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October 2013

What Information is Needed for Appraising Value?

As mentioned in the previous post,
an appraiser contacted me about appraising the current value for a 1997 work recently donated by a collector to a major museum.  In response, I asked for an appointment to have a phone conversation. The phone call felt more like a necessity than an option. Thank goodness we opened the discussion. I was concerned about asking for the phone call, but the appraiser actually appreciated the nuanced conversation the phone call offered.

My primary goal was to help the appraiser to establish a current value using whatever information she requested. Hopefully it would justify an appreciated value since 1997. I had a number in mind, but didn't want to say so until the appraiser considered the factors I thought relevant to this situation.

While prices for recent work may be a consideration, the appraiser needs to compare recently SOLD work. That is just the way it works.

Harriete-Estel-Berman-websiteThe images of my artwork on my website were instrumental to the conversation with the appraiser.  I do leave "sold" work on my website for documentation, but remove the prices. However, I know the retail prices from my Inventory Records. 

Initially, the appraiser was looking only at my jewelry, perhaps because of the size of the individual beads, or it was the first page she landed on. 

Harriete-Estel-Berman-website-sculptureIn my mind this was not a good comparison since I considered the Worry About Worry Beads Coming Undone to be sculpture, and not jewelry at all. The conversation moved to sculpture for further evaluations. On the sculpture page, there were many examples of work that had sold in recent years. These provided better value comparisons.

Teapot-Page-Harriete-Estel-BermanNext we moved to the teapot page to establish that Worry About Worry Beads Coming Undone was profoundly influential on the design for many of my teapots that had sold at similar or much higher prices.  



My objective was to establish the importance of the Worry Beads as a seminal artwork that had an important influence on the design of several teapots.

1 Worry-Beads-Inspires-Teapot TeaConsuming_full72

Since the Worry Beads were completely unique, there was no identical work to compare. 

Finally, I mentioned that the Worry Beads sculpture was composed of 12 individual and unique worry beads, plus the wire "tassel." So one perspective could consider a value for each individual element and what I would charge for repair or replacement.

To conclude the conversation,  the scary part, she asked me to estimate a number.
I gave my current valuation, but still don't know the final appraised value....perhaps she went higher or lower, but I do know she appreciated the extra information from our phone call to inform her decision.

In summary the appraisal value was determined by these main factors:

  • Type of work: sculpture.
  • The specific work was seminal to subsequent work.
  • Retail prices for sold work with somewhat similar attributes (e.g. materials, size, concept, novelty).
  • Cost of replacement or repair by artist.
  • Establishing that other work sold for much higher prices.
  • Reputation of the artist.

If an artist/maker is represented by a gallery, the appraiser may have contacted the gallery instead of the artist. Since no gallery currently represents my work, the appraiser contacted me directly.

A secondary goal for my conversation with the appraiser involved some learning about appraising artwork in general.  The 2014 SNAG Professional Development Seminar in Minneapolis will have lectures by an appraiser, collector, and curator all discussing "Collectors, Collections and You."

Stay tuned for more PDS information. Opportunities related to this program are on the horizon. This will be a series of lecture offering great insight into establishing value for our art and craft. Save the date Friday April 25, 2014. The PDS is open to the public to attend.

Appraisers Approach to Appraising Value

Worry About Worry Beads Coming Undone by Harriete Estel BermanNot too long ago I received an email from an art appraiser of "modern and contemporary design." The appraiser was contacting me to discuss the value of an artwork that I made in 1997, which sold shortly after. Now the collector is donating the work to a major museum!

Donation of my artwork by a private collector to a museum collection is an amazing opportunity. It aligns with my professional goals, i.e. one way for my work to enter a major museum.

1 Worry Bead by Harriete Estel Berman from recyled tin cans 72But the appraisal presents a challenging situation - how to establish "current value" for my work? This is especially difficult when the artwork is one-of-a-kind. There is nothing within my oeuvre that is like it. Since I don't have a gallery representing my work, the appraiser contacted me directly. I was kind of intimidated.  Was I just supposed to grab a number out of the air?

