What is a valuation?
Valuation, as much an art as a science, is the assignment of a monetary value to an object by a qualified professional. Valuation is not an indicator of cultural worth which cannot be expressed in monetary terms.
Why has a museum declined to give me a valuation?
Museum staff are usually barred on ethical grounds from giving valuations. An instrument that doesn’t fetch much on the open market, or appears undesirable to modern musicians, may still be rare and extremely significant from an artistic or scholarly viewpoint. It may carry unique contextual information or witness marks revealing earlier traditions of manufacture or performance practices. It can provide insight into individuals’ social lives and their communities. Even instruments that are found to be fakes or replicas can have substantial and captivating stories to tell.
Do I need a valuation?
Valuation forms a necessary part of managing objects, musical or otherwise. Valuations can vary according to the purposes for which they are needed. For example, a valuation for insurance may be quite different to one for entering it to auction. Auction values themselves usually consist of a range with a high and a low figure. There is also the ‘fair market value’ agreed between a willing buyer and willing seller, often set midway between the two auction values. Loan agreements between museums or collections almost always require a valuation for legal purposes. Your musical instrument specialist should, therefore, always be informed of the reason why a valuation is being sought, and an experienced valuator will always ask.
Valuations based on photographs must be regarded as less reliable than those following inspection and further research. More accurate valuations will likely involve showing the item to a specialist dealer or to an auction house which holds specialist musical instrument sales. Auction houses often give a verbal valuation without charge and can also make recommendations about specialists.
Specialist workshops, professional musical instrument makers and dealers ordinarily ask a fee for providing written valuations based on an inspection. You could expect a written valuation to outline the basic rationale for its conclusions and to detail the condition of the instrument in terms of its musical and structural integrity and originality. The cost for a valuation report should be agreed in advance.