When the need arises to part with a treasured  antique and you don’t know its value (and can’t even make a good guess) or you want to attend an auction, but you have no idea how to bid,  what to do? Read on because our expert Miller Gaffney has the answers you seek.

Q: What is the difference in an appraiser and a certified appraiser?

A. The IRS and the Appraisal Foundation recognizes three organizations of personal property appraisers: Appraisers Association of America (AAA), International Society of Appraisers (ISA) and the American Society of Appraisers (ASA). Search the websites for an appraiser that meets your needs and is in your area. Be sure to examine an appraiser’s membership level. Certified members are the highest level of membership, versus “student” or “associate” members of an association.

  • Appraisers with at least ten years of significant appraisal experience with specialized connoisseurship and marketplace experience who have passed certification exams in their areas of expertise are Certified Members.

Q: How does an auction work? How do I bid?

A. Personal property auctions are exciting and are a terrific place to buy great treasures. The auctioneer starts bidding off at half of the estimate. You never can predict which items are going to soar and which ones will be great buys. It moves quickly and sometimes you get lucky and can buy things at a great price.

  • Try to attend the auction preview which is normally the day before to inspect the items in-person or email the auction house for additional photos. Decide what is your maximum you are willing to pay before the auction (remember the additional buyer’s premium which is normally an additional 25% to the hammer price).
  • There are many options to bid: if you attend the auction in person, you will register and get an auction paddle. Or, you can bid online and watch the auction on the internet on your phone or iPad. Or, you can phone bid and have an auction representative call you when your lot comes up. Or, you can leave an absentee bid on an item with your highest bid price.

Q: What is the best way to make an offer on something at an estate sale?

A. Get to estate sales early and don’t hesitate when a piece speaks to you. Negotiate a price, generally go for 20% less than the sticker price.


Our Expert: Miller Gaffney founded Miller Gaffney Art Advisory in 2006, and Childress Gaffney Auctions in 2017 with Karen Childress Clardy, and is an art consultant and certified appraiser. She appeared on the Antiques Roadshow and starred on the PBS series Market Warriors and Ovation’s Art Breakers.