VENTURA : Treasures, Trinkets Appraised at Museum


Joyce and Tom Lancaster carefully--very carefully--unwrapped the portrait of the unidentified, middle-aged woman they brought with them Friday to the Ventura County Museum of History and Art.

“It was bought before the turn of the century by an opera singer who went with her company to Europe,” Joyce Lancaster said. “She gave it to my mother and my mother gave it to me.”

The Ventura couple were among about 350 people who lugged jewelry, paintings and other collectibles to the museum to have them appraised by representatives of the Butterfield & Butterfield auction company’s Los Angeles office.


Within an hour of the 10 a.m. start, more than 100 people had lined up to hear what they hoped would be the good word--or the good number--on their items.

“We’re hoping to discover something,” said Lancaster, before her painting was ogled by an appraiser. “We don’t have a clue.”

Before long, the Lancasters had more than a clue.

“He said if the woman in the picture was young and voluptuous it would have been worth more,” Lancaster said. The painting’s estimated value: $200 to $300.

Appraiser Scot Levitt wasn’t the least bit apologetic.

“What usually makes the difference in terms of getting a few extra bucks, is if the woman is young,” Levitt said.

Other visitors met similar fates.

An enamel, brown-stained Buddha that Betty Embry of Ventura received from a dying friend was determined to be merely a 20th Century item, not a true antique.

“They said at an auction it would get anywhere from $300 to 500, is all. I thought maybe $1,000,” said Embry, who once operated an antiques shop in West Los Angeles. “But I love the Buddha. He stands in my entry hall.”


Levitt said the people he sees always hope they have a treasure on their hands. “They’re disappointed when they don’t,” he said. “And usually they don’t.”

Alan Brown came from Simi Valley to see how much his 88-year-old bronze elk is worth. He bought the statue three years ago at an Indian jewelry show.

As he waited for the elk to be inspected, Brown admitted he had no intentions of selling it, regardless of the appraised value. “I’m just curious,” he said.

Brown estimated the elk’s value at $10,000 before the appraisal. He soon heard a somewhat different opinion.

“Good casting. It’s a nice piece. I’m not familiar with the artist,” said appraiser Angela Past. “At an auction it would get $2,000 to $4,000.”

Brown was only slightly fazed. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “If my home burns down I won’t lose too much.”