2015 : December Notes From An Appraiser

Keywords Prove Essential, But Time Consuming In Asian Art Evaluations

I was retained by a fire insurance adjuster and was given a list of 22 Asian art properties to appraise, the most valuable listed as a Chinese green mottled nephrite flat-form vase, a $15,000 replacement value.

The adjuster wanted to stay within a budget of not more than 10 hours and asked me to prioritize my research. It took four hours of reading the information provided to me but I selected three properties that had the potential to be worth mid-six figures combined and dismissed the other properties to the values given.
I re-wrote my scope of work to reflect that four hours had been used, and that I would use six to ten hours more to research the three selected properties. It sounds very straight forward and even easy.

Now, many hours of research later, appearances can be deceiving.
One property was listed as “fine Chinese spinach jadeite translucent circular shallow bowl, Qianlong, 18th century, chrysanthemum ribbed in fine detail overall, 8¼-inch diameter. The key to this description was the ribbed in fine detail, which generally refers to Mughal style. In searching auction house databases, all auction houses are supposed to report, but Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams often do not report their sales to the databases. Simply searching for a spinach jade bowl. I turned up over 300 searches on Sotheby’s. Of course the date is important, but size, pattern and style also matter. The key search term was Mughal style, referring to the ribbed chrysanthemum pattern on the bowl. My research yielded actual cash value for this property of $10,000.

Another property was the Chinese green mottled nephrite flat form vase, carved overall in single piece with a nephrite loose chain, 6 inches high. My search terms highlighted the loose chain. This also indicated the property was probably not made for use. Without that specific term, hundreds of results would turn up. This type of property is purely decorative and was not made to be used, and was of an export style. I found the auction listings on a third tier auction house site using a common auction house database search. My research yielded actual cash value of $6,000.

The third property was a Chinese porcelain archaic form incenser with six calligraphy marks, Wanli Period, Ming Dynasty, four flared legs, blue and white, 8 inches high. This was the most difficult property to research. The style is rare as many are tripods, not four-legged, and other materials like jade and bronze were used as well as porcelain. The key research terms were many: porcelain, archaic form, Wanli Period, four leg, and blue and white. My research showed actual cash value of $28,000.
It wasn’t an easy report. The search terms took hours to refine, and then I went through hundreds of auction records to find the one with similar properties. As stated, I needed comparable of similar size, color and style. After 12-15 hours, I had my answers, but could only deliver a three-page table, not a report.