Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bonhams and Butterfields - Free appraisal services (abuse and disregard for personal feelings included at no extra cost)

I have a few inherited pieces and I often wonder about their history and worth. The Internet is very iffy, information and pricing wise, and I realize hitting the jackpot with some ugly ass Tiffany lamp is rare... but I am curious nonetheless. So I decided to take advantage of Bonham and Butterfields’s free appraisal service in San Francisco one day.

I did not realize that this "free service" would cost me the following:
* My Dignity
* My Patience

I did not realize that this "free service" came with some extras, such as:
* Generous helpings of what can only be described as "Hello, I have no interest in doing this, so get your ass over here with your piece of crap" attitude.
* Plenty of eye rolling, heaving sighs and sarcastic comments. Not FROM me...aimed AT me.

You are allowed to bring 5 items, so I gathered a motley assortment of stuff and headed to SF.
Here are the two watercolor paintings I brought:

- Inherited from Grandparents
- 1940's, J Gill is the artist, original frames, color watercolor on linen
My Hope? To find out who the artist was and worth of paintings

Dealer reaction (snickering): "Oh God, $5 each, cheaply made prints, not even paintings."
This was before I even got up to his table!!! I boldly approached anyway and asked if he had any info on these "prints" (as he called them) and he said.."Why? They are a perfect example of the cheapest method used to make prints." At this point, another paintings dealer came up to look at them, which REALLY pissed off Snotty Dealer number one. "You don’t believe me?" he screeched..."Fine!"

Stunned, I had the nerve to say..."Wow, you must get tired of sitting here only seeing small items worth $5."

"I’ve seen big things today!" he replied snottily.
Like your ego? Yeah, well , we ALL clearly see that. Sadly, I bit my tongue and did not say that out loud. Here’s how the paintings felt after such treatment:

I headed over to Household Goods. Just before the dealer sat with me, I overheard him answer another dealer’s question with..."No, same old crowd with the crap they hope is worth thousands". Then he sat down with me. I glared at him and unwrapped Mr Rooster:

- Bought for $10 at antique store, sits in kitchen
- Marked 1865 on bottom
- Czechoslovakian
My Hope: Find out what it was for? Why is there a hole in the top of the rooster's back?

Dealer reaction (yawning and looking around at other tables): "1920's, pottery not porcelain, used for dried flowers or such, $10 or so, merely decorative (no, really?)". Right in the middle of this, Mr Dealer got all excited by something some other victim was showing, so he exited my table with no fanfare and left me to comfort Mr Rooster, who was embarrassed and ashamed of his non worth:

I headed over to the jewelry appraisal room. Here is the vintage costume jewelry I brought:

See how happy the jewelry was to get out of the box and into the air?

- Inherited from Grandmother
- 1940-1950's, costume set, amber tones, perfect condition, shiny and golden
My Hope? Find out what it’s made of that makes it stay in perfect shape all these years, and possible worth.

Dealer reaction (rolling eyes, sighing, leaning back in chair not daring to touch such lowly stuff): "Yeah, um, we usually bag this stuff up in huge amounts and get rid of it that way."
Here’s how my jewelry felt about this rude reaction:
I headed over to Toys and Dolls. Here is beloved Patsykins, the "Lovable Imp with the Tilting Head" (as old advertisements say about her):
Patsykins had quite a night deciding which outfit would suit her day in the sun. She finally chose this 4 piece ensemble for its versatility in SF weather and fine details like tiny pearl buttons and pleats: History
- Inherited from my grandmother’s friend, who gave it to me when I was a baby since my name was the same as hers.
- 1927/28 - doll from Effanbee doll collection
- Includes 75 pieces of clothing - including a velvet coat with rabbit fur collar and cuffs, bathing suits, hats, slips, jammies, dresses, sun suits and what looks like a Vegas Dealer’s visor (for whatever reason).

My Hope: Find out her worth!

