Art, Jewelry, and Collectibles at Affordable Prices
Guidance from Antiques Roadshow appraisers
Forget the Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol paintings with million dollar price tags. There’s an entire other world of collecting that’s passionate, investment worthy and yes, affordable. We sat down with three key appraisers and experts from the highly popular television show Antiques Roadshow, which captures a stunning 10 million viewers weekly, to learn about trends and key factors affecting value in three specific areas: vintage jewelry, paintings, and collectibles. In ferreting out the hidden gems, all three appraisers agreed that condition is paramount. They also said that treasures can be picked up in antiques shops, consignment stores, and, well, also attics.
They say that jewelry is a girl’s best friend, but when diamonds and emeralds are totally out of reach, there is other jewelry at far lower prices that make appraisers swoon. To learn what’s a hidden treasure, we turned to Gloria Lieberman, vice president of jewelry at Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers in Boston. “Cameos were really prolific in the 19th century and frequently handed down through generations and now they are back in fashion,” says Lieberman, who sees up to 80 cameos dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries per show. But only three or four are exceptional. “The fantastic cameos are hard stone, including all kinds of carnelian and agate,” she says. Hard stone is far more difficult to carve than shell, which is the traditional cameo material. Another difference: hard stone cameos usually have intricate gold settings, which ups their value. (The agate cameos above were appraised by Ms. Lieberman on Antiques Roadshow for $8,500.)
Lieberman says that hard stone cameos are really miniature sculptures and a form of portraiture. Appraisals can run from $3,000 to $15,000 for a suite of necklace, brooch, and bracelet. However, routine cameos—those carved on shell—are abundant and the value is only from $70 to $100. “Yet finely detailed cameos do come up at auction and they can cost $500 to $800 each,” says Lieberman. Cameos produced today, however, can be worth even more—up to $3,000. Signed jewelry from the 60s is also starting to take off, especially jewelry from David Webb, Tiffany, and Cartier. “Because they are signed and time is moving on, they have increasing value,” she says. “Angela Cummings and Paloma Picasso jewelry designed for Tiffany are also now very collectible.”
Women on a budget, who want to buy paintings for their homes and offices, need to know how and where to spot the tried and true as well as the up and coming. Folk art may be a good choice, according to appraiser Nancy Druckman, senior vice president and head of American Folk Art at Sotheby’s (advising on Antiques Roadshow, photo left). “In general American folk portraits are down in price and you can get a decent pair of portraits by Ammi Phillips or William Matthew Prior, which are routinely appraised for $6,500 and sometimes less” says Druckman. “They come up from time to time and they’re good value.” Unsigned work is usually less expensive. But if there’s a portrait of a lovely child with dolls and wooden pull toys, the value can shoot up to $100,000. “It’s a portrait of a treasured childhood at a time when infant mortality was high,” she says.
Period landscape and still life painting are a stronger area of the market as they are more decorative. A portrait of a single building, for example, can be pricier than a simple portrait, points out Druckman. Some still lifes are similar to modern painting in composition and they fit in with contemporary interior décor. Depending on the size of the painting, it can be valued as high as $15,000. But since unsigned work is less expensive, bargain hunters should look for these. Today, miniatures are also a good value, particularly if they were made around 1920 and painted on ivory or paper. You can buy them for $300 to $500. “They can be grouped and displayed as a precious object while making up a handsome decorative element,” says Druckman.
Yes, some people collect saltshakers, teddy bears, and just plain ephemera. But what is topping the must have lists of collectors, especially those with limited money to spend? “Men go for sports-related examples along with comics, coins, and wine, while women head for entertainment memorabilia,” says Leila Dunbar, who headed Sotheby’s collectibles department for nine years, where she sold the estates of top celebrities, including that of Katharine Hepburn. “Women especially identify with the glamour and style of Hollywood stars,” says Dunbar. Sometimes great material turns up in unexpected places: Last year she appraised Elizabeth Taylor’s Academy Awards show gown from 1953 (video). “A woman on the show had paid $20 for it at a consignment shop,” relates Dunbar. “But it took her years to find a picture of the gown until she pounced on an Academy Awards photo book. I appraised it for $4,000 to $6,000 even though the original beading had been removed. If the gown had been in its original state, it would have been worth $75,000 to $100,000.”
Also last year, Dunbar appraised a dress owned by Sonja Henning (see photo and story). “It was an Olympic skating dress that was completely beaded in shades of grey and Art Deco in feeling,” notes Dunbar, who tagged the dress at $3,000 to $5,000. “Music memorabilia also resonates with women because they feel an emotional connection with song.” Celebrity autographs are also popular and can be modest in price: Those by Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Julia Roberts may cost from $25 to $100. But autographs from stars like Cary Grant can escalate in value.
Brook S. Mason has contributed to The Financial Times, Bloomberg, and Art & Auction among others. She has a weekly design column on artnet.com magazine and is a contributing editor to The International Art Markets Essential Guide for Collectors and Investors (Kogan Page, 2008).