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Appraisal, Estate and Trust Services
Museum and Institutional Services

Appraisal, Estate and Trust Services

Cowan’s Auctions' Appraisal, Estate and Trust Services provides thorough and confidential evaluation of personal and institutional property assets.

Cowan’s works with private clients, law firms, banks, estate executors, and other professionals to provide appraisal and auction services for single items, collections and entire households. Cowan’s understands that speed and accuracy are equally important. Our experts can appraise most items; we call on other specialists as needed.

Which do you appraisal or an auction estimate?

An appraisal is a written document that provides an expert’s opinion of the value of an item or collection of items. An auction estimate is a range, low-to-high, at which your item might sell at auction.

If you don’t need a written appraisal for insurance, estate or tax purposes – and just want to know what Cowan’s specialists think your property is worth – we’ll be glad to give you a verbal auction estimate to help you with your planning. There is no charge for this service and no obligation to consign your property to Cowan’s.

Getting started on your own

With or without a written appraisal, it’s important to keep a record of what you own, what you paid for your property and how you acquired it. Save receipts. Tape histories inside of drawers. Take pictures or videos. Keep these records where you can quickly find them – but always keep the records in a separate location.

Appraisal 101

Fair Market Value (FMV): The price that property would sell for on the open market. It is the price that would be agreed on between a willing buyer and a willing seller, with neither being required to act, and both having reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts. (IRS Publication 561:

Replacement Value: The price of replacing an object with an object of comparable value within a reasonable period of time.

Fair Market Value Appraisal: An appraisal may be required for tax purposes, certification of a will at probate, estate planning and settlement, equitable distribution of property following divorce or for contributions to 501(c)3 organizations.

Replacement Value Appraisal: An appraisal that is required in order to insure valuable items. The appraisal can be used to identify items that may have been damaged or lost. If no document exists, a post-loss appraisal can be conducted from photographs or other records to help determine a settlement amount.

Estate Appraisal: An appraisal of personal property, typically used for estate planning and settlement.

Appraisal of Items Donated to a Charitable Institution: Donations of property or cash above a specific amount made to qualified charitable institutions require the donor to submit a written appraisal to the Internal Revenue Service.

Appraisal vs. Auction Estimate: An appraisal is a written document generally used for estate, tax, insurance, charitable contribution or loan purposes; it reflects an expert’s opinion of the value of an item or group of items. An auction estimate is the low-to-high price range your particular item will likely bring at auction.

Appraisal Certification
Currently, personal property appraisers are not required by law to be regulated. But in order to avoid any regrettable decision when getting artwork, furniture, silver, firearms or historic objects appraised, it is wise to choose an appraiser who is certified by the Appraisers Association of America (AAA), American Society of Appraisers (ASA) or International Society of Appraisers (ISA). These organizations provide rigorous training and certification their accredited members. Appraisals also should also conform to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) guidelines.

The Appraisal Process
The first step is a preliminary evaluation to understand the scope and size of the appraisal. Cowan’s appraisers typically visit estates, but it is possible to complete the initial evaluation from photographs. Next, we send a proposal. Cowan’s appraisal fees are determined by the time spent on site, the time required for research and write-up and the number of appraisers required.

The Appraisal Document
Cowan’s appraisals are tailored to your needs. A simple appraisal may include a list of items with the number, name and value of each, along with a photo CD. More complex appraisal documents can include room-by-room accounts of each item – name, medium, material, size, place of origin, artist or maker, history and provenance – as well as a photograph of each.

Appraisal Longevity
How many years does an appraisal stay current? The market for art, antiques and collectibles has been volatile over the past few years. Some categories are significantly up; others are down. An appraisal that is more than two years old may no longer be relevant. We are happy to update our appraisals for a nominal fee.

Appraisal and Auctions
Cowan’s views appraisals as part of a seamless transaction. You can feel confident that our opinions will match those of any reputable auction house. If you choose to consign your property with Cowan’s, the appraisal fee may be reduced or eliminated.


Museum and Institutional Services

Cowan’s partners with museums, historical societies and institutions – providing services for the identification, appraisal, acquisition and de-accession of fine art, antiques and historically significant objects.

Cowan’s understands the goals and concerns of non-profit institutions, and the need for all transactions to be handled with discretion. Wes Cowan began his career as an archeologist and professor, and worked as a museum curator for 11 years. Many of our specialists worked at museums, art institutes or historical societies prior to joining Cowan’s.

Cowan’s has had the privilege of working with many fine institutions, including:

  • The Cincinnati Art Museum
  • The Amon Carter Museum
  • The Eiteljorg Museum
  • The Akron Art Museum
  • The Cleveland Art Museum
  • The Ohio Historical Society
  • The Western Reserve Historical Society
  • The Portsmouth Museum of Military History
  • The Speed Museum
  • The Detroit Institute of Arts
  • The Georgia Historical Society
  • Arizona State Art Museum
  • The Huntington Art Museum
  • The Cayuga Museum of History
  • The Henry Ford Museum


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