Dealer reaction (from dealer filling in for toy and doll dealer - Major interest, full attention and camera was brought out) This guy was the only human dealer in the bunch. Perhaps it was because Patsykins was in good shape? Maybe rare? He took lots of photos and details down and said this appraisal would have to be done separately, and an email would be forthcoming!

So, in the end, one out of five items generated some interest. Statistically, not good.

NOTES to anyone from Bonham and Butterfield’s that may come across this blog:
- There is no need to be an unmitigated dick to people who are coming to you for advice. If an item is uninteresting to you and not really worth’s just as easy for you to say something nice about it as it is to sigh, refuse to touch it and insult it!
- I realize you people probably see thousands of pieces of crap every day. I believe that is part of the PROCESS in your business. If you take no joy in the process, GET OUT OF THE PROFESSION.
- We can hear the rude comments and snotty asides you make to each other as we wait patiently in line, clutching things our family passed down to us, hoping we won’t be victims of the abuse you just heaped on the poor sap that just left your table.

This entire process took a mere hour. This process is NOT for the faint of heart. You must be strong enough to take liberal amounts of abuse toward your precious family items. I left feeling slightly violated. So did the Rooster. Patsykins was just fine. Apparently, she is quite accustomed to being randomly strip searched.


The Swamp Fox said...

I would really like to see you forward that last part to Bonham & Butterfield just as "FYI". Presumably they offer this service to get people in the door. They might be interested to hear how people feel after dealing with these idiots.

Anonymous said...

I also had a humbling experience with the appraisers at Bonhams and Butterfields after waiting patiently for about 2 hours for an appraisal. I believe the appraiser snorted and said something about my painting being a Sunday afternoon painting, meaning it was painted by someone who had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon.
There is no reason to be snobbish and unkind.

Anonymous said...

Went to have 2 lacquer ware boxes appraised. Was hardly spoken to by Chinese teenager appraiser (she looked about nineteen), getting questions from her was like pulling teeth, and when she did reply answered in the most patronizing 2-3 syllable words, no, yes, bats are good etc. Appraisal was done in the parking lot/ landing dock area! She had a marker in her hand and when I got home later in the evening when I was putting items away she had marked my one box with a small case b and small case g letters?!!! She was holding marker in her hand!!!!I have handled those boxes enough and I have pictures to prove no letters were there till today!!!!!!!! She seemed confused or uncertain and said she needed to research them more and quoted me 2 estimates as if I was going to sell them. I just wanted to get information about as to age value what they were for etc. I should have known better than to waste my time driving all the way to Hollyweird, Los Angeles. Believe me when I say they are careless about consigned items being left out in the open where anyone can wonder around them. WOW! The negative reviews I had read online were actually true.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

First encounter with a Bonham's 'appraiser' at a recent Antiques Roadshow. I've never been good at conversing with brick walls. He asked me to tell him what -I- knew about the painting. I brought in. I said that ten years ago another evaluator, without knowing the artist, had valued the painting at $3,000. I mentioned that a museum restorer said it had been done by a *very* fine artist after he had restored it. Mentioned that it had taken me 30 years to realize what the correct signature was. (Only after holding it under a 250 Watt Reveal Bulb, the true name on the painting became visible).
Through lengthy research I had determined that the painting must have been done based on date
(1887), subject matter, quality of artist who did the genre of painting, and the fact that there was only one artist by the realized name who was considered a very fine artist during that era, that he was a famous German painter. The tosser from Bonham's proceeded to dismiss *everything* I had said to him, preferred to disagree with me on the signature, rather than just say that he could not read it, said it could have been done by an amateur, value was $300.

Moral: There is extensive information about paintings and other items on the internet. Local appraisers and galleries would likely be able to help you adequately. Don't waste your time going to a Roadshow. (It gets 3,000 people coming in for nothing, expecting to be treated decently, while the producers are looking for a free item of interest to put on film so they can sell their multi-million dollar show to the public.) It has been fun to watch Roadshow, but now, for me, it has the distinct feeling of being a SnakeOil Show. All because of a very amateur, young Bonham's appraiser.

beentheredonethat said...

