Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2017

How Much Did You SayThat Was Worth?

Amy Cherry posted a story on February 17, 2017, on the website of WDEL, a Wilmington, Delaware radio station (107.5 FM, 1150 AM), about the aftermath of a party held in Swallow Hill, a hoity-toity suburb of Wilmington. While the parents were away, their daughter hosted a February 10 party attended by approximately 50 individuals. While the age of the daughter was not disclosed, late teens or early twenties is a strong probability.

I write from personal experience. The parents should have known better. When my son Harry Jr. was a senior in high school, my second wife Connie and I made a trip to Germany. Based on Harry Jr.’s high school escapades, most of which I learned about after he graduated, we made a mistake. Connie and I lived in a passive solar home located on 17 acres atop Carl’s Hill in Zionsville, Pennsylvania. Connie’s mother lived down the lane. We covered our bases, or so we thought.

Connie worked as an operating room nurse at Allentown Hospital. Shortly after returning to work, several doctors spoke to Connie thanking us for the wonderful party their child attended the previous weekend at our home. Connie’s response was simple: “What party?!”

It must have been a heck of a party. Over the next three years, I found more than a dozen empty beer cans in the woods surrounding our house. Harry Jr. admitted a party occurred but was short on the details. Because I was so relieved to find that nothing in the house was missing or damaged, Harry Jr. received only a “do not do this again” warning.

I was not as lucky when my German friend and graduate school roommate Udo Helmke threw a party for his foreign student friends in the room we shared over a garage in Newark, Delaware. I was married at the time and traveled back to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on the weekends to be with my family. Upon returning to Newark after one weekend visit, I noticed that my collection of recent “Playboy” magazines had vanished. When I asked Udo what happened, I was greeted by a blank look on his face.

By now, I suspect you are beginning to guess what happened at the Swallow Hill, Delaware party. Sometime during the party, an 11-point elk head and shoulder mount was unscrewed from a wall and disappeared. Police came to this conclusion after finding several holes in the wall where the elk head and shoulder mount previously was located and three broken windows. [A picture of the elk head and shoulder mount and more information is available on http://www.wdel.com/news/elk-head-worth-k-stolen-from-swallow-hill-home/article_b5ad3316-f54d-11e6-9888-5f95612cc8c7.html.]

The story was headlined: “Elk head worth $65K stolen from Swallow Hill home.” Having experience valuing animal mounts, including those of trophy quality, “say what” was my initial reaction to the value of the stolen elk head and shoulder mount. “There is no way,” I kept repeating over and over again.

Early in my professional appraising career, I was contacted by a Chester County, Pennsylvania, insurance company to assist in an evaluation of a trophy moose head that had been damaged in a fire. The hair on the head was scorched and the antlers had fallen off.

The owner claimed the moose head was not salvageable. As compensation, he wanted the cost of two hunting trips to Alaska to bag another trophy moose and the cost to have the head mounted, assuming he shot a moose that qualified. The amount exceeded $25,000.00. The claim adjuster thought the request was unreasonable.

[Author’s Aside #1: Read your homeowner’s insurance policy very carefully. If something is damaged, most individuals assume the insurance will pay for a new replacement. First, many policies have a depreciation clause, meaning the insurance company only is responsible for the value at the time of the loss. Second, in most cases, the policy gives the insurance company the right to replace an older item with one of similar and like value. Finally, if the insurance company pays a claim or provides a replacement item, it is entitled to the damaged item if it so choses. Of course, if the item is stolen, there is little that can be done except pay the claim or find a like replacement.]

The claim adjuster tasked me with two assignments. First, find out the qualifications for a trophy moose head. What sounds simple is complex. The number of points and distance between horns are only two criteria. The size of the moose’s nose and ears also are important. The Boone and Crockett Club, founded in 1887, is the arbiter of such matters. Those wishing to know about trophy moose criteria are advised to consult: https://www.boone-crockett.org/bgRecords/records_FieldJudging_moose.asp?area=bgRecords.

The second task was to see if I could find a trophy moose head for sale and at what cost. A serendipity moment occurred. A few weeks earlier, I read a story in a trade paper about a Texas dealer who had two trophy moose heads for sale. I called him. He offered to sell me the pair for $2,500.00 or one for $1,500.00. I ask him to hold one until I talked with the claim agent. The claim agent was delighted. He called the company’s client and asked where he would like the replacement trophy moose head shipped. The client settled the claim for a little over a thousand dollars.

There is no way the stolen elk head and shoulder mount is worth $65,000.00. The Boone and Crockett Club has not posed criteria for a trophy elk and shoulder mount, albeit its website promises one is in the works. Other organizations have developed criteria, but these are “unofficial.”

A quick check on eBay revealed that replacing the stolen elk head and shoulder mount will not require $10,000.00 or even $5,000.00. A13-point example is listed at $999.99 or best offer. Two other similar examples are immediately available for $2,200.00 or $3,950.00. The latter has a number of people “watching it,” no doubt waiting to see if anyone is stupid enough to pay this price.

I mentioned this story on WHATCHA GOT?, my nationally syndicated antiques and collectibles radio call-in show that airs on Sunday mornings from 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM Eastern Time on www.gcnlive.com. In response, I received an email from Jim Emery of Morgantown, PA. He offered three possible scenarios where $65,000.00 might be a fair evaluation.

His first suggestion was extraordinary provenance, such as the animal being shot by a famous individual such as Ernest Hemmingway. Jim noted that such a claim would have to be backed up with hard documentation such as a photograph or taxidermy receipt. This suggestion is easily dismissed. Even if shot by someone famous, $65,000.00 is not reasonable.

Jim’s second suggestion was rarity by size. As already shown, an 11-point elk is not a rarity. It is not even a scarcity. The size of the Swallow Hill elk head and shoulder mount falls in the high-end of the ordinary group. A rarity claim for the Wilmington elk head and shoulder mount does not exist

Finally, Jim suggested the value might be based on the bid cost to obtain a Pennsylvania Governor’s Elk tag auctioned by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. In 2016, the tag sold for $85,000.00, up from $52,000.00 the previous year, and $32,500.00 the year before that. Charitable auction results are not valid for comparable appraisal value. The cost of the tag has no direct bearing on the final value of a mount.

The $65,000.00 claim is fake news. For a media that wants to earn trust, creating false headlines and stories that exaggerate values for stolen items is not the way to go. The reporter and fact checkers were asleep at the switch.

True, there are no fixed values for antiques and collectibles. An object is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. No one in their right mind would pay $65,000.00 for the stolen elk head and shoulder mount.

[Author’s Aside #2: If the Swallow Hill homeowner had the elk head and shoulder mount insured for $65,000.00 and filed a claim, he opened the door to a possible lawsuit for filing a fraudulent insurance claim. Insuring an object for more than it is worth is fraud. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the company who insured this elk head and shoulder mount will read this column and give me call. These are the type of insurance claims I love.] .

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Selected letters will be answered in this column.  Harry cannot provide personal answers.  Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned.  Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI  49512.  You also can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.

You can listen and participate in WHATCHA GOT?, Harry’s antiques and collectibles radio call-in show, on Sunday mornings between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM Eastern Time.  If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT? streams live on the Internet at www.gcnlive.com.


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