Published in The Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, February 12, 2000
Page H1 of the Homes section

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Uncovering the truth

We love our collections, but finding out their worth takes detective work and maybe advice from a trained antiques evaluator.

Katharine Fletcher
The Ottawa Citizen

Janet Carlile is a master detective, uncovering valuable antiques and preserving reminders of our past.

This is a complicated business, says the author, broadcaster and antiques appraiser with 20 years of experience separating reproductions and fakes from the real antiques.

You have to work carefully and be alert because many of the reproductions and fakes are well made and even the experts get stumped, says the genial detective who is obviously in her element checking over a piece of glass in Shirley Kelly's Log Farm Antiques shop in Carleton Place.

Even when an object is genuine, precise identification may prove elusive, says Ms. Carlile, a Sotheby-trained appraiser. She advises people to research all they can about their antiques before hiring an assessor and paying $100 an hour for an in-home assessment.

"The more you know about your possessions, the better," she says while bending over a diminutive gout stool in the Carleton Place shop. She deftly turns the quaint object upside down in her hands. "Walnut," she announces. "Late 19th century. Nice piece and it has its original upholstery."

It's a treat watching her coolly assess objects as varied as Canadiana butter bowls filled with carpet balls through to her special love, 19th-century pressed glass.

"This is all I do," she says happily. "I love antiques."

Ms. Carlile is an antiques evaluator with more than two decades of experience in Canada, England and Europe where she has lectured and written about antiques.

An eighth-generation Canadian of United Empire Loyalist stock, she left Canada in 1979 after being accepted into the prestigious Sotheby's Decorative Arts course in London. After graduating, she stayed and worked as a private antiques assessor. At the same time, Ms. Carlile wrote and hosted a BBC radio program on antiques and lectured at Lancaster University.

Now this detective is shifting her focus to the Ottawa area and offering workshops to help participants identify their antiques.

Diligent homework and research can uncover real treasures, says Suzanne Davis, president of Christie's Canada, Inc., in Toronto.

She still remembers how chance and research helped her identify a 19th-century master by French painter Henri Le Sidaner.

While doing an at-home evaluation, Ms. Davis' shoulder brushed against an unframed, obviously unappreciated painting. As she reached out to steady it, she gasped, realizing it might be an important work.

"I turned it over and discovered a tell-tale series of exhibit tags that immediately told me the painting had been exhibited four times. This is important: it helps trace an object's provenance, or lineage -- and enhances its worth."

The half-forgotten painting proved to be the work of Henri Le Sidaner, known for his 'sentimental realism' that was popular in the late 1800s.

When Christie's auctioned the painting, it fetched $300,000.

It's also wise to have a photo record of your antiques and collections and store the pictures in a safe place, suggest the two appraisers.

Photographs should take special note of distinguishing marks, signatures, or the number of a print, for instance. As well, note an object's dimensions; if it is wood, what kind of wood? Be as precise as possible.

Both specialists stress it's vital to have detailed notes for written insurance evaluations, or to assess an object's worth to determine its charitable status.

There are many clues that can hint at an object's worth, says Ms. Davis.

"Fashion is very important," says the Toronto appraiser. "Is the antique currently 'in vogue.' If it is, then it will be worth a lot more and you may want to consider auctioning it. And don't forget that certain items may auction better in London, England, for instance, than in New York."

Ms. Carlile agrees. "Suzie Cooper crockery is a good example of how objects can become popular -- and valuable. A cookery course filmed in Japan used her ware exclusively. That prompted every Japanese tourist who came to England to ask for Suzie Cooper plates and teapots. She only died a few years ago and today her crockery is still worth quite a lot."

The next step is to check with family members on the history associated with a piece, says Mr. Carlile.

Then head to auctions and, more importantly, attend the previews to learn more about antiques and the value of your own particular piece. Choose an auction of objects similar to those you possess, says Ms. Carlile. Take along your photos and compare. Then, attend the auction and see what the sale price turns out to be.

Ms. Davis also encourages people to browse the Christie's Web site at 2. A companion page contains an auction estimates questionnaire which takes you through some basic queries regarding your property. Answer the questions, print out the form and mail it (along with those detailed photographs) for an estimate. Ms. Davis says a response is normally sent withing two to three weeks.

In addition, the site is linked to Christie's auction reviews for descriptions of objects and their sale price.

In the end, both advise people to be smart. Especially to the untrained eye, objects can appear to be something they are not: in other words, it's easy to be fooled.

As well, "don't expect an unbiased or totally honest appraisal from a potential purchaser. You cannot value with one hand and buy with the other," notes Ms Carlile.

"At the end of the day," she says, "the really important thing is for collectors to have fun. Buy what you like."

Janet Carlile can be reached at (613) 623-5896. Suzanne Davis can be reached at Christie's Canada, Inc., 170 Bloor Street West, Suite 900, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 1T9. Toll free 1-800-960-2063; e-mail Christie's Web site is 2


Janet Carlile will bring boxes of antiques from her own collection for discussion. As well, bring one item of your own and she will identify it.

1. A Day Away, 1095 Quigley Hill Rd., Cumberland. For information, contact Menna Andrews at (613) 833-9168. The cost of $59 includes a three-course luncheon plus afternoon tea. The Mar. 4 course on antique glass runs from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m

2. Log Farm Antiques, Carleton Place. For directions and any further information contact owner Shirley Kelly at 613-257-3757 or at Lunch is included in all of these workshops, which cost $59 (tax included) and run from 10:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. On March 11: Glass (Pressed and Cut); March 25: Porcelain; March 29: Furniture; April 8: Sterling silver, Sheffield plate and Silverplate

Two other workshops run from noon until 5 p.m. and tea (not lunch) will be served: April 1: Antique Roadshow Style Afternoon, $20 per piece brought for appraisal; April 29: Seminar on Fine Art and Books. Cost $59.