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Tampa antique appraiser discusses family legacy, working remotely

Grant Miller comes from a line of Chicago-area antique store owners

Grant Miller is an antiques appraiser based out of Tampa and Orlando. He’s lived in Florida since 2010, when he moved here for family. The Tampa Bay Times sat down with Miller to discuss his job, his family’s history in the business and what it’s like working remotely.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What does an antique appraiser do?

Generally we tell our clients the fair market value or the insurance value for the items that they have, that they’d like evaluated.

What is the process of appraising an antique like?

When possible, I like to see the item firsthand. I like to go over it with a fine-tooth comb. I like to take several photos from different angles, get some measurements, get an idea of the materials used and the construction methods used. And then I always have questions for my clients — Where’d you get it? How long have you had it? What they paid for it, have you had any work done on it? Has it been previously appraised? A lot of times they don’t have answers to some of those things but it’s always worth asking.

Then from there, depending on the type of appraisal, if they need fair market value, I go and look at comparable auction sales. That gives you good ideas to kind of the blue book value, the used price or where you could possibly sell a similar piece. If they’re looking for insurance value, I would look at gallery prices, that type of thing.

Grant Miller, an antique appraiser who works in Tampa and Orlando, says he grew up around heirlooms. Both sides of his family owned stores in the Chicago area. [ Courtesy of Grant Miller ]

How did you get into the antique appraisal business?

My family had antique stores up in the Chicago area since about the 1930s. They had two competing stores about a mile or two down the street from each other — one on the maternal side, another on the paternal side, and I’m the result of that union.

They kind of got out of the business in the late 90s and were only doing flea markets, auctions, those types of things. So they closed their storefronts, all that kind of stuff and just kind of did it on the side because they were getting older. But one of the things they did offer while they had antique stores and throughout was offer appraisals for clients as well and I would do some of the writing and the research for it.

So when I came down to Florida in 2010, I just figured that would make some sense to just do only the appraisal work and not any of the antique buying or selling.

How do you do antique appraising remotely? How have you been doing your job during quarantine?

There's some things I don't appraise remotely, it's impossible to do it well. But [with] antique furniture, if I can walk the client through what I need to for my job, usually from photos and measurements, I can kind of get an idea as to what they have. But there's some things I refuse to appraise remotely just because it’s impossible without seeing it firsthand.

What’s one of the coolest antiques you’ve ever evaluated?

I had a client in Clearwater, they had been lugging this sizable painting around for 20 or 30 years. They didn't know much about it. But they inherited it from their parents in the 1970s or so. I did a little bit of research and realized there was a painting that belonged to a fairly notable artist. And this painting that they had been lugging around, you know, forever turned out to be around $200,000. So they were, as you might imagine, completely floored by the return.

Which artist was it?

John Folinsbee.

What are some of the ethical considerations that you have to deal with, being an antiques appraiser?

The one thing — and this goes for any type of appraiser, whether it’s real estate, jewelry, cars — you make sure that the appraiser has no interest either in the item itself or in the parties involved. I couldn’t actually write an appraisal for an item that I have. So you want to make sure that the appraiser is independent and has no interest in the items or the people involved.

And then the other thing, the other big red flag, is you want to make sure that the appraiser doesn’t base his or her fees on its potential value because at that point they’re inclined to put a higher value so that they get better fees.