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We all know that Edvard Munch’s The Scream, 1895 sold for just under $120 million.

A T206 Honus Wagner 1909 baseball card brought $1.2 million in a recent auction.

The five hundred and fifty-one day old company Instagram sold for a billion dollars while the New York Times, at a hundred and thirty-odd years, is worth about $900 million according to the stock market.

It seems that every other day we’re hit with new astounding news about what someone has paid for something–or, as in the case of the Facebook IPO, decided not to pay. It makes it a very challenging environment for professional appraisers.

Basing opinions of probable value on demonstrated sales (comparables) is no longer good enough. Most appraisers still do what I call rear-view mirror appraising. I have, for years, tried to do looking-down-the-road appraising. This has been absolutely necessary when working on the valuation of a type of property I have specialized in: unique pieces of multi-million dollar personal property with no comparables.

In the general economy nobody really knows what anything is worth. There are highly paid consultants who help manufacturers and retailers set prices–not based on the expense of production, but based on the best way to sell the most goods or services. Stop and think for a minute. Do you really know what something is worth? You could answer “it’s worth what people will pay for it” but who decides what the asking price is?  Auctions demonstrate what someone will pay, but pre-auction estimates are crafted with a number of intentions in mind; chief of which is, what will draw the bidders.

I give the answer to all of this in my awaiting-publication book ARTFUL DODGERS: Fraud and Foolishness in the Art Market.


The prices asked and paid, or bid, for fine art and other collectible commodities are all based totally on PERCEPTION. The job of art dealers is to create those perceptions in the minds of prospective buyers and collectors. Certainly auction houses spend huge sums in creating perceptions in advance of sales. As you’ll read in the book, there are “Six Myths That Drive The Art Market” and dealers everywhere are hard at work every day convincing prospective buyers that the myths are reality.

What makes The Scream “worth” $120 million? Only perception. I doubt it could be traded for $120 million worth of oil, tennis shoes, drugs or coconuts. Strange world isn’t it?