In this blog, our goal is to provide news on a variety of topics related to art, antiques and collectibles, and to relay updates in appraising.  We hope you find our commentary useful.

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Unusual Literary Properties

The most common works in this category are first editions. Appraisal is usually a straightforward task.  Condition is assessed, the import of provenance is weigh, and comparables in the active and well-documented market are found.  Straightforward is a pleasure, when you get it.

Another sort of case came to us recently: the collection of a best-selling author who had saved everything related to his work over the course of a 20-year career.  The archive included first editions, typescripts, personal and professional correspondence, contracts, drawings, memorabilia in many forms – literally everything.  He was prolific; novels, collections of short stories, non-fiction works, reviews, and essays.  There was even a thick volume of rejection letters, diligently filed and dated.  The material filled a small garage.

The appraisal was to be made pursuant to the sale of the archive to an institution.  It was a friendly transaction, and both parties would rely on our valuation.

Questions formed even as we were writing our scope of work outline; are materials relating to the more successful works worth more? (An easy one – yes.)  Are typescripts with more extensive annotations worth more than cleaner typescripts that are closer to the published work? (Yes)  Are autographed letters from other prominent authors worth more than typewritten letters, even if the content is far less compelling? (sometimes) And so on; the list was a long one.

The final and most important question was the most difficult of all: how does the celebrity and standing of the author compare to other contemporary authors writing in the same genre? (Which author is “worth” more; Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Camus?)

Transparency is the key in these reports.  A successful appraisal must lead the reader, in this case, both the author and the prospective buyer, through the analysis, step-by-step.  The collection must be described in detail, a report made on its condition, its strong and weak points discussed, and its qualities must be compared and contrasted with similar properties.  Finally, a breakdown of sales results of similar properties must be made.  It is essential here to describe the aptness of each sale price and comparison and its imperfections.

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest HemingwayIn the end, if both buyer and seller have confidence in the basis of the valuation, it will be a success.  In cases involving a broad range of materials, there are no short-cuts.  First editions are child’s play in comparison.



(Inset: The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway, 1926, first edition, first printing, dust jacket in good condition, tight binding, crisp boards – $45,000.00.)

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Art, Gift Taxes, Trusts and the Internal Revenue Service

A particular Read & Mullin specialization is the research and drafting of submissions to the IRS for gift taxes, probate appraisals, and the transfer of art and tangible assets into trusts. Over the past few years, we have submitted reports documenting over $40 million in value to the Art Advisory Panel of the Commissioner of the IRS. Our filings have been accepted in areas as diverse as Greek antiquities, Old Master paintings, rock guitars, literary manuscripts and Impressionist paintings. In future blog posts we will offer insights into our processes.

Over the past 20 years, the IRS has made a concerted effort to invite the country’s best experts to participate in its reviews of art appraisals and valuations. Today, the Art Advisory Panel is composed of specialists at the highest levels of expertise in a broad variety of arts-related fields. Collectors who are considering gift tax submissions or transfers of art into trusts, and those who are responsible for estate filings, should be aware that the standards of scholarship and market analysis in appraisals submitted to the Panel have risen dramatically over the last decade. As the level of expertise on the Panel has risen, its review standards have become more rigorous and demanding.

All of this is good news for those who bring the highest level of experience and expertise to their work in this area. IRS submissions of value that are thorough, equitable, well-argued and judiciously reasoned will be accepted favorable by the Panel. This is also a warning to anyone who may underestimate the rigors of the task.

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Buying Art and Antiques at Auction

There are four questions that must be answered before a prospective purchase is made: is the piece authentic; what is its condition; what is its quality, and what is a fair price to pay for it?

Our advice to collectors who need answers to these questions is based on information that comes from a network of seasoned experts, most of them current or former department heads of international auction houses, and independent specialists. Our advice is always current, accurate, and impartial.

Auctions great and small can be excellent sources. But these purchases usually involve questions that must be posed by an experienced hand. A few of these questions would include:

  • Who in the auction house has seen the piece, and who, exactly, catalogued it? A conversation with this person is probably in order.
  • What is the precise condition of the piece? This question often requires specific questions about gilding, chips, cracks, restoration (where, how?), over-painting, stamps, marks, signatures, framing, print numbering, and others. One must determine if this auction house condition report is guaranteed.
  • What exactly does the auctioneer guarantee? Authenticity? If so, what are the limitations?
  • Is the photograph in the catalogue accurate, in both color and detail? Photographs can often mask imperfections and alterations.

These questions change according to the nature of the purchase, and its location.

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Couple’s Yard Sale Find is a Winner

William Aiken Walker painting found at yard sale

A fine day for our clients who purchased this small painting (6 x 12in.) of a mule-drawn wagon by William Aiken Walker at a yard sale in Arkansas, for $30.00. They drove down from North Carolina to meet with us in Charleston. We appraised the painting for them, explained the options open to them, and then negotiated the sale of the work for them to a buyer in the Northeast for the sort of price one might associate with a winning lottery ticket.

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