This topic and related issues will be part of the upcoming Professional Development Seminar in 2014.  In the meantime,  I'd like to share the experience so that others can learn and perhaps raise good questions. Stay tuned for more information.

The appraisers letter is copied below. I will be as transparent as possible, but discretion shall prevail as well (names and dollars have been removed) .


"Dear Ms. Berman,
I am a New York-based design and decorative arts appraiser and I'm currently appraising a piece of your work, Worry About Worry Beads Coming Undone (1997), for museum donation.
Given that you often sell directly to clients, I hoped you might be willing to provide your thoughts as to the current market value of the piece. It would be especially helpful if there are recent comparable sales, although I recognize this might be difficult. I have attached images of the necklace for your review.

The details are as follows:
Harriete Estel Berman (USA)
Worry About Worry Beads Coming Undone, Necklace, 1997
Printed tin, stainless steel
Bead Diameter: 3”; Cable coil length: 48”
3 ½” x 19 ½” x 17 ¼”
Thank you for your willingness to assist with this. I look forward to hearing back at your convenience.
Best regards,
(the appraisers name here)"
Worrying Upon Worry Coming Undone Worry Beads in a box from the collector waiting to be appraised. Worrying Upon Worry Beads Coming Undone by Harriete Estel Berman donated to a museum collection waiting appraisel


ASK-red-yellowI was certainly flattered but her request opened some important issues.  Consequently, my return email asked if we could have a phone conversation.  For a variety of reasons, I needed to learn more about where she was coming from as an appraiser. An email could not possibly cover the complexity of an appropriate answer. It would be quite informative to learn how she usually determined the value of an artwork as an appraiser. What information should be considered? How could a single number reflect past events and present environment.  Such a complex situation! This will be the topic of the next post.

There was also the super amazing serendipity of the request since the theme of the upcoming Professional Development Seminar in 2014 had recently been chosen as "Collectors, Collections and YOU." This PDS will cover the topic of establishing value for your artwork, the secondary market, and getting your work into museum collections.

In my opening conversation with the appraiser I asked if it would be OK to share our discussion about the relevant issues of appraisal valuation on ASK Harriete.  She agreed if discretion could be observed.

So I will reveal as much as I can in a series of posts.


Standardized Tests Measured Again

Pencil SharpeningCOMPLETEview.

Pick Up Your Pencils, Begin  was started when my children were entering high school as I became more acutely aware of the amount of time, energy and money focused on standardized testing.

Scan Test RESULTSThis awareness began when my son took his first STAR tests in elementary school. Standardized testing at the high school increased to include STAR test, SAT, ACT, AP tests along with the high school exit exam.

This list is not simply a number of tests.  The pressure on student performance affects teachers and school administrators which is reflected in the curriculum, not just by how much time is invested in the test, but how the teachers focus the content in the classroom to raise test scores. 

YikesTo spare you from further rant, let's just acknowledge that this is just the tip of the iceberg (or should I say "point of the pencil") when it comes to the impact of standardized testing on education.

Recently Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that stimulated more news coverage about standardized testing as "California Abandons Pencils and Outdated Standards in School Testing". The irony is that California is not abandoning test taking.  They are just investing more money in new and different ways to take tests.

Colleges and universities continue to debate the merit and efficacy of the SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT, while private enterprises like Princeton Review, lobby politicians and promote their tests, and test preparation services.  Today, press reports put the value of the testing market anywhere from $400 million to $700 million.

This is all while education experts acknowledge that memorizing information in the "AGE of the Internet" is not as important as creativity and problem solving, a key skill that the arts can teach.

This is why I invested five years in constructing Pick Up Your Pencils, Begin. The size of the bell curve of pencils (28' wide and 15' tall) was a reflection of the enormity of the issue.  Actually, I wish I could have made it bigger, but as it is, it is hard to find an exhibition space with a ceiling high enough for the curtain to hang.

So a question to all of you.
Do you think that the arts have a role in education?
If so, how can you make your voice heard? My way was to teach art in my children's classroom for the teacher. What are other ways to be heard?

