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Sentimental journey

Just about everyone has something that conjures up a special memory.

Something that reminds us of an achievement or of a person who played an important part in our life to date. Perhaps you were given something to commemorate a special event or a keepsake from an ancestor.

But when it comes to insurance valuations and appraisals what price can you put on sentiment? Are memories really priceless; or are they worthless?

When doing appraisals I hear lots of tales of lives lived in days gone by. It can be totally fascinating to hear the stories that are attached to various items.

For instance, early this past January I was shown a pepperbox percussion pistol dating to around 1830. The story being that it had been given as a present to the current owner’s (then 18-year old) great-great-grandmother as a means of protection should she encounter ‘savages, miscreants or ne’er-do-wells’ when she left the relative safety of her native Scotland for the still young colony of Canada.

The pistol itself was in quite lovely condition and the story that accompanied it was captivating. As for value, well the gun was worth as much, or as little, as any comparable piece of the period. The fact that the client told me that he could trace ownership of the firearm back some 180 years did not increase the value by one cent. Even with the odd tale of hardship and bravado there was nothing to make it worth any more than one similar. There was no evidence to prove the ‘tall tales’ which had been passed down to him by his father.

However, had the pistol once belonged to someone famous such as the Highway Robber Dick Turpin, or been used in some significant historical event then it could have been worth perhaps ten or even twenty times more. Of course, as an appraiser I must remain independent, objective and detached and I certainly can’t let ‘family anecdotes’ and legends affect my valuations.

In order for an item to command a higher than normal evaluation we need ‘provenance’ or ‘proof’ to substantiate the claims of the client.

In the case of the pepperbox pistol I would need one, or all of the following; a letter from the giver to the receiver, a newspaper clipping or even a painting (photographs not being available in 1830). In the cold light of day, without provenance, a good story or sentimental attachment do nothing to increase the value of an item for anyone except the owner.

To give another example, coming up for auction at Kilshaw’s in Victoria this March is a signed photograph of the Beatles dated 1966; it’s expected to fetch more than $25,000.

Why, I hear you gasp.

Well admittedly there are hundreds of thousands of pictures of the Beatles, many with allegedly genuine signatures, however, in this particular case there is ‘strong provenance’ to prove authenticity.

The photo comes from a ‘likely source’ and as well as other supporting evidence there is also a postmarked envelope and letter detailing how, when, where and why the photo came to be in existence. Now, short of phoning Sir Paul McCartney and asking him if he and the other three signed it, there is probably no better proof that it is indeed genuine. In this case it is the provenance that has increased the value of a cheap black and white snapshot from perhaps $20 to $25,000. Nice one, eh?

See Tony’s website, www.TonyDuke.ca for links to his weekly blog and videos that give you information on all aspects of protecting your antiques, collectibles and personal property.

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