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I’m attending an appraisal workshop this weekend so instead of an original entry, I’m posting a favorite excerpt from Emyl Jenkins’ Appraisal Book.  First published in 1982, it’s still highly relevant today, and certain to be included in one of my “Executor’s Reading List” posts someday.

When Cartier was Upstaged by a Little Teapot

Two basic types of silver are found in most homes, sterling and silver plate.  Both are valuable, and a few silver objects can easily mount into thousands of dollars if it becomes necessary to replace them.  If you don’t know about your silver, you may let a wonderful treasure slip through your fingers or even out the door and never know the difference.  This almost happened to a client of mine a few years ago.

I was busily at work in her dining room, examining the silver, while she gathered up other silver pieces from around the house and brought them to me.

Suddenly she appeared at the dining room door and in a trembling voice exclaimed, “The cigarette box and teapot are gone!”

This has happened to me so often that my reaction is always the same.  “No, you just don’t remember where you’ve put them.”

“Not this time,” she insisted.  “They were right here two days ago because I polished them.  I didn’t want you to see what a terrible housekeeper I am!”

None of my assurances convinced her that her pieces might be around.  It seemed she was also having some remodeling done.

“Any one of the workmen could have picked them up,” she insisted.

“Well, if they’re gone, let’s get a good description of them so you can call the insurance company,” I said.

“The little teapot didn’t amount to much.  Oh, it had sentimental value.  My grandmother gave it to me, but I know you can’t put a price on sentiment.  It’s just silver plate, probably–all I can tell you is what it looked like.

“But,” she continued, “the cigarette box is quite valuable.  It came from Cartier and had all our groomsmen’s signatures on it.  My husband is going to die!”

“Go ahead and call your insurance company.  Tell them what’s missing.  But tell them you want to wait a couple of weeks before turning in a value, just to give the silver time to show up,” I advised.

Sure enough, only a few days later they appeared–in her two-year-old’s toy box, of all places–both filled with Lego blocks and coated with Play-Doh.

The cigarette box was exactly what she had said–a current Cartier piece costing, at that time, about $250.

And the teapot–that little silver-plated gift from Grandmother–was a sterling Queen Anne pot, made in 1697 in London and the earliest piece of hollowware I have ever seen in a private home, with a value exceeding $5,000 at that time.

Excerpt from Emyl Jenkins, Emyl Jenkins’ Appraisal Book: Identifying, Understanding, and Valuing Your Treasures.  New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995 (originally published by Crown Publishers, 1982).

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