In my years of appraising antiques, fine art, and household contents for estate planning and settlement, insurance protection and claims, divorce and donations, I have come to develop some common truths about the items that surround every family. These truths are present in a three-room apartment or in a thirty-room estate. They are the things that make my job interesting and exciting. And you have them.

First, almost every home I visit has something I have never seen before. As an example, in one home, I was introduced to a Cape Cod lighter, a black smudge pot looking device with a long-handled brush, used for lighting lighthouse lamps and sometimes a fire in a fireplace. In two houses, I have found cannons, one, a marine cannon on a naval carriage made in Scotland in the early 1800’s but having a serial number of 50,129; the other, a Spanish American cannon on a wheeled carriage.  I have seen many original Civil War commissioning documents signed by Abraham Lincoln and Edwin Stanton. One home had a desk made by the Philadelphia craftsman, who designed a similar desk for George Washington in Mount Vernon. In an attic, I discovered 600 first edition novels written by Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck and other 20th century American authors. Special tools, inventive kitchen implements, historical clothing, unique furniture, all have a home and I get to identify them, research them and value them.

Second, every home, no matter what the size, shape, or economic condition has five good things that stand out among the other contents. A four-room apartment with general contents had a Picasso print, some needlework samplers, a rooster-shaped teapot, a Steuben glass vase, and some Mexican silver. All of these items had been found at tag sales by the scavenger homeowner. Initially the Mexican silver had little value because the silver content was not sterling quality but today early Mexican silver is very collectible. A house in Mississippi had five “named” pieces of antique furniture. A named piece is one that was made in the eighteenth century or early nineteenth century for an important family and either by its uniqueness or quality or artist reputation, it became one of a kind and was named after the original owner. These pieces were museum quality and they were almost priceless.

Third, Block Island homeowners have some unusual articles. I have seen Block Island postcard collections, porcelain china and silverware with Block Island scenes, historical names, events and dates, fishing and farming tools, and practical items like pie tables, milk cans, and weather vanes. Often families have inherited items that are seldom used today like shoe horns and clothes brushes. In one home I found a 1900’s women’s bathing suit, which had a a sleeved wool dress, under garments and long wool stockings, obviously a costume museum piece. In another, there was a painting of a Block Island owned coastal schooner, painted by an island artist.

So, what’s in your attic or basement or storeroom or barn? Does it have a value? Does it mean more to you for its heritage value than its street value? Should it be identified in your homeowner’s insurance policy? What should happen to it after you are gone? Do you kids want it? Does a museum? Or, are you tired of it, no one wants it, and you should sell it or give it away or even throw it away. Everything has value. Usually the value is in the eye of the beholder, who may be you or might be someone you are yet to meet. Or, it is in a closet or a curios cabinet and you have forgotten about it.

My job as consultant and personal property appraiser is to help you identify and value the object or your total contents. More importantly, I can help you decide what to keep and what to sell or give away. In these times, many people are downsizing. They have no idea what their contents are worth and which of the objects are important to them or their families. I can help. This activity I call estate planning but I also do appraisals for insurance protection and claim settlement, donations, divorce and equitable distribution. Often a family member wants to prevent a family dispute in advance of death by designating that certain objects be distributed to certain family members or friends after death. They also want to be fair and make like distributions to other family members. I can help you decide what to do by determining the fair market value of the gifts so that you can balance the gifts among the family members or donate them to a worthy cause. This eliminates possible disagreements among the family members.


Nelson Clayton is a tenth generation Block Islander and owner of Appraisals of Distinction, LLC, a personal appraisal company doing business in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York. He is also an Accredited Senior Appraiser and a Member on the Board of Governors of the American Society of Appraisers, Inc. as well as a Certified Appraiser of Personal Property for the International Society of Appraisers, Inc. He appraises antiques, fine art, and general household contents.






Nelson O. Clayton is an Accredited Senior Appraiser of the American Society of Appraisers. He is designated in Personal Property Residential Contents-General and Antiques and Decorative Arts. He is also a Certified Appraiser of Personal Property of the International Society of Appraisers, Inc., approved to appraise Antiques and Residential Contents. He is actively engaged in the appraisal of household contents, and antiques and decorative arts and he is building his credentials in silver, and fine arts. With consultation with experts, he has appraised paintings and sculpture in the appraised range of $10-$550,000, individual items of silver in the $40,000 range, clocks in the $30,000 range, and furniture in the $125,000 range. His training at the Winterthur Museum helped him to develop these skills. In addition, he is trained in research and analysis, first as a senior bank-lending officer, and second, as an appraiser. In every assignment, Mr. Clayton continues to develop his skills by identifying and analyzing complete household contents, collections, and family heirlooms. Mr. Clayton’s appraisal business has been developed through personal referral and direct contact with families requiring appraisal of their household contents, primarily for estate tax planning and settlement, donations, divorce and insurance purposes. He has evaluated complete household contents as well as selected individual items.