DEAR HELAINE AND JOE: I inherited an adjustable, silver-plated shaving mirror made by Knickerbocker Silver Co. It has been dated to the 1890s. I cannot seem to find anyone who can give me a true estimate of value. Dealers say it is worth $20 to $30. An appraiser several years ago said $250, while another said $500. I would like to know what it is really worth.
— R.M.S. DEAR R.M.S.: Knickerbocker Silver Co. was in Port Jarvis, N.Y., which is near where the states of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania come together. It is part of the Poughkeepsie metropolitan area and some consider it to be a distant suburb of New York.
The company started as the Knickerbocker Manufacturing Co., but around 1904 the name changed to Knickerbocker Silver Co. The mark that R.M.S. indicates as being on his mirror was not used until after 1900 and this means the 1890 date referenced in the letter is too early. A circa 1910 date is probably more accurate. This is something of a quibble, however, and makes very little difference to the monetary value or to the interest of the piece.
We really want to discuss the disparity in the values mentioned by R.M.S. The first point we want to make is owners of items should not take them to antiques dealers to get a valuation unless they understand the price they receive is generally what the dealer wants to pay and not what the item might actually be worth.
It is unfortunate that many (but certainly not all) antiques dealers encountered around the country do not know Chippendale from chips and dip and may not be able to distinguish the difference
between an original and a later reproduction. Professional antiques appraisers, however, should know. These are the people who should be consulted when an owner wants to know the true value of an object.
OK, then why did one appraiser say $250 and another $500? Well, some appraisers are more knowledgeable than others, and some do more accurate research than others (yes, research is vital and must be coupled with good judgment plus a knowledge of the current market). With that said, the difference in price can be explained with one of two variables. One is time, and the other is the reason why the valuation was given.
When it comes to time, the antiques market deflated considerably after 2008 and
insurance appraisals given before that date are, for the most part, too high. Any formal appraisal given before 2008 needs to be revisited because the values stated could be too elevated for the current market.
For the other factor, if the appraisal was given for fair market value (what something can be sold for in the proper market), it would be significantly lower than the insurance or replacement value, which would be the price required to replace an item from a retail source.
Our research suggests the piece should sell at auction in the $125 to $150 range if it is in excellent and complete condition, and have an insurance value of 50 percent to 80 percent higher.
Pricing antiques and collectibles requires knowledge, experience and good judgment.