Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Ivory Ban and You: May 2014

In February 2014 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory.  With that pronouncement, intended to protect against wildlife trafficking and poaching, the Administration threw the world of antiques and musicians into a blur of confusion.

From an appraisal perspective, establishing value will involve a multi-faceted approach to the subject item, no easy task in this dynamic situation.

The ban allows for "limited exceptions", but pay attention to the fine print.  Antique dealers, estate sale professionals, collectors and owners of instruments, furniture and decorative collectibles containing ivory or even pieces of ivory could be criminally liable for their property if in violation of the ban.  It is worth reviewing whether your antiques, musical instruments or hunting trophy require documentation.  While the final framework is still being codified, a May 15, 2014 update has been released:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ivory Ban: May 15 2014 Update

Everyone who has sold, purchased, inherited, imported or exported ivory must be familiar with this document, there will be another update in Summer 2014.  Expect unintended consequences since there will be multiple Agencies involved with enforcing this evolving set of rules.  "When in doubt, document or don't do it" is always a good rule of thumb.

Legal, Pre-Ban Hunting Trophy:  Documentation Required

Inherited Antique Ivory:  Keep it Out of the Estate Sale Unless Properly Documented

In my opinion, the critical Q & A sections regarding antiques are as follows:

Antique Dealers

Can I currently import antique items containing African elephant ivory for commercial purposes?

No. The Service no longer allows any commercial importation of African elephant ivory. This prohibition, which was originally established via the 1989 African Elephant Conservation Act (AECA) moratorium, applies even to items that qualify as antiques.

Private Antique Owners

How can African elephant ivory be imported for personal use?

You may only import worked African elephant ivory for personal use as part of a household move or inheritance or as a musical instrument provided that the ivory was legally acquired before February 26, 1976; the ivory has not been transferred from one person to another person in pursuit of financial gain or profit after February 25, 2014; and the item is accompanied by a valid Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) pre-Convention certificate. Worked elephant ivory can also be imported as part of a sport-hunted trophy, if all other requirements for sport-hunted trophies are met.

The penalties can be stiff:  One year in prison and $100,000 fine for the individual.

If you are seeking further information regarding the acquisition of an exclusion certificate, either a CITES Pre-Convention Certificate or an Endangered Species Act (ESA) Certificate contact:  managementauthority@fws.gov

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Online Spotlight: Lofty.com

One of the benefits of attending Assets 2014, the International Society of Appraisers annual conference in Kansas City, was the opportunity to interact with a diverse and talented group of appraiser colleagues, exhibitors and speakers.

Representatives from Lofty exhibited this year and I'm excited to share some information with you about this channel for purchasing antiques online.

Lofty is an antique marketplace that goes one step beyond the typical online shopping experience by providing expert evaluations which result in the pricing of sales inventory.  Imagine that, virtual expert evaluators provide no obligation Professional Opinions of Value (POV) to help sellers price their antiques and buyers can rely on the information to make an informed purchase.  A POV is not the same as a written appraisal report, like what you would need for insurance or tax purposes. The expert evaluator does not inspect the item in person, they simply rely on photos and information communicated by the seller.  What's cool is that anyone can participate by submitting their antique items for review and sale.  I like the simple and easy to navigate website and mobile app.

In short, here is how the process works for SELLERS:

1.  Register and send Lofty photos for expert review, pricing and listing in the online marketplace.

2.  If the item is worth more than $500 you have the option to list it for sale in the Lofty marketplace OR place the item in an online auction.

3.  If the item sells, Lofty arranges for packing, insured shipping (at the buyers expense) and sends the proceeds to the seller minus Lofty's commission.

This is how to BUY on Lofty.com: 

1.  Register at Lofty.com

2.  Browse the categories for what you love and either Buy Now or participate in an online auction.

3.  Pay (item cost + shipping), wait for your item to arrive and provide feedback to Lofty.

Of course, one must review all of the Terms and Conditions available on the Lofty website, it is critical to understand the limitations of using any online antiques marketplace and the value opinions put forth by Lofty.  Experts are compensated and there is a commission based sales referral program.

