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Heritage Auctions Appraisal Services

All About Appraisals: Retroactive Appraisals
by Meredith Meuwly, ISA CAPP

In the past year, I have noticed a trend for clients across all collecting categories (fine art, jewelry, sports, comics, movie posters, etc.) requesting retroactive appraisals for their recently sold property. For instance, a son inherits his father's collection in 2003. At this time, the value of the collection fell below the level in which a formal estate appraisal was required for the IRS. Jump to 2014 when the son sells the collection for a great sum of cash. Without an appraisal performed at the time of inheritance, the son has a $0 tax basis and likely will be liable for a significant amount of capital gains on the entire sale price. Enter the retroactive appraisal to establish the fair market value of the collection at the time of inheritance, which creates a step up in basis for the taxpayer.

Sometimes a retroactive appraisal is straightforward, as data from online auction record databases exists for the particular artist or collectible from the year of inheritance. And sometimes the appraisal assignment becomes quite challenging as little to no sales data exists in online databases for the property. What happens now? The appraiser spends hours upon hours scouring old auction catalogues in libraries searching for comparables, hoping that the actual sale prices were recorded or a price list can be obtained for the auction. Other challenges include assessing what was the original condition at the time of inheritance as opposed to the current condition, understanding the ins and outs of the retroactive marketplace, and, as always, finding comparables for "unique" items.

Heritage Auctions Appraisal Services is in unique position in that all of our auction records are listed in our online Auction Archives.

This free database is a wealth of knowledge for appraisers and collectors, especially for the early sales in rare coins, currency, comics, and other collectibles. We also have a wide-ranging staff of specialists who have been involved in the marketplace for decades and have a wealth of knowledge on the history of the market.

Do you have a client who needs a retroactive appraisal? Heritage has the expertise to help you help your clients. Contact Meredith Meuwly, Director of Appraisal Services, today for a confidential consultation at MeredithM@HA.com or 214-409-1631.


After five years at Christie's in New York, Meredith Meuwly joined Heritage Auctions in 2007 as Senior Consignment Director in the Fine & Decorative Arts Department and currently manages the Appraisal Services department. In 2009, Meredith participated as an appraiser for the Antiques Roadshow on PBS. She is also a member of the Fine Art committee for the International Society of Appraisers and looks forward to assisting with any formal appraisal needs.