The Life of a Super Appraiser

Life of a Super Appraiser!

bruce25:30 a.m.
Bruce Duncan, President of Chicago Appraisers Association, places bare feet on the antique Ferahan Persian carpet at the side of his bed. He pulls on his gym clothes.

6:00 a.m.
His car pulls into the parking lot of the health club. He enters, greets Marcia, his personal trainer. Bruce feels he lifts more weight when he is trying to impress a young, beautiful woman. He finishes up with leg presses at 700 lbs., his only specialty. Don’t ask him about his bench presses. He goes over to shoot the bull with a few of the body builder regulars. Bruce says he likes to occasionally hang with people that couldn’t tell you the difference between Monet, Millet, Manet if their life depended on it.

7:15 a.m.
Bruce arrives back home, shaves, trims his beard, dresses and leaves for the office. His car radio blares country music all the way there. He often denies this as the world believes art experts only listen to classical. Bruce tries to maintain the traditional stereotype aloof image at which he miserably fails.

7:30 am.
He slides behind his 18th century French desk, goes through working appraisal drafts His research assistant left him. He makes four phone calls to Europe setting up appointments for his France/Italy trip, and asks colleagues for advice on values where there is nothing to be found over here. He then checks on two auction prices from the day before. Published results often takes six months, clients want up-to-date values right away.

8:15 a.m.
Bruce glances at his watch. He now knows he can phone out East as clients will be in their offices. The phone starts ringing. A few people know the secret that he goes into the office early to research they often get him rather than a secretary or machine. It’s Dan wanting him to seriously consider writing a new update book about Lincoln photographs. Bruce is not sure he wants to spend two years flying around to research even though he is now the expert. After all, how many people have Lincoln photographs to authenticate anyway? Dan reminds him the Lincoln bicentennial is only a few years away.

9:10 a.m.
Bruce’s secretary, Cindy, comes in a few minutes late. She knows how to get him to smile – puts a paper wrapped salt bagel on his desk. He is delighted but knows there goes his diet. After his desk papers are covered with crumbs and salt, she sits down in the Jacobean wainscot chair in front of him. She announces she is not leaving until he prices the three appraisals he has avoided for over two weeks. Both Tim and Marilyn couldn’t find any comparable sales for four paintings and an American 17th century Bible box. Nothing like them has been sold in over 70 years. Bruce knows it is his job to value them based on his 40 years experience. This is the hardest part of the business. Cindy knows she has to be insistent. Bruce looks out the window for awhile, studies the research notes, and then slashes a number on the worksheet.

9:30 a.m.
Bruce takes a phone call from an insurance adjuster. They have a big claim. Everything is stolen, just a client that wants $250,000 based on family photos with the antiques in the background. Bruce tells the adjuster to come into the office. It is really no problem; he’s handled hundreds of similar cases. Last week Bruce had a claim where there were no photos and only receipts. That one was easy. The receipts were phony. They purported to be written by the same antique dealer over a four year period. All of them had consecutive serial numbers at the bottom of the pre-printed forms. Appraisers are really art detectives.

11:00 a.m.
Bruce receives a call from a group of investor’s in Switzerland wanting to know how the research is coming on their recently discovered portrait drawing of Michelangelo. Bruce groans because he knows the next step is for him to go to Vienna and find an art historian there that reads 18th century Austrian. It is not the idea of spending weeks in Vienna, but all those wonderful chocolate desserts he has a terrible weakness for. He knows his trainer will have him doing hundreds of sit-ups in penance for such a grievous sin. He will go in the fall.

12:00 noon
Lunch at his desk – tuna, tomato and bottled water. He is always on a diet that never seems to work. It is those two muffins for breakfast at Starbucks that he refuses to acknowledge. As he eats he flips through four new reference books that arrived. The company spends over $11,000 each year on books. Bruce pulls one out to read on his next plane trip, sends the rest to the library.

aday1:00 P.M.
Bruce opens up the lab chemical report on an 18th century pastel drawing. All of the colors used are of the period except the white. It is titanium based, not lead white and put on after the date on the drawing. Now Bruce must decide who put the white on. Is it a complete forgery or did the artist himself embellish the drawing years later so he could sell it? Bruce sends the drawing for microscope analysis. His gut feeling is it is neither. He thinks the pastel is authentic but the white has been gone over by a restorer in modem time : He thinks the microscope will show old lead white particles under the newer titanium.

2:00 p.m.
The first client comes into the office with a picture. The owner says it belonged to his grandmother and deeply cherished by the family for over 100 years. Bruce explains to them it is an inexpensive reproduction of a Renoir painting. As it has little value, there is no charge. The client leaves disappointed but glad they didn’t go to another appraiser who would have charged them.

2:30 p.m.
The next client arrives with a large box of items. He places them on the table and Bruce goes through the pictures, antique vases and small sculpture pulling out only what is valuable. Bruce gives them a verbal value on the other items and they are only charged for the ones researched. Out of 20 items they are charged for only 4, They leave still knowing the entire box contents value.

3:00 p.m.
Bruce leaves for a house call. An elderly lady wants him to appraise the major items, tell her what to do with the rest before she moves to assisted living. He carefully goes through everything. He finally recommends the best art and antiques to auctions in New York and London, but definitely not Chicago. Too risky! The remainder is donated to the Salvation Army and an historical society for the tax advantages. Bruce says he will get her all the IRS forms at no charge.

5:30 p.m.
He returns to the office, goes through the mail. Bruce starts on some of the 18 art/antique trade magazines and publications that arrive every week. It is important to stay current on market trends and recent prices. He tears out certain articles, sends them to research assistants. One he mails to a London colleague who is researching medieval swords. Appraisers are only as good as their reciprocal contacts. No one can know everything, but you can know who to call.

6:30 p.m.
A California museum curator phones, not realizing the difference in time. They have been offered a big collection of Salvador Dali prints and drawings. They’ve heard we are one of the few appraisers crazy enough to specialize in this area where fakes are more common than real. The donor spent a small fortune and expects a large deduction or he won’t give them. Bruce tells them to send a preliminary list of the collection and he’ll decide if it is even worth his time. If there is anything Bruce hates is telling a client he’s been “taken”.

7:00 p.m.
Bruce calls his daughter, to find out what time his 7-year-old granddaughter’s recital is. No client consultation tonight. In life, there are higher priorities than money.


R. Bruce Duncan, President of Chicago Appraisers Association, working with the staff of Casa Buonarroti Museum (Michelangelo home) in Florence, Italy on their original terra cotta statues by the Master. Chicago Appraisers Association was commissioned to research and develop a market plan for their bronzes. Bruce is seen examining the model for “David” by Michelangelo. (Even if your statue is not by Michelangelo, we’ll be glad to help you with research and a market plan).

We help you sell!