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!
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.
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.
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.