We often have clients come to the gallery wanting to learn more about a piece of art they have inherited or acquired in some other way. Sometimes they do not know who the artist is or its provenance; sometimes who the artist is, but nothing more. When in question, we try to offer suggestions that will help establish who the artist is. At this point we would make a referral to an appraiser or auction house for help. Antique stores often have in-house appraisers and have regularly scheduled appraisals (think Antiques Road Show).

3toiNIf the artist is in fact alive, we suggest attempting to contact the artist personally. If not, we recommend trying to locate the trust charged with handling the artist’s work. With any luck the artist has a website with contact information or gallery representation which should be able to assist with valuation and selling the piece on the secondary market. If you are unable to locate any direct contacts, we would again send you to an art appraiser or auction house as a resource.

If you are interested in actually selling the piece be sure to do as much research as you can to determine the market value of the artwork. Good resources are on the internet, but start with the artist or gallery representative first. Just search for the artist or name of the piece. With a little digging you should be able get some idea of its worth. Often the acquired art is from another part of the country. In that case we suggest they contact a art local museum or even historical society. Generally speaking this might be the best resource for finding an expert that’s familiar with the artist’s work. In Portland, the Portland Art Museum, PAM Rental Sales Gallery, or Oregon Historical Society are great places to start.

The 1,000-year-old Chinese bowl bought for $3 or less and sold by Sotheby's for more than $2.22mIf you do not want to sell your piece on your own there are benefits to using an auction house. These establishments generally have a large following and a sound clientele who will be knowledgeable and anxious for an acquisition. You can count on the auction house to vigorously advertise the auction and perhaps publish a catalog where your piece will be featured. If you decide to use an auction house, you can have some say in your rock bottom price, but keep in mind, auction houses not only take commissions, but often charge the buyer a fee as well, creating a scenario where the bidding might reflect those aspects. The auction house will do its best to create the best possible environment for a solid return, but anything can happen on auction night. You never know if you’ll walk away with a slim profit or an unexpected big sale. Nevertheless, if simplicity and a quick sale is what you’re after, this is a solid avenue to pursue.

If you decide to go it alone, learn as much as possible about the artist and the piece. The obvious ways to sell would be the-new-ebay-logothrough EBay or Craigslist, but there are several online art auction sites that you might have success with. Some will charge a fee or a small commission, others nothing at all. For any of these options, remember you will be responsible for actually shipping the item, so consider that in determining your price. The good news is if no one makes you an offer you can live with, you can always hold on to the piece and enjoy it for a while longer. As with all investments, the market does fluctuate, so you may have better luck another time. 

Some antique shops, auction houses and appraisers in the Portland area:

Troutdale Antique Mall – 503.674.6820
Monticello Antique Mall
Gary Germer and Associates
Pioneer Auction Gallery
Randolph E. Osman and Associates
West Coast Antiques
Antiques Road Show online Experts Library

Image and recently in the news: This 1000 year old white bowl was bought at a garage sale for $3 and sold at Sotheby’s for $2.225m, after it was recognized as a rare Chinese relic from the Northern Song dynasty. Originally purchased at a garage sale in 2007, the bowl had been displayed in the living room for several years before the owner became curious about its origins and had it examined. Image credit: AP