Are Your Family Heirlooms Worth Millions?

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Assessing what you own is easier than ever.

Television's "Antiques Roadshow" has led many people to think twice about placing that picture of their ancestors in their next garage sale, since there may be so many unknown treasures in the attic. But what do you do if you don't know the value of your family heirloom, and no experts are visiting? Author and art expert Robert J. Hughes says putting a value on your family treasures may be easier than you think.

According to Hughes, you can actually have an expert at an auction house give you an unofficial appraisal by mail. In fact, the world's biggest auction houses offer a free opinion of the likely value of your property, if you think you might want to sell something there.

“Most people are still put off by the nature of auctions,” says Hughes, “but auctioneers are in the business of selling things, and experts at auction houses say that people who have things to sell -- from rugs and carpets, jewels, furniture and art, even wine -- shouldn't feel intimidated by these places. Consider an auction house the brick-and-mortar version of an online auctioneer like eBay.”

"It's amazing what people do not know about the art world," says Hughes, whose new novel, "Late and Soon," is set at an auction house in New York City. Mr. Hughes, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, has covered the art market extensively and has written about trends in art, such as the hottest artists or collecting areas, from furniture to unassuming-yet-valuable items such as one-of-a-kind lunchboxes.

In "Late and Soon," Mr. Hughes opens a window onto an area where commerce and culture meet -- auctioneering. The novel examines the life of a specialist in 19th-century art as she puts together a big sale, and how she appraises paintings, how artists' reputations are made, and how the business of art is conducted.

Novelist Robert J. Hughes covers art auctions, the art world and culture for the Wall Street Journal, and can speak on those topics and also the many ways his novel "Late and Soon" will appeal to people everywhere.

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Betsy Steve

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Michael Drew
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