Authentication is a service few appraisers, but not all are capable of providing. In our August 7th post on the Ansel Adams article, I mentioned I would write a Tuesday Term post on Authentication. Authentication is defined as: to prove or verify that something is genuine, or has an undisputed origin. So why do so few appraisers authenticate? There are several reasons. First, very few items require authentication to arrive at a value. An item,such as an oak parlor chair, merely needs to be identified correctly to arrive at the value of the piece. Authenticating the oak parlor chair would not in any way increase its’ value. Second, authentication is a difficult and expensive process. It is rarely definitive or absolute and is rather a matter of informed and reasoned opinion. As a member of the International Society of Appraisers, ISA, I thought it would be interesting to see how many of our hundreds of members are listed as authenticators. There are 11 members whose listing details specify that they are authenticators.
In the Ansel Adam’s article, in the Washington Post, authentication of the Ansel Adam’s find is discussed. The article highlights how difficult it is to authenticate an item. The experts in Adam’s work drew a reasoned and informed opinion about the negative slides Norsigian purchased. They cited that the negatives were the size Adams used, the edges of some were charred probably due to a 1937 fire at his Yosemite Park Studio. They say that maybe he took these charred examples as a teaching aid in a class he taught and that is how they eventually landed in a Los Angeles warehouse. Adam’s assistants were supposed to be shown in some of the frames. Experts of Adams work know how he uses light, angles, and subjects. Supposedly, the proof that sealed the deal that these were Adam’s slides came from handwriting experts. The experts believe that the writing on the wrapping that the slides were found in belonged to his wife.
The inclusion of handwriting experts’ opinions demonstrates a critical point about authentication of important works. It is often a team of experts, each with their individual area of expertise or knowledge, that ultimately provides all the information and data necessary to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that an item is genuine.
In the previous post, Or – Is the Mystery Solved, I mentioned that I would discuss the Certificate of Authenticity that accompanies modern collectibles and some “art”. These certificates simply put are a marketing ploy. What are they authenticating ? That the item is a piece of porcelain or a plastic car made by a machine in China ? These items do not need to be authenticated. They are real, they were mass produced and sold. The same applies to art with these certificates applied to the back. If it is mass produced art, meaning a modern offset or giclee(digital) print, it is a new item. It doesn’t need to be authenticated. However, a piece of original art bought from an artist directly or from a gallery may issue a certificate of authenticity. It really isn’t necessary, but in this case it is okay. It is the artist saying “This is a real and original artwork by me.” Rugs are often sold, usually on cruise ships(next to the new art prints) with these type of certificates. There is a problem here. These items may be old(usually are not – at best they may be classified as semi-antique) and they are sold by a dealer. It is a conflict of interest to authenticate anything you are selling. Bottom line all these certificates are not worth the paper they are written on. They usually are a trick to separate buyer’s from their money and too much money at that.
Authentication is a lengthy, expensive, and disputable process that is rarely necessary for items owned by most people. If you need help identifying or valuing an item, Atlanta Appraiser – Valerie Hale, ISA AM can help.