How can the arts address issues relevant to educators?  
At initial exhibitions of Pick Up Your Pencils, Begin it has been amazing that the math teacher's were excited by the bell curve of pencils. The bell curve is a mathematical principal to organize information. The bell curve of pencil's illustrated student performance on standardized tests, but it also showed the students that math AND ART can be beautiful, breathtaking and a powerful tool to express ideas.

My final request today:
Do you know of an exhibition space for this sculpture? The ceiling needs to be close to 15 feet tall and capable of holding the weight of the pencils. The heaviest stanine with the most pencils is only about 35lbs.

If you know of a suitable exhibition space, please let me know. If you know a curator's name, that would help.  But either way, that is all I need to contact the exhibition space.

Shipping for the installation is easy in five boxes.

Installation and de-installation only take four hours. There are three presentations that illustrate how easy this is to do.

Stay tuned for the final YouTube presentation.

Lecture by Lisebeth den Besten & Ben Lignel About Contemporary Jewelry

Ben-LignelOctober 24 is definitely going to be an amazing day. Turns out that Lisebeth den Besten and Ben Lignel will be lecturing at California College of Arts in Oakland, CA and on my birthday. What a day!

Lisebeth-den-BestenThis lecture is in conjunction with the launching of the newly published book Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective.



DATE: Thursday, October 24
TIME:  5:45 to 7:30 pm
LOCATION: 5212 Broadway
 Nahl Hall and it is free to the public.
Nahl Hall is toward the back of the campus....and UP, UP, UP, a steel staircase on the outside of the building. If you don't know your way around, just as any student to direct you.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION:  BART is easy if you don't mind walking. Just take BART to the Rockridge Station and walk seven blocks to the intersection of College and Broadway.

PARKING NEAR CAMPUS: There is NO parking on campus for regular folks like you and me. I recommend allowing enough time to drive around looking for parking in the residential area between 51st and College Avenue. It is reasonably safe and the walk is only a couple of blocks.

This lecture is a rare opportunity to interact with these speakers. The lectures at CCA are usually small and intimate. A lecture description is below. Take advantage of this opportunity.  See you there. Introduce yourself. Start a conversation. I will be there early for a great seat.

Contemporary-Jewelry-in-PerspectiveIn this joint lecture, Liesbeth den Besten and Benjamin Lignel, contributors to Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective, will look at two facets of this recent transformation:

Den Besten will discuss participatory projects and projects that question issues of value, and show how these strategies move away from ‘object-hood’ into the direction of ‘jewelry-ness’.

Lignel will show examples of how the seven ‘spaces of jewelry’ - discussed in part one of the book - are occupied differently by makers around the world, and focus on the page as a space of production.

In a third part, the two speakers will discuss the particular challenges of teaching (and learning) a craft that often forgets its craft roots, the better to dissolve itself and disseminate into the world.

Suggested reading:
Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective

Art Jewelry Forum has scheduled a series of talks.
Check out the line up for a city near you.

Values With and Without a Maker's Mark

Is this jewelry worth $5,000?
                             or $50,000?


It depends.   At least that is the opinion of the jewelry appraiser on Antiques Road.

Originally these were cuff links.  The current owners story was that they were Fabergé given as a gift from the Czar Nicholas II. Subsequently they were converted to earrings, and the original maker mark was removed along with the cuff link fixture on the back. 

As earrings they are worth an estimated $5,000 to $7,000.

The appraiser continues: "If they were converted back to cuff links, it wouldn't be original condition, of course, as cuff links...but they would be closer to their original condition. They would probably be worth $12,000 to $15,000."

If the inventory number on the back of the jewelry is confirmed to be a pair of Faberge cufflinks owned by Czar Nicholas II, "as Fabergé cuff links-- even converted-- in a retail setting, they would probably be sold for $40,000 to $50,000."

The significant issues here are condition, maker's mark of Fabergé, and provenance.

Condition counts. Converting the cuff links to earrings affects the condition; usually to the negative.  The general rule is that a preference for original condition brings top dollar.

