Appraising Your Antiques

We often receive calls at the museum from people looking for someone to appraise their antiques. We don’t typically use the term “antique” because it implies monetary value on items that we look at from a historical standpoint. Instead, we refer to such items as “artifacts” or “collections.”

Our focus on historic value makes us hesitant to approach artifacts with money in mind; even the lowliest artifact from a financial perspective can have a huge historic value.

Even if museum staff wanted to assign monetary values to artifacts, for a variety of legal reasons, we are not allowed to. We can, however, help you with the history and/or provenance of an item, which you can then use in communicating with a certified appraiser.

We cannot refer you to specific certified appraisers, but here are a number of professional organizations that can help you find one.

American Society of Appraisers

Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America

Appraisers Association of America

Appraisers National Association

International Society of Appraisers

The Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute page on appraisals (includes links to organization listed above, plus a number of other related links)

You can also conduct your own online research on your artifact to see if you can determine its current market value. This will allow you to judge whether an appraisal is within the range of what similar items are selling for. Keep in mind, however, that many factors go into appraisals, including condition of item, age, and historic ownership. These factors can lead to a variety of values on what seem to be similar artifacts.

6 Comments

  1. Hello,
    I am trying to find out more about the history of a piano that is in my possession. On the soundboard of the piano there is an inscription in German:

    C. Bechstein
    > > FLÜGEL -U PIANINO – FABRIK
    > > SR. MAJESTÄT DER KÖNIGN VON ENGLAND
    > > I.K.K.H. DER FRAU KRONPRINZESS IN PRINCESS ROYAL OF GREAT BRITIAN AND
    > > IRELAND
    > > SR. KÖNIGL HOHEIT DES PRINZEN FRIEFRICH CARL VON PREUSSEN UND SR.
    > > KÖNIGL HOHEIT DES HERZOGS VON EDINBURG
    > > BERLIN
    > > ERSTE-FABRIK: JOHONNIS – STR. NO. 5-7,
    > > ZWEITE – FABRIK: GRUNAUER – STR. NO. 21

    Moreover, there is a serial number 2424 etched into the main body on the underside. I contacted Bechstein a few years ago and they informed me that from the serial number they could tell me the piano was manufactured between 1885 and 1887.

    Thank you for the help and let me know if you have any further questions.

  2. Hi, Andrew – We don’t have any pianos in our collection, nor piano experts on staff. I suggest you try contacting the Historical Piano Study Center in Massachusetts (http://www.frederickcollection.org/), the Piano Museum (http://www.pianomuseum.org/), or The Antique Piano Shop (http://www.antiquepianoshop.com/online-museum/).

    I would hope any one of these resources would provide more information on your piano than we can.

    Thanks for contacting us.

    Mary Warner
    Museum Manager

  3. I have come across a silver plated, round serving tray with the words JacKIEWEL Brewing Co. Little Falls. I’ve never heard of that brewery. Do you have any info?
    Thank you! Anita

    • Anita – The Kiewel Brewing Company got its start in Little Falls in 1893, when Jacob Kiewel purchased a small brewery that was already in operation. The company continued in business through Prohibition, closing in 1959. Jacob Kiewel is one of our Morrison County Influentials. There is also a Collections Carousel post featuring a Kiewel Brewery Patch. Hope this helps!
      Ann Marie Johnson
      Curator of Collections

  4. Hi – I have a small china plate with a picture of the “View of Waterfalls, Little Falls, MN”. On the back it says “Carlsbad China, made in Austria for Tomolty’s Bargain Bazaar, Little Falls, MN”. Can you tell me about Tomolty’s Bargain Bazaar ? Some day when I’m in Little Falls, I’ll drop the plate off at the museum!
    Thank you
    Jane

    • Jane, Tomelty’s ran a store in Little Falls as early as 1892, showing up in the first published Little Falls city directory. The Tomelty Store sold dry goods and notions up until at least the late 1910s. Feel free to stop in and do more research! Staff at MCHS.

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