Somehow, these guys forget that if we little peons didn't find their door, they wouldn't get a paycheck. Excuse me if my little finger doesn't rise when I sip my tea. I didn't no anything about art but I can spot an uppity phony in a second. I found a few on that Wednesday. I'd rather sell my stuff on ebay

Anonymous said...

Most of what those appraisers see on the free appraisal days is crappy stuff, so naturally they get tired of it. They're likely participating because Bonham's requires them to, hoping for the one-in-a-hundred true Find that comes in the door all too rarely, on which they can make a buck. They make their living appraising and auctioning fine antiques, not vintage household oddments. For most of them, their people skills are not suited to that scene, true enough. But if they are dismissive toward your offerings, it isn't about you, nor about your worthless treasures; its merely about miscommunication and the frustrating hunt for the real thing.

Anonymous said...

I was subjected to the same manner-less treatment after waiting weeks for an appointment in Hollywood. A silent suit of Star Wars Armor kept me company before my charished portfolio of printed drawings was unpleasantly dumped on the desk in a small waiting booth. The receptionist said they weren't interested in it for auction. I didn't bring it for auction just to establish its value. Again silence as she left the booth. My portfolio is home in a place of honor it's provenance confirmed by three generations of family who treasure it. Baddley Behaved Boobs!

Dave Seybert said...

So many bad reviews, not a single recommendation to a better place.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for sharing your experiences. I have antique chinese porcelains and will find another place to take them. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for your input. B&B was referred by the Getty Museum so I could get several pieces appraised. Reading your experiences has caused me to rethink the process. I will continue to research & will share anything positive.

nursula said...

Just saw these posts. Must agree, as I have been to the S.F. free appraisals. I did have a questionable value Russian Painting, and I was sent to a regular on Antique Road show, so it was tolerable for me.
I am commenting about how I enjoyed the well written blog posted by "Just me..just sayin" I laughed outload. Very entertaining.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I thought it was only me! Brought, among other things, a large aquamarine & diamond necklace. Jewelry appraiser was generally as described above; bored, and obviously very much wanted to be somewhere else. Sighed, said not worth much, not even sure the large aquamarine was real. Umm. Subsequently brought piece to a jeweler who deals in fine vintage pieces. HE SUBSEQUENTLY sold it for $11,000.00! Take B & B's free appraisals with a large dose of salt! Recommendation: track down local-to-you dealers who specialize in whatever your item is. It's not that difficult. B & B could have been fun but turned out to be a wasted trip because of the apparent non-expertise of the supposed appraisers.

Anonymous said...

My kangxi.vase was only $ 5 thousands dollars they appraisaled.& they do have 10 inches hair lines & lid is re glued .. & they want put they auction ..but i say no ... & they appraisal my all natural 173.ct . .solitaire emerald .for only 3 thousand dollars ....When regular well known jeweler appraisal for .250.000.00 .dollars...

Anonymous said...

Several years ago, I brought a pair of 19th large ornate brass scones/candleholders to an appraisal clinic that I bought in Nova Scotia while on a cruise. I paid $250 and brought them to California where I live. The were estimated in the $500-$750 and I paid to have them appear in their catalog before the auction (for a fee of course.) They did not sell at the auction and I got a letter asking if I wanted to re-run them in the next auction to which I agreed. They sold and I got a check for $6.50 after all the fees/commissions were deducted. Consignees beware.

Anonymous said...

