This interview was conducted with Sandie Tropper, Chairperson of the American Society of Appraisers Personal Property Committee, in September 2007. This represents the largely unedited interview, which appeared in condensed form in the November/December2007 issue of Fine Books & Collections. Her expansive discussion on determining valuation for collectibles should be of interest to any collector.
Tell me a little bit about your experience and a little bit about ASA.
Tropper: American Society of Appraisers is the only multi-disciplinary organization in the appraisal world and what I mean by that is, you have the appraisal institute that is in real estate or real property appraisal organization. You have the International Society of Appraisers, they do only personal property. The American Society of Appraisers has people within the organization, members who are personal property appraisers which is what I am, which is what your people are going to be most interested in. Business valuers, real property appraisers, so you’re looking at all three categories and there is a lot of mix and there is a lot of—especially when something like this legislation comes along where they are, either the federal government, either congress or agencies are looking at appraisers as one field. An organization like ASA makes an awful lot of sense because in fact we’re in a position to be able to address answers to their questions from all aspects, which is not the case with the other organizations.
Obviously I’m an advocate for ASA in this case and I chose it for that reason. I thought that the interaction since most of the appraisal regulation that we follow comes out of the real property world, it made sense to me to be able to have access to the people who were really involved with that very early work done in the appraisal field in valuation theory. It really did come out of real property and it came out of the 1980’s when the mortgage problems occurred and so on. That was when I actually got involved in the appraisal field. It was in about 1990 and I was an art dealer and as with real property the art market was floundering shall we say. I decided I want to do something to stay within that world without having to leave the art field but something that would make me economy proof I guess. So that is how I wound up with ASA. I mean I looked around and at that time this was certainly the only organization that had any level of sophistication and understanding of what had happened within the field and that was my reason for going in that direction.
This past year with the regulation, I think it has really proven out that indeed this is an organization that is able to tackle these kinds of changes because it has the expertise within the organization on a very broad level. That makes us just a little bit different and when we do cooperate and we do certainly work with the other organizations. There are three major personal property organizations in the United States. There are a lot of little ones here and there but there are three main ones and that is AAA, ISA, and ASA. I don’t know who has larger membership anymore. I think we may be even but you also find when you start to look at the members that we have a lot of overlap, that people find that is the way to go so I really can’t say that one has a whole lot more, you know, a large number of members and the others don’t. What else can I tell you in that regard?
Tell me a little bit about your experience?
Tropper: I started out as an art dealer and went to a program that ASA was involved in, talking about appraisals. I had been as we all have as dealers doing appraisals sort of here and there. You know somebody will say oh, my insurance company wants to update on what this is worth. I paid you—I don’t know, five thousand dollars for it and it’s obviously worth more and we need to have a little bit more information and can you provide it? So you’d write up a one page document and you’d give them something that said your art work currently would be worth if you bought it today, seven thousand dollars. So we did that kind of thing pretty regularly without much thought to it.
When I got involved with ASA I realized that there was an entire body of knowledge that I guess you would call valuation theory that I had no background in. I had a degree—I had two degrees. I had a Masters in Art History and I also had a Masters in International Studies and the Masters in International Studies had included a lot of economics. So I was pretty comfortable with—I guess people, people had said to me gosh, you’re sort of half right and sort of half left brained but I was really fairly comfortable with the concepts so I started to take the ASA courses and ASA gives a number of courses on valuation theory. I went through that program with them and then went on to become an accredited member and then accredited senior appraiser. I have been within that organization, been with ASA since I started in 1991 or 1992. My area of expertise was fine art. That is the area I stayed in. There are a number of appraisers that we have who are in residential contents where they do a little bit of everything. We have a number of appraisers who would specialize in—we have some who specialize in books and manuscripts. We have some that specialize in various kinds of collectibles. We do give—we have specialties that we actually give out as designations. Mine is in fine art but you find that for example in fine are there are also niches and you find that somebody who is more of a generalist may have a specialty in books or in some kind of particular collectible as well.
We give out as I said, designations in particular areas. If somebody comes to you and says well I’m an ASA and you find out that what they have a specialty in is rugs and you’ve got a manuscript, they’re not accredited in manuscripts, they would still be able to do them but they don’t have that accreditation in that area. I occasionally get other properties and do call in specialists. So we’re able to move outside of the area that we’re designated in but using other specialists. We are tested; we are the one personal property organization that tests in the specific area of expertise that we are given our accreditation in. You have to go through, you have to take the fine arts exam, you have a reading list that you are provided and you have to get through that. Same thing if you are in decorative arts. Same thing if you’re in oriental rugs.