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  • Tips on finding a professional appraiser for your valuable antiques and collectibles

By: Anne Marie Mills, Signal Staff Writer
September 30, 2006
Reproduced with permission of The Signal
Photos By: Reneh Agha/The Signal

It looks like an antique, the owner says it is an antique, but how do you really know?  And how about Aunt Nellie's glassware you found up in the attic, will it fetch enough for a mortgage payment?  While one can get a good idea of market value of an item by looking on Ebay or visiting antique stores, if you really want to know if an item is authentic and what it is worth, your best bet is a professional appraiser.

And just as it may be difficult to establish weather or not something is an antique without guidance, it can also be difficult to determine if a so called "antiques appraiser," is in fact legitimate if you don't ask the right questions up front said Terry Sonntag of Terry D. Sonntag and Associates, Antique Appraisal Service.

  Terry Sonntag, a professional appraiser, examines a Roseville pottery vase called Blue Zephyr Lily.  It is signed by the maker and is valued at about $150.  The item is from the 1930s or 1940s.  

"A true professional appraiser is one that conforms to a professional standard," said Sonntag.  He added that when selecting an appraiser it is important to make sure you have chosen one who belongs to a professional appraisal organization, is not a buyer is disguise, does not accept items in exchange for an appraisal fee, does not base fees on a percentage of value of items and does not agree to produce a pre-determined value opinion.

"I have been involved with antiques for more than 35 years, I ended up getting interested in a serious way about three years ago, and I received my accreditation through the International Society of Appraisers and I am a member of the Appraisers National Association.  When I am working as an appraiser, I will never offer to buy an item, and people have to be very careful because there are dealers out there that will 'appraise' your item below market value and then offer to buy it from you," Sonntag said. "You need to be sure you are not getting a wolf in sheep's clothing who then tries to buy the item from you.  I view that as theft.

Sonntag is the former owner of Santa Clarita Antique Center in Saugus and still maintains a booth there when he wears his other hat as an antiques dealer.  But Sonntag is firm about adhering to ethical standards by observing the boundary between being a dealer and being an appraiser and will not operate as both for one client.  "We encourage people to use appraisers so that their things are not undersold," said Eve Moss of Evie and Johnny's Antiques in Newhall.  "Some people have very high expectations from watching shows such as 'Antiques Road Show.'"

Moss and her husband have co-owned their antiques shop on Lyons Avenue for nearly three years and each has more than 36 years experience buying, selling and trading antiques.


Beside Sonntag is a 1870 mantel clock with alarm.


"We are not certified appraisers so we use one ourselves," said Moss who uses Sonntag's appraiser services.  "Not everyone buys antiques for an investment.  I think people who come in here are more concerned about the look of an item, how it will look in their home, they are not investing in antiques, they are coming from a decorating standpoint."

"Anybody who is looking for an appraiser should ask them what professional societies they belong to, what their professional profile is, and what they have done to make themselves professional appraisers," said Sonntag.  "Ant it is all verifiable because you can go to the website of the organization and see if they are listed."


Sonntag takes a closer look at a drawer from the 1860s.


Sonntag said people use appraisers for many different reasons such as in a divorce to determine the market value of community property, or people seeking to insure an item, or even just to help with pricing for a garage sale.

"Sometimes I wind up telling people their piece is really too valuable for a garage sale and I will suggest they try to sell their item at an auction," Sonntag said.  "And sometimes people find out that they don't need an appraiser because their common and ordinary vintage items are covered under their regular home owners insurance policy."

[Article reduced for space]


Copyright Terry D. Sonntag