If you're a fan of the PBS program Antique Roadshow, you probably fantasise about stumbling across a dusty old oil painting at a garage sale, antiques fair or while cleaning out Aunt Bessie's attic. Nothing wrong with that dream, but don't let your excitement at the thought of becoming an overnight millionaire get in the way of caution. There's an art and a science to evaluating the worth of oil paintings, and the difference between getting scammed and getting rich will be found in the experience and wisdom of a credentialed, professional appraiser. This article will offer some tips you can take to the bank--or rather, to the appraiser--when you get the lowdown on your newfound masterpiece.
Undertake your own due diligence before you seek out a professional appraiser so you are armed with information about the painting in question, the artist and the era in which it was painted. Check the link at the end of this article to do a cursory search.
Contact your insurance agent. Purchase a short-term policy to cover the art--or ask your agent whether a rider attached to your homeowner's insurance will do the job. Base the coverage amount on your best assessment of what you learnt from your research. If coverage proves too expensive, or if your agent doesn't underwrite this type of insurance, you might not wish to take the painting out of your home until you have more data about its true worth.
Sleuth out an art appraisal professional. Be cautious about appraisers claiming they can assess the value of your artwork over the Internet or from a photo. It's wiser to find a registered appraiser in your geographic area, book an appointment and take the painting with youe. If you don't trust the Yellow Pages, call local museums or fine art dealers and ask for referrals.
Contact the Appraisers Association of America (see link below) if you are unable to find a local resource. This non-profit group can match you up with vetted experts in your area. Consider calling several. Ask about each one's credentials, fee structure and years of experience, and request a list of references. Evaluate the names on your list and choose the one with whom you feel most comfortable.
Bring the artwork and any background information you may have collected since its acquisition to your meeting. If you are concerned about having no insurance on the painting, you may wish to pick an appraiser who can come to your home. In either case, write down questions before the meeting so you don't forget points you wish to cover.
Ask the appraiser whether he or she is qualified to issue a certificate of authentication if you require documentation for a potential sale of the painting or for insurance purposes.
Get additional assurances by seeking a second option if you are feeling uneasy about the appraiser with whom you met. You will be charged again to meet with a second appraiser, but if you're unsure, it may be worth the price.
Once your appraisal certificate arrives, make a copy for your insurance agent and adjust the coverage amount to match the certified value of the piece. If you're interested in selling the work of art, begin contacting dealers. If you choose to keep the piece, consider finding a climate-controlled storage facility or bank vault to keep your painting safe and in pristine condition.