Flandricka House Press, 2016
Nearly everyone loves a good treasure hunt. Gone are the days of swashbuckling adventure so many and most of us get our fix by reading thrillers or watching reality television shows that glorify the hidden treasures lurking in storage sheds, garages, attics, and hoarder homes. Unfortunately, this plethora of treasure hunting tends to obscure the real work of finding and appraising art and collectibles by bringing us all down to the lowest common denominator. We don’t have to choose between base reality show style ‘pickers’ or grandiose Hollywood art detectives. In the vast space between where the real work gets done, where genuine value is determined you’ll find people like Elizabeth Stewart.
Stewart is the kind of specialist you would encounter on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow–knowledgeable, detailed, and amicable. What Collect Value Divest gives readers is a glimpse into how an appraiser is able to succeed. All of us have wondered just how and why a collectible, antique, or work of art is valued, so Stewart shows us how quality of the work is but one factor in determining value.
For example, early on in her book Stewart gives us case studies that illustrate an aspect of quality appraisal reflecting the need to know an artist’s personal life, and at least cursory understanding of the artistic style, and a sense of the locale wherein an artists or artisan lived and worked. All of this may seem like common sense, but all too often it is overlooked in favor of a shortcut. Stewart makes clear, there isn’t one.
With over thirty years of experience, Stewart has vast trove to draw upon in order to educate, inspire, instruct, and entertain readers. Collect Value Divest is filled with beautiful, color images of the works discussed, and while it may seem like a minor trait, this really grounds her work. Her chapters on forgeries and fakes are fascinating and most definitely a future resource for any would-be authors of thrillers as well as just as entertaining as any pulp fiction.
But it isn’t just art or paintings that Stewart gives us a grounding in understanding valuation. She examines the nostalgia market,
“We live in an age when we have 23 gaming systems on practically every TV, not to mention computer games played by one billion players worldwide. There’s something so serene and innocent about the early gaming monstrosities, some of which had electronics (though primitive), as well as stiff mechanical tools, and three-dimensional structures.”
The kitsch or memorabilia market is arguably as lucrative, fraught, and interesting as the art world. My favorite chapters are those where Stewart takes us through first edition, illustrated, and other unique books as well as her chapter on oddities (one of which being a vial of Ronald Reagan’s blood). Of course, there are some disturbing collectibles such as the always terrifying doll collections
as well as chapters on some heart-wrenching Medieval wood sculptures. All of these varied kinds of collectibles are deftly described and navigated by Stewart as she provides readers with a clear methodology. Perhaps readers want to improve or begin their own appraisals or simply want to know more about a relatively obscure profession, either way Stewart’s book is at once a superb guide and an engaging peak into the profession. So much so that Collect Value Divest: The Savvy Appraiser is one of ten finalists in the Reference category for the 19th annual Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards.
Stewart has an easy writing style at once conversational and slightly conspiratorial as though she’s letting you in on secrets. Overall, each case study reads like not like a sales pitch, boast, or novelty, but rather as genuine insight into the bare bones and brass tacks of the business of appraisal. Her book’s subheading “What to Collect, How to Assess Value, When and Where to Sell” is pragmatic and to the point yet Stewart is able to enliven the process without sensationalizing it.
Elizabeth Stewart is a career appraiser of fine art and antiques, active in the field for 30 years. She serves the Santa Barbara county area, and has appraised for clients nationwide. Her area of expertise is 19th- and 20th-century fine art and works on paper, as well as American and European 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century furniture. Stewart received her undergraduate degree in Architectural History from Tufts University and a Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation from the University of San Diego. She holds a doctorate in Mythological Studies from Pacifica Graduate Institute. For the past nine years, Stewart has broadcasted her own “Art and Antiques Radio Program” on KZSB AM 1290 weekly, as well as writing a weekly column, aptly titled “Ask the GOLDDIGGER,” for the Santa Barbara News Press. She consults with clients on how to create collections, find value and provenance, what to bequeath to heirs, and how and what to donate for tax benefits.