Why We Can't Appraise Manuscripts


The Operational Archives Branch of the Naval Historical Center is unable to provide appraisals of the monetary value of manuscripts offered as gifts, brought in for identification, or submitted for any other purpose.

Material given to archives and libraries may have tax benefits for the donor. In an effort to foster goodwill with donors and acquire important collections, libraries and archives may be tempted or feel pressured by the donor to provide an artificially inflated appraisal. The Internal Revenue Service, therefore, regards archives and libraries as interested parties, and appraisals prepared by them for gifts that they receive are subject to question. Consequently, the Association of College and Research Libraries recommends that "to protect both its donors and itself, the library, as an interested party, ordinarily should not appraise gifts made to it." Most libraries and archives now follow this policy on appraisals.

When an appraisal is used for tax or insurance purposes, an appraiser must be prepared to defend his valuation in court. This requires an expert knowledge of prices. The Operational Archives is not in the business of buying and selling manuscripts and cannot provide current market information. Further, appraisers often have much more extensive collections of price guides and related bibliographies than can be found in most libraries.

Similar considerations apply when appraisals are requested for reasons not connected with gifts, tax deductions, or insurance. Accurate establishment of prices can be a complex procedure, requiring time-consuming research in auction records and price guides that we are not able to undertake.

Appraisers in your area can be located by checking the telephone directory under headings such as "Appraisers," "Books--Rare and Used," and "Antiques--Dealers." The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America will supply a free list of members. Send a self-addressed stamped envelope with your request to Shop 2 Concourse, 630 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10020. The Appraisers Association of America, Inc., 541 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10022, will send a directory of members for a small fee.

You should expect to pay an appraisal fee unless the appraiser subsequently purchases materials. For income tax purposes, fees paid for the appraisal of materials donated to a qualifying charitable institution such as a library or archives are deductible within the limits established by law.

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