What's It Worth? by Leslie Hindman

How We Answer "What's It Worth?" Part II: Condition

What's It Worth? presents the second installment of our 10 part series, How We Answer "Whats It Worth?"
The first installment can be found here

2. Condition

One of the most important of the ten criteria, condition defines what kind of shape the object is in or how far off it is from the day it was created when the artist or artisan shouted voilá! Once you see and understand the condition, you can decide if it's something with which you can live. But I think you should always buy the best you can afford. It's better to buy something of lesser overall value in great condition than the opposite.

What constitutes good condition, of course, depends on the type of object under consideration. A painting whose canvas seems to be in perfect condition, that is unchipped and clean, may be considered in poor condition if over the years it has been varnished too often, lending it an unpleasant sheen. Rips, of course, even when undetectable to the naked eye, can also lower a picture's value. In the late 1990's, a painting in perfect condition by Alfred Sisley, the nineteenth century Impressionist painter, would have been valued at auction at about $4 million. When one that appeared perfect in every aspect came up for auction in 1997, the auction house, as well as collectors who knew of the picture, became very excited. But under a black light it became apparent that the picture had at some point in the past been ripped horizontally from side to side. Though the repair could not be seen by anyone not carrying a black light (in other words, almost no one), the picture fetched only $2.3 million.

Condition affects some categories of objects more than others. In the past several decades toy collecting has become particularly trendy. People collect not only Lionel trains, Barbie dolls, and old Corgi cars, but baby boomers have honed in on toys from their childhood - Mr. Potato Head, board games like Clue, Lego sets, and Easy Bake ovens, among many others. Collectors prize condition above virtually all else in this era because toys generally were not made from the sturdiest materials and were meant to be used. If you find a Barbie in perfect condition, in its original box, you'll have a real prize.



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