Lofty offers 2 Guarantees to customers.  The first is a 7 Day Money Back and the second is a 5 Year Authenticity Guarantee.  Wow! Not many antique marketplaces (online or bricks and mortar) offer these types of consumer protections.  Interestingly, the language option box offers the site in English, Chinese and Russian.  This speaks volumes about who is shopping and spending in the online antiques market these days.  Lofty will arrange for international shipping, unless the item is prohibited by law.

Are you shipping antiques and household goods nationally or internationally?  Consult with an independent appraiser.  Open marine insurance policies differ in their levels of coverage, restrictions and damage-loss clauses.  Antiques should be appraised for coverage, possibly under a separate policy rider.  Household contents also need to be inventoried.  An appraiser can determine pre-move values and establish a record of condition prior to packing and shipping.  All of this should be completed before signing the Bill of Lading.

Although I simply adore compensation, I did not receive any for writing this blog about Lofty and I do not participate as one of their online appraisers.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Walk Like an Egyptian

You've heard those stories of priceless items being found at Estate Sales?  Well, it happened to me.

Only these items were not what one would consider valuable in the monetary sense.  From a historical perspective, I believed them invaluable.  Which is why we helped them find a way home.

Here's the story.  At the back of a dusty garage in a very large estate liquidation sale were 3 old travel trunks.  These trunks had a history, according to the owner.  They were used by one of the leading Egyptologists of our time of whom you've likely never heard.

His name:  James Henry Breasted.

James Henry Breasted with wife Frances Hart Breasted and son Charlie (1906)

In a nutshell (and according to internet info and The Oriental Institute's biography), James Henry Breasted (1865-1935) should be considered the Indiana Jones of his time.  He was the first American to receive a PhD in Egyptology and founder of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago in 1919.  His expeditions of the Near East uncovered archeological treasures and attracted the interest and financial support of John D. Rockefeller, Jr..  Breasted's book Ancient Records of Egypt (1906) is still considered one of the most important works of translating Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions into English.

All of this led to 3 travel trunks in a garage in Arizona.

Typically after an estate sale, the owner decides what to to with unsold property.  Most often, the items are donated to charity and a receipt issued for tax purposes.  After this particular sale and on a whim, we asked and received the client's permission to hold back the trunks from the donation pick-up.  At the time, I really couldn't say what I thought we were going to do with three musty trunks.  In hindsight, seeing the peeling hotel stickers and faded initials (FHB, JHB and AB) brought the history associated with these trunks to life.

Built early 19th Century, reviews today call her a "tired old lady" of a Hotel

Shepheard's Hotel Egypt - First est. 1840, renamed Shepheard's Hotel in 1860 

18th Century Palace turned Hotel, now the St. Regis Florence

Grand Hotel Santa Lucia est. 1900, Naples Italy

After placing the trunks in my own dusty garage, I finally decided to reach out to James Henry Breasted's legacy organization, The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  After emailing with the Museum Curator, shipping was arranged for two of the three trunks, the "His and Hers" initialed JHB and FHB.  The trunks were headed home, thanks to the kind donation of the client and interest in their preservation at The Oriental Institute.

In my mind, the question remains: Were these trunks used on any of the Breasted expeditions?  Well, they were obviously in Egypt and Italy.  I've looked through photos of vintage luggage labels trying to link dates to the trunk labels with little more than speculation.  I've also poured over the photos available on The Oriental Institute's archive and can't find the trunks pictured with the Breasteds.  What I did find was photographic evidence documenting the cultural and historical significance of James Henry Breasted's expeditions.  I would have never known if not for three trunks in a dusty garage.

Consultation with an independent ISA appraiser can help families review their estate assets.  An appraisal can help establish market values for items being liquidated, whether through charitable donation, auction, or resale into the secondary market through a broker, dealer or estate sale professional.