Is it time to call an appraiser?
Sometimes you just want to do a little of your own sleuthing, to see what you can find out without spending any money on a qualified fine art appraiser. I know. It’s human nature. In the same way as we like to diagnose ourselves “online” before we go to the doctor, we also want to appraise our own artwork.
Determine what it is you have
This is the first hurdle, and it’s a big one. Is it an original or a reproduction? One way to tell if a work on paper is a reproduction is to look at it under magnification. You can use either a magnifying glass or a jeweller’s loupe. If you see a regular pattern of dots, you likely have a photo-mechanical reproduction. If there are two numbers divided by a slash in the lower left or lower right corner, you might have an original print or a limited edition reproduction. Typically, if the second number is very large, you have a reproduction, eg. 153/13,500. If the second number is less than 75, you are more likely to have an original print. A work that appears to be a painting on canvas could be a reproduction on canvas, with faux brushstrokes added.
If you cannot be certain what it is you have, it is best to call a professional appraiser.
Is there a signature or are there any inscriptions on the piece that would help to identify the artist? Make a note of any signatures, inscriptions, printing or labels on the artwork. If you do call an appraiser, they will better be able to give you an estimate for services if they know the names of artists in your collection.
It will be difficult to continue doing research on your own if you don’t know the name of the creator of your object.
How big is your object? The standard measurement is height x width x depth. Do not include the frame, if the object is framed. If you cannot see how large the print or painting is inside the frame, measure the “sight size”. This is the measurement of the area you can see on the front of the painting or print. Measure inside the mat, or inside the frame to get the sight size. For a sculpture, measure from the highest, widest, and deepest part. It is useful to be armed with your measurements in both inches and centimetres before you start your research.
If you are researching a print that has a title, enter the exact title, in quotation marks, into a search engine. You might find out where this print has been sold before, or who is currently selling it. You might find out who the artist is, if that wasn’t previously evident. You might also find out what the medium is – whether it is a reproduction or an original print.
If you are not certain whether your work is an original or a reproduction and you know the name of the artist, type the artist’s name in the search engine and click on “images”. If the very same image comes up, there is a good chance that you have some form of multiple, a print or a reproduction.
Into a search engine, type in the name of your artist and the word “auction” or the name of a local auction house to see if you can find evidence that works by the artist have sold at auction.
Always bear in mind while doing your own research, that you might not be getting the full picture. Some free information available online is out of date, or you might be unknowingly comparing apples to oranges. You might be missing key information, or have been incorrect in determining the correct medium of your artwork. Some online retailers are known to post wildly inflated asking prices.
Professional appraisers have a working relationship with, and access to, information from dealers and galleries that is not available to a private individual.
Furthermore, you should be aware that just because a work by the artist has sold at some point in the past for $10,000, it does not automatically follow that your work would sell for $10,000. Similarly, just because a gallery or online seller has an asking price of $10,000, it does not automatically follow that you could sell your work for that amount. There is no magic formula, and works of art do not automatically appreciate in value over time.
If you are in doubt about your findings, a professional appraiser can assist you with properly identifying, fully documenting and accurately appraising your artwork. You should expect to pay a fee for these services, as you would any qualified professional.