The art of appraisal

Richard C. Frey

Photo By Josh Indar

Richard C. Frey is one the country’s foremost appraisers. Although he’s done other kinds of work along the way, he got his start as teenager here in Chico, when, at 15, he opened up a coin and stamp shop on 3rd Street downtown. That was way back in about 1945. Now, six decades later, Frey has built up quite a collection of his own, as well as a reputation for determining the value of antiques, art, Samurai swords and just about anything else—even ostrich eggs.

You appraised art for Michael Jackson. Did you meet him?

I didn’t meet Michael Jackson, no. I worked with his lawyers and with his other entourage of people. They sent a stretch limo fully equipped with liquor and everything to my door to take me to a private plane in Sacramento, then to Hollywood and so on.

How long does it take to appraise a large collection like that?

They’re all different. Sometimes 10 days, sometimes half a day.

How do you determine the value of something like a painting?

We have a reference library here. I have a whole section on Japanese, there’s a section on autographs, a section on photography, a section on guns, clocks, etc. Something over 10,000 books. In addition to that, we have computer access to databanks with 740 auction houses all over the world.

How does it work when you’re called to a court case?

I’m usually asked to verify or back up how I arrived at the value of something. I consistently do real well in court, not because I am super-smart but because I do my homework.

One [case] I was involved in a while back was the theft of nine ostrich eggs. They were high-bred and highly documented and they never caught the thief. It was a very well-planned robbery, through security fences and guard dogs and so forth. The eggs, in the end, were worth about $1,000 each.

What was the most valuable piece you’ve ever appraised?

Probably the most valuable single piece was a painting for $22 million. [A] Raphael from the 1600s. It was in litigation [and] had claims against it from eight different countries. It wound up in an international court decision, and ownership was given to a single individual. It was damaged also—severely damaged—but still worth $22 million. I estimated restoration would take two years and cost above $5,000 to restore. When the painting is ultimately marketed, it could sell for around $100 million.