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Why I don’t give valuations for textiles

As a textile historian I receive frequent requests to give valuations and appraisals for textiles that people own or are thinking about buying.  In every case I politely decline the request, and direct the query elsewhere.  Usually that is the end of the story, but recently someone got very angry and rude about this, and attacked me for being ‘stupid’ for not doing appraisals.  Weird!

Honiton lace (detail)

So I thought I had better explain why I don’t give valuations for textiles, and won’t tell you what you should pay for a textile.

The first reason is professional and ethical.  I was trained as a museum professional, and that is where my career began.  International standards of museum ethics, most notable the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums, direct museum professionals not to give appraisals to private individuals (see CEM 5.2).  This is primarily because museums hold items for their societal value, not for their monetary value.

While I am now self employed, I choose to continue to adhere to the code of ethics I was trained in, both as a professional standard, and because it fits my personal code of ethics, and how I feel about textiles.

You see, fabric and handwork based antiques (with the exception of dolls, and items which are linked to celebrities) are generally undervalued on the antiques market.  Part of the reason for this is their fragility – textiles are hard to care for and store, and tend to age relatively quickly.  Another part of this is the private, personal value we place on textiles.  They are, literally, the closest thing to us on a daily basis, and accompany us from birth to death.  We tend to associate strong personal memories with textiles (the dress I wore when I met my future husband, the first potholder Grandma taught me to quilt, the cushion I splurged on for our new house), and it is impossible to put a value on those associations.

Cherry blossom embroidery on a fukusa (detail)

Sadly though, the biggest reason for the de-valuation of textiles is their categorization as ‘craft’: a lower, not as skilled or honourable pursuit as ‘art’.  This designation was mainly created in the Renaissance, often by explicitly misogynistic writers who sought to elevate their own handwork (architecture, sculpture, and painting) at the expense of the mainly female dominated textile industries.

Depression-era yo yo (Suffolk puff) quilt

Rather than continue the art/craft disconnect, and instead of telling you what your grandmothers gloves and the quilt your best friend made for you would fetch at an antiques fair or a vintage store (not a lot, as anyone who as ever ‘rescued’ a beautiful handmade quilt from an op-shop will tell you), I’d like to encourage people to appreciate textiles for the exquisite handwork that has gone into them, and for their sheer beauty, and joy they bring us.

I want people to buy textiles for what they are worth to them, to cherish and value them for the textiles own sake, not for what some market has assigned them as a value.

Corset box

So this is all very lovely, but sometimes you need to sell an item, or need valuations for insurance purposes.
So what to do if you want to get a textile valued?  Take it to a local antique or vintage clothing store, or an auction house which frequently sells textiles and clothing for an appraisal.  In other words, go to someone who is already selling: they know about prices.
If it for insurance, ask your insurance provider who they would accept a valuation from.  There are also national lists of accredited appraisers.  Finally, be aware that whoever you go to may charge you a fee for the appraisal.

Chinese cloud collar (detail)

Rate the Dress: Sunny yellow Romance

Last week some of you though the ’50s coat dress was awesome, and some of you thought it an awful, impractical mish-mash, giving it a score of 8 out of 10.  It was an interesting exercise in knowledge altering perception, as before we knew what the dress was people marked it down for being in an incongruous wool fabric (it was a silk) or for having decorative buttons (they were functional).  If I had been able to post all the information about the dress, and all the images of it from the get-go would you have liked it more, or less?  The thing that was undeniable awesome is that Daniel managed to identify the dress as a Lacesse creation from 1955. Yay!  Thank you Daniel!

I’ve been looking over the last few Rate the Dresses and have noticed a real dearth of colour.  Colour is fabulous, so that must be remedied.

It’s a pretty well known fact that the colour I am currently obsessed with is yellow.

Well, this dress is really yellow.

Dress, ca 1829, via Artfund?

It also ties in nicely with last week’s themes: once again, I don’t know a lot about it.  I found it on pinterest, and it only goes back to a blank link (links from tumblers that don’t work and don’t go back to the original collection make me sad.  I won’t follow anyone who regularly pins from that sort of link.  Please makes sure your pins honour the copyright owners!).  I suspect it is an auction image, but am not sure.

Another theme that it ties in with?  Corselets.  The corselet effect on the bodice is most intriguing.  I don’t think it’s a separate garment, but it does provide an intriguing aesthetic transition between the ‘shell-bra’ bodice look of the Romance fashions and later swiss waists.  It does make me wonder about the dating of this dress, and of course, we don’t know if the dress has been altered at all.

So, you can discuss all that in the comments (Rate the dress + intellectual discussions = awesome), and you can also discuss the aesthetics of the dress.  Does it have just enough details to make it interesting?  Or is it too fussy?  And can it beat your antipathy towards puffed sleeves?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10 (and remember, if you leave your comment and rating attached to the image instead of the post I, and most other people, won’t see it and it won’t get counted in the final rating)


A winter throne for Queen Felicity

With the cold weather closing in Felicity has chosen her seat for the winter – right on top of the Sky (cable TV) box.

It’s the only piece of heat-producing electronics in the house that is on almost all the time, and it’s just the perfect size for her to park her bum on.

On really cold days she wraps her whole body around it like a mother bird around her eggs.  It’s very annoying if you are trying to watch something or change the channel though!

My own little pre-warmed seat

Mine, all mine