The maker's mark confirms that these are genuine Fabergé, not simply in the style of Fabergé or another Russian jewelry maker.

Provenance is the documented history. While the participant on Antiques Roadshow had a great story, she had nothing in writing. This is why the appraiser says, "Czar Nicholas II kept a little book of his own collection of cuff links, and we could compare it to that to see if anything like that [inventory number on the back] appears [in the records of Fabergé or the Czar's records].

While few of us are as famous as Faberge (at least not yet), we can keep great inventory records to document our work for history.

The Professional Guidelines has a document, Inventory Records: Documentation and Provenance that you can use as a model for your records. The sample Inventory Record Form can be downloaded and printed for your convenience. Use this form to document important information about your work. It is available as a PDF suitable for printing or Excel.

Even if you do production, keep records for each style and the number produced.

Always mark your work. These two steps may affect the value of your work now or in the future.

Identity of the Maker Establishes Value - from $15 to $300,000

Is your maker mark on your work?

The identity of the maker can raise the price from $15. to $267,750.

In this amazing story a "rare piece of jewelry plucked from a flea market" was auctioned at Christie's for an estimated $200,000- $300,000.
Calder Necklace spiralWhat are the issues here?

First, the person who found it at the flea market had to appreciate it's dynamic, perhaps even commanding  appearance in the context of a flea market... the "guy had it in a box on the ground,”

Next: she sees the Calder jewelry exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Museum and becomes informed, a great reason to study and learn about the decorative arts.

But the most significant issue, the one that changes a $15 necklace found at a flea market into a mind blowing value, is that it had to be authenticated by the Calder Foundation in New York. "Part of the mission of the Calder Foundation is to protect the Artist’s legacy. Many existing works are often misattributed to Alexander Calder." (Examples of Calder Jewelry can be found here.)

The foundation discovered that the necklace was indeed an authentic Calder originally exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943.

More recently, Christies' auctioned the necklace on September 26, 2013.  The price realized for the Calder Necklace = $267,750

Issues to consider:

  • Maker marks or signature for your art or craft
  • Importance of provenance
  • Materials do not equal value
  • Impact of auction house on price

We can learn a lot from this example.
AND I have more to come in future posts.


Slide show of jewelry by Calder on The New York Times Website.

Information about the Calder Jewelry exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Museum. (I saw the show at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2008. It was small but amazing.)

Fabulous images of Calder's stabiles and mobiles along with other work can be found on ARTSY. There is also an interview with his grand-son.

Here is a link to another maker mark example. In this segment from Antiques Roadshow,  there was a deliberate effort to fake the maker's mark.  You can watch the video segment here.


"Stupefying Spells," Social Networking, Recommendations and Reviews

YELPSeveral articles about false Yelp reviews have been in the news recently. In one article in Fortune & Money, A New York sting operation caught businesses paying for positive ratings on recommendation websites. This is not the only example. The evening news covered a 17 year old girl writing reviews for a fee. What happened to honest opinions?

Mondrian inspired cookies and cake
that my daughter and I made last

In another scenario, some restaurants are offering free food, if you take a picture of food and post it on Instantagram. (The condition is that you must have 500 or more followers.)

My question? Is everything for sale? Are we going to barter our way to gluttony and sell our souls for a pastry?

Untitled-2Today this email arrived from LinkedIN:
"Dear Harriete Estel,
I'm sending this to ask you for a brief recommendation of my work that I can include in my LinkedIn profile. If you have any questions, let me know.

Thanks in advance for helping me out."

At first I felt like I'd been hit with something like a "stupefying spell" from Harry Potter.  Though I am aware of this person's jewelry - having seen it twice - I have never seen more than a couple of pieces. How should  I respond? Is this the foundation for a recommendation if we have never worked together? What would you do?

Being immersed in social networking is not enough depth to seek recommendations from people they don't even know personally. Will someone ask for the metaphorical five star review for their art or craft after a Like?

Continue reading ""Stupefying Spells," Social Networking, Recommendations and Reviews" »