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My Biz: Appraiser works at knowing what's good

Jon Thompson looks at an item in his house in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday morning, September 13, 2011. (Stephen Mally/Freelance)
Jon Thompson looks at an item in his house in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday morning, September 13, 2011. (Stephen Mally/Freelance)

By Katie Mills Giorgio, correspondent

Name: Jon Thompson

Title: Appraiser

Company: Jon Thompson Appraisals

Phone: (319) 360-7949

Website: www.jonthompsonappraisals.com

Elevator speech: “This is about connoisseurship, seeing great things.”

Jon Thompson can tell you what’s good, better and best.

In his job as a personal property appraiser of fine and decorative art and antiques, his day-to-day work requires him to know the difference.

Thompson appraises American art and antiques, books, bronzes, ceramics, ephemera, fine arts, furniture, furs, glass, maps, native American art and antiques, photography, porcelain and china, silver and metalware, stamps, textiles, and toys and dolls. Just to name a few.

“Living in the Midwest, I have to be a generalist,” Thompson said, “but I know my limits.”

For example, Thompson was recently appraising a Chinese bronze and called in another appraiser he met at a conference for his expertise. And he never appraises jewelry or guns.

Doing an appraisal is more than just giving an opinion.

Thompson writes detailed, compliant reports for insurance, estate tax, equitable distribution and charitable contributions. He has experience working with law firms, accountants and estate-sale companies.

Thompson studied at the Pratt Institute in New York where he received his certificate in Fine and Decorative Art Appraisal in 2009. Today he is a candidate member of the American Society of Appraisers — the most stringent of the appraisal societies out there — and is, in fact, the only such member in the states of Iowa and Nebraska.

His daily schedule varies as much as the clients and types of objects he appraises.

“I do a lot of writing, and I try to stick to doing inspections a couple of days a week,” Thompson admitted. “But I have to be flexible.”

Most of his work is generated by word of mouth or through insurance companies, lawyers or executors of estates. After the initial phone call or email to him, Thompson follows up to find out more about the property in question.

“Then I send an engagement letter similar to other professions,” he said.

That letter spells out not only the date and time of the appointment but also specifics such as how many copies of the final report are needed, who the main user of the report is and what his cost will be. After a visit, Thompson spends his time writing the appraisal document, typically a 20-page, detailed narrative.

Of course, Thompson said, he doesn’t work free.

“People watch (Public Television’s) ‘Antiques Roadshow’ and see free advice being given,” he said. “They presume that is what I do, that I do this just for fun.“This isn’t a hobby. It’s a serious career.”

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