were seminars by ceramics experts, potters, archeologists and historians, all of whom contributed to the research. I participated in special curator led tours of the exhibit, including a tour by Joanna Brown and one by Luke Beckerdite. According to Luke Beckerdite, this collection includes “the best slip decorated colonial ceramics in America.” And coming from a nationally renowned ceramics expert, that’s a pretty good endorsement for North Carolina redware!

And since I am an appraiser, people always ask me about value. Is this old North Carolina pottery valuable? You bet. In 2001, Sotheby’s sold a female figural flask, modeled as a girl standing with a small flower spray clasped before her with her long dress covered in a rich green glaze, and dated 1800 for $31,800 including the buyer’s premium. Now, this is really a one of a kind, very rare item; the other more common pieces are less expensive. In 2010, Brunk Auction sold a simple 7” brown squirrel bottle for $700.00 plus buyer’s premium. And the squirrel had some chips and cracks, and the date was not authenticated! But still, very impressive values!

But this is something you need to see for yourself! We are fortunate that this exhibit is currently at MESDA (Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston Salem) and will be there until August 14, 2011. This is a fabulous opportunity to see our North Carolina redware at its best, and to educate yourself about Moravian, St. Asaphs, and Quaker North Carolina pottery. More information on the exhibit can be found at In a future blog post, we’ll talk a little more about how the slipware pottery was made, but don’t miss the opportunity to see the real stuff. As you walk through the exhibit cases, see if you can tell how the Moravian, St. Asaphs, and Quaker pottery differ from each other. And enjoy them for their beauty; they are truly works of art!

Vicky Nash Shaw,
ISA CAPP Certified Antique and Art Appraiser
919 475-6930