The smart collector: Insurance valuation, market price vary widely

2013-01-20T00:00:00Z The smart collector: Insurance valuation, market price vary widelyDanielle Arnet The Smart Collector Arizona Daily Star
January 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Q: We bought this pair of fu dogs at an estate sale. What can you tell us about them?

A: Our reader adds that her carved stone sculptures are each 21 inches high by 7 inches wide. Their weight is over 100 pounds, though no word on if that is for the pair or for each.

To clue readers about the pair, we add that the stone dogs originated in ancient China and are alternately called foo dogs, fu dogs, or stone temple dogs. Their image is seen in stone carvings such as the reader's, as embroidery, in carved furniture, in jades and other forms.

Andrew Lick, specialist in the Asian Art department at Bonhams San Francisco, told us that "in modern times, fu dogs can be found everywhere, and are used as ornaments in nearly every place imaginable" Add that they are favored by interior decorators as a way to add a touch of the Orient to any setting.

In ancient times, added Lick, fu dogs were found in front of temples, at imperial tombs, and at the entry of homes belonging to the wealthy upper class. There, they were ornamental protection.

In the same spirit, some today have large versions that "guard" their front door. Outdoor versions are called Chinese garden lions. And some regard them as good luck as well as protection.

Fu dogs are created in pairs. Often one, the female, rests a paw on a playful cub. The other, a male, rests his paw on an embroidered ball that represents the world.

According to Lick, the reader's fu dogs seen in photos sent probably date from the 20th century. Their style and crispness of carving, especially the whorls called "snail knots" in their manes, indicate recent origin.

He recommends insurance replacement value for this particular pair at $2,500.

But - and this is a big deal - insurance valuation and market reality are often wide apart. Smart collectors know that retail value, or what you may actually get, constitutes reality.

Looking over price database results for carved stone fu dog pairs, we found a huge variety of size and quality. Prices were all over the place depending on size, aesthetic appeal, age, and quality of carving. In truth, none was as well carved as those of the reader.

On the no-charge site www.liveauctioneers.com we saw auction results from October 2012 ranging from $70 for a carved soapstone pair to $400 for a stone garden pair 18 inches high. The site www.artfact.com had an 18-inch-high pair similar to the reader's that sold for $325 late last year.

I'm thinking that the higher insurance valuation in this case was because this pair is so well carved and visually pleasing. Don't forget that shipping such heavy stone pieces also impacts value.

Q: Through the years, I've accumulated paper items such as folio-size photos of Queen Elizabeth's coronation and other photos of the royal family from the same era. I also have menus from famous restaurants. Do these have value? Would any non-profit accept them as donations?

A: Yes, the items have value. In some cases, it might not be much, but there is value. Value, of course, depends on rarity, demand and condition.

Collecting the British royal family is done worldwide, and early primary paper ephemera is a definite favorite. In today's foodie-obsessed culture, menus, especially those from famed but now defunct restaurants, are prized as collectibles and/or framed décor.

To research potential value for the items, I suggest you search eBay for similar items in completed and current sales. Also check the liveauctioneers.com site. All that should give you an idea.

If donation is your decision, perhaps a local thrift shop has a staffer willing to undertake selling the ephemera online. Reaching a worldwide pool of motivated buyers is key to optimizing sales.

Contact the manager of your local Goodwill or Salvation Army shops, as well. Some branches post their most sellable donations online for that very reason.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

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