This article explains what kind of services a personal property appraiser can offer their clients in their appraisal reports, and why it’s important to work with a qualified appraiser to identify or authenticate your possessions.

One common misconception that often comes up during initial client consultations is that they assume the appraiser will be authenticating the client’s item(s). As appraisers, we often have to clarify that we will be identifying the item, which is usually more than sufficient for the client’s needs.

Defining “Identification” vs. “Authentication”
According to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP):

Identification is the act of determining a property’s nature and characteristics in a quantitative and scientific manner. Qualities such as dimensions, materials, form, construction techniques, weight, condition, damages, signs of aging, etc. are factored in to identifying an item. Because it is based on scientific and measurable features, identification is rarely subject to dispute.

Authentication is the scholarly determination of whether an item is genuine or has an undisputed origin. Authentication expands the process of mere identification to involve extrinsic characteristics of an item such as history, style, aesthetics, past opinions of authorship, genuineness, or origin. Authentication is rarely definitive or absolute and may be subject to dispute because it is a matter of informed and reasoned opinion. It can also be subject to revision as new information becomes available.

The Authentication Process

Identification is the first step in the authentication process. An appraisal often begins and ends with readily apparent identity, which is what the appraiser observes and concludes based on their personal knowledge and previous experiences. It does not require analysis, testing, research, or outside expert opinion. Usually, an appraiser will compare an item’s distinguishing features with another item that is known to be authentic. If the item in question has identical features, then it too can be deemed authentic.
An appraiser may also consider provenance, the origin and past ownership of the item. Frequently, authentication can be substantiated simply by tracing the property’s ownership back to its origin. Note that Certificates of Authenticity are often faked and can’t generally be relied on in an appraisal. An appraiser will typically only suggest further authentication in certain cases, including:

• If it would cause a change in the item’s market
• If the item’s value or cost would change significantly with authentication
• When fakes and forgeries are known to exist
• If the intended use or objective of the report requires it
• For historical or scholarly needs

Because the authentication of an item is an opinion, appraisers rely on recognized experts, including:
• Authors and specialists
• Museums and curators
• Restorers
• Laboratories

Note that auction houses and dealers can also have staff members that may have the qualifications to authenticate but they do not have to follow the same stringent requirements that appraisers and authenticators do. You will want to ensure they follow recognized procedures in testing and methodology before depending on them.
The law requires that appraisers apply due diligence and provide sufficient evidence when determining the value of an item. Working with a trained ISA appraiser will ensure you get an unbiased report that suits your needs and helps you determine what your item is worth.

Kelly Knoll, ISA CAPP – President/CEO of Heritage Appraisals
International Society of Appraisers – Certified Personal Property Appraiser