Wondering what they actually sold for. Did you have a reserve on them, so that they had to be sold at least for the amount of the reserve, which should have been as much as you paid for them? I think there is always a buyer's and/or seller's fee on top of what they sell for. About ten years ago, I took in a Native-American basket that I had found at a garage sale for a few dollars. The auction house was very nice, and had an expert who looked at it and appraised it for $800.00. Happy me! But they were not so nice when I refused to be on camera with my basket. And no, I didn't sell it. It still sits in my home office with my collection of Native-American items. Sorry about your loss, and yes, consignees beware. Now I usually take my items to a local antiques shop where I have come to know the owner and the dealers

SFinSF said...

Rudeness is always inexcusable -- however, as some have pointed out, most of these people have to do this over and over and over again, looking at, shall we say, items that were little better than tat and junk at the time. And remember that, in order to get a job at one of these places, most of these people have Master's degrees in art history, etc. which took a LOT of hard work and years to earn and then competed like rabid tigers for these jobs.

You're better off sending photos and a description.

Again -- no excuse for the rudeness...BUT one of the lengthy comments/complaints detailed the "pieces" that the person brought in. And, sorry to say, but it does seems like some basic common sense. Imagine how you would feel if you had people who came for miles and waited in line for 2 hours to show you a McDonald's "Lion King" toy that was made in the MILLIONS and of which there are MILLIONS out there being hoarded by "collectors"...or people bringing in Franklin Mint plates and their grandmommy's Hummel figurines, etc?

I'll bet it would take a lot of self control not to scream...

Anne H. said...

Since these employees are being paid (usually low) wages by the auction houses, they are just processing you. Unlike auction house employees ,legitimate antique dealers rely on their personal reputations, and are usually happy to share their knowledge. Auctions have always been buyers beware-full of distressed merchandise, dealers losers, no returns as stated in their glossy catalogs, misrepresented merchandise cataloged by these "experts"- So why would you go there for "free" advice? Better to educate yourself at antique shows,many of which have appraisal days too,staffed by actual dealers at the shows.Sometimes a small fee like $ charged, which usually goes to a charity, not the dealer.If it turns out you do have a rare Rembrandt, then go talk to the auctions.

Anonymous said...

There's no obligation to say something nice about something that is worthless, nor is it an occasion to be rude.

Anonymous said...

On the other side of Mr. Brady's advice of caveat emptor, is CAVEAT VENDITOR: SELLER BEWARE (you might very well know more than the person appraising and handling your property). In the mid-90's, I found a box that contained poems written by members of a group that met in a neighborhood church basement in the early 1960's. One folder contained about 100 original poems, typed on white paper, by a well-known American poet who was published just after he'd written what I found. I took it to B&B, although it was still just Butterfields, who modestly appraised the entire collection for about half of what I thought a starting bid should be. I wrote and sent out press releases, and got coverage in The LA Weekly and on the front page of the Life section of the LA Times. Meanwhile, the idiot at the SF office of Butterfields called to tell me that the estate of this poet was interested in seeing copies of the poems, to authenticate the providence and to "eliminate any trouble the estate might cause." So, I told him to send them copies. What I didn't know was that by doing this, the collection was extremely devalued, because although I owned the physical papers, or object, the estate now had the words, or intellectual property. THIS WAS ADVICE FROM A MAJOR AUCTION HOUSE! I'm someone who researches, especially 20 years later when internet access makes doing so much easier than researching the legal rights when someone finds a piece of art or manuscript or photographic negatives, etc. The three bids barely went past the starting price, so I didn't sell. However, when I needed cashflow a few years later, I ended up listing them again at Butterfields, accepted an offer for about 75% of what I thought an opening bid should be. Caveat venditor - and remember, the only difference between auction house representatives and used car salespeople is... er... attitude and pricier footwear?

Unknown said...

Rude rude

Anonymous said...

FIrst thing you should ask an appraiser is 'what is your experience / credentials for appraising furniture/jewelry/dolls/ceramics? Simply because they work for Bonhams doesn't mean they are qualified to do more than dust furniture.

thaibrenda said...

I definitely have had similar experiences with them.