OK, Why should I get an appraisal and what kind of appraisal do I need?
Most folks get appraisals for insurance purposes, the way you should handle anything in your home that has value. If you have not had it appraised and you have a loss, you will get what is called an "after-the-fact" appraisal. In that situation, your appraiser has to determine 1) that you did own the property (personal or real property) at the time of the loss, and 2) assertain its value as accurately as possible. This is sometimes a challenging situation, and one that could leave you wishing you had an appraisal before a loss occurred.
For example, I did an after-the-fact appraisal of some quilts for someone who had lost most of her things in a house fire. All I had to go in in most instances were photos of the quilts, some without any context, so it was difficult to prove that she owned the quilts at the time of the loss. Secondly, some WERE thought to have smoke damage, but photos before the loss showed them hanging from beams by a fireplace, which showed evidence of black soot on the front of it. This indicated that the flue was not properly opened or cleaned, and that there was likely smoke damage to the quilts prior to the loss.
In instances like these, you may only receive recompensation for the cost of materials in the quilts, and nothing for the damage. You might get lucky and collect more, but it is a gamble for sure.
Another thing that a lot of people don't know is that their home owners insurance does not cover their quilts once they leave the house for an exhibit or show. And today, because of the high cost of insurance for quilt shows, some will not insure for more than $500. This means you have to have your own quilt insurance. Again, it is safer to have your appraisal BEFORE anything happens, not after.
Another reason for having a quilt appraised would be if you are going to donate the quilt. This type of document has to conform to IRS requirements, and also must be done within 60 days of the donation. A word to the wise: If you are a low income senior or a medium income person, you might want to talk with your tax person to determine if you will benefit financially from making the donation. Most of us are allowed a standard amount for donations each year, and it is not very much. If you are in the higher income bracket, there should be no concern about donating your quilt. Of course there are many folks who want to donate for other reasons than financial gain. Perhaps as seniors, there are no family members who want the quilt(s).
And some people need an estate appraisal to settle an estate. That is somewhat similar to doing a donation appraisal. The difference is that you are trying to come up with values so that the estate can be divided equally amongst those who stand in line to get some part of it.
There is also a "fair market" appraisal which is generally used to help the owner know a true value for the purpose of selling the quilt. I generally don't do these except for art quilters. The reason is that this is a volatile market, and very unpredictable. You could have a quilt which is worth a legitimate value, but that doesn't mean it will sell for that amount. The economy will dictate what you will be able to get if you are hoping to sell the piece(s) quickly, and right now, that is often a lot less than it might be valued at. So having a written appraisal is no guarantee that the quilt will sell, or will sell for what you hope to get for it. Generally I do fair market appraisals to help artists know where to price their quilts for galleries, etc. Again, this is still no guarantee that they will sell, but they have to know an appropriate value to put on them for gallery and museum exhibits.
There is another kind of appraisal I do sometimes for people where the value doesn't really matter to them and that is a documentation appraisal. Some people have a quilt that has historical value and they want their relatives to know that history for the future so that the quilt will hopefully remain a family treasure or perhaps will ultimately be donated. Documenting a quilt's known provenance is always important, and sometimes it is a major determinant in its value.
Although the quilt blocks to the right are Sanitary Commission reproduction blocks in the making, the original Sanitary Commission quilts known to be in existance have generally high values because most were lost during the Civil War. These Quilts have books written about their construction and their importance in the Civil War, and will likely continue to have high values as long as they exist. You can read about them in the book, Civil War Quilts by Don Beld and Pamela Weeks.
People often ask me why I became an appraiser. It is definitely not to make a good living. I do it largely because I LOVE history's mysteries. I also am glad to provide a valuable and much needed service for folks. I love that I have adventures and meet great people through doing this work, and that I get to see things I might never otherwise have seen without traveling around the country and visiting some of the best museums. And I have honestly seen quilts that I don't think can even be found in museums - quilts that are definitely one-of-a-kind. It is very satisfying work.