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Appraising Your Martha by Mail Cookie Cutter Collection

Appraising your collection of Martha by Mail cookie cutters can seem like a daunting process.  After my last post, The Martha by Mail Cookie Cutter Index, I received a lot of feedback from collectors wanting to know more about their burgeoning cache of MBM cookie cutters.

One avid reader of the blog, who happens to be a superb cookie decorator, baker and an inveterate collector of Martha by Mail cookie cutters, had been looking into having his collection appraised this past year. Numerous emails went back and forth between the both of us discussing this subject. Really and truly, this prompted me to write up that index which is now officially in the books and easily accessible to all Martha by Mail collectors.

I asked James if he would be willing to share his experience with us so that we could make informed decisions regarding our collections.  Thankfully he was gracious enough to answer many questions that I had for him.

Thank you, James!  This is invaluable information.

1. Why should one consider appraising their Martha by Mail cookie cutter collection? 

They’re valuable.  When talking with my insurance agent for my homeowner’s insurance policy renewal, he asked about the typical things to “schedule” like the jewelry of my wife and daughter.  You create a list of goods that you want to insure separately from your household goods. The typical policy allowance is $10,000 for household goods.  (Most homeowner’s policies contain an blanket value for household possessions such as TVs, appliances, etc. in the event that they need replacing due to fire, hurricanes, or theft).  He asked about any antiques that I owned or “special” items.

I told him about my collection of cookie cutters that I’ve accumulated over the years and asked whether those warranted a separate “schedule.” He asked how much did I pay for them.  I told him and advised that the sales on eBay  of the MBM ones were significantly increasing as well.  He advised, that, without an appraisal, an insurance carrier would only pay a very basic amount for the collection as in $5 for each cutter.  And, that was if I could prove that I had the collection as the carrier may lump the cookie cutters into the  blanket value for household goods if I could not prove ownership of each individual cutter.  As a general rule, if you have something “special” in your home that has more value than the usual retail market value, you have to prove that to the carrier.  My experience has been that even newly made copper cookie cutters can range from $15 to $25 on sites like Ecrandal.  As we all know, these MBM cutters sell for much more than $25.  (As a side note, any possessions that are unique or one of a kind should be photographed and documented so that you can make a claim for that value if it is destroyed.  Your collection of jadeite would certainly fall within this category in my opinion).

2. When would be a good time to consider an appraisal?  When one has amassed a full collection? 

I don’t know that I would wait to have the appraisal made for a “full” collection.  My MBM collection is incomplete on a couple of levels.  I don’t have all of the sets (I’m missing two sets).  Some of mine are not in original boxes or I’m missing the cards that came with the cutters. 
I think that, if I was just starting the collection, I would document how much I paid for the cutter at least.  Put that documentation with your other documentation as to your homeownership and tangible possessions.  I would consider an appraisal when the collection became “sizable.”  Like, if I had all of the oversized ones, I would consider an appraisal. 

However, the expense of the appraisal could govern when to have the cutters appraised.  You wouldn’t want to pay more for the appraisal than the value of the item being appraised. When the prices paid for the collection began to approach an amount that would make it difficult to replace, then request an appraisal maybe?  For instance, my appraiser’s hourly rate was $120 and she estimated that she would need about 6 hours to do the appraisal.  I asked for this information up front before reaching the final decision to retain her.  I knew that I wanted one based on my conversation with my insurance agent and watching the prices on eBay.  But, I didn’t want to spend money on an appraisal if the value was less than the costs of the appraisal.    

3. How does one go about finding the right person to do a full appraisal? 

My first thought was that I wanted a credentialed individual.  I googled tangible property appraisers to determine what organizations credentialed these types of professionals.  Obviously, these individuals exists as someone with knowledge has to appraise personal property for estate sales and the like.  There are several in the USA.  I looked at the lists to determine whether there were any professionals in my geographic area.  I found some that I thought may be more appropriate for the job but they were not local.  Most want to inspect the property personally to determine condition.  Travel expenses then start to increase the expense of the appraisal. 

I emailed several appraisers to determine their availability and expertise specifically as to MBM cutters.  Most were not necessarily familiar with the MBM cutters but some were experts at appraising kitchen collectibles.  The appraiser that I eventually retained has an expertise in silver.  While the MBM cutters aren’t silver, I figured she could do the job.  I asked how she would go about educating herself on the specific subject of MBM cutters and I appreciated her response. 
Ultimately, I retained the specific appraiser because she was local, she had a specialty that was somewhat related to my collection, she appraised items for estate sales, and her price was reasonable considering the task at hand. 

4. What kind of price range are we looking at when undergoing this process? 

Price depended on whether the appraiser had to travel, whether they worked in conjunction with another (The practice of one appraiser was to bring an assistant to help photograph the items or do other menial tasks at his request), etc.  When I was researching the matter, several sites advised against using an appraiser that based the fee on the ultimate value of the property being appraised.  Kinda makes sense – the more valuable he appraises your stuff the more money he makes.  Apparently, that is a legitimate method of billing for the service.  However, that seems to me to be a conflict of interest.  I was quoted hourly fees ranging from $100 to $350.  One agreed to quote a flat fee after I photographed my collection and mailed it to him to review.  I felt that I was doing the work rather than him.  He charged for additional expenses such as travel and copying costs.  I don’t necessarily object to those types of expenses but I was able to avoid them as I continued to look at other appraisers.  I dealt with most via email initially.  Some, I contacted by phone.  I was able to narrow down the selection in part because some didn’t bother to respond to my emails or telephone calls.  That kinda makes it easy.  When you are making the decision to retain an appraiser, be sure that you understand the fees and whether incidental costs such as assistants, office expenses, travel expenses, etc. are separate.  Ask how the appraisal will be documented.  In my case, I received a booklet with the appraiser’s discussion of how she appraised the collection, her sources for reaching a value and photographs of each set with individual values per set.

5. In your opinion and in the appraiser's, does the condition of each set and whether or not the original packaging material is still intact matter to the overall value?

Yes.  MBM cutters are considered “collectibles.”   The original box, inserts, even the tissue complete the collection; particularly the decorating cards add to the value.  As you pointed out to me, the decorating cards have the product/style number on them as to the collection.  That helps authenticate the cutters.  The decorating cards give you a picture of how Martha would have decorated them.  It makes it more “personal” as to her, the creator.  As a fan of Antiques Road Show, I note how the appraisers always appreciate when items have the original box or instructions, like with toy train sets, building blocks, etc.  So, yes.  The more you have of what came with the original purchase the better.  I collect Pyrex as well.  I’ve seen listings for the only the box in which the bowls were sold or even the advertisements placed in newspapers.  In the case of MBM cookie cutters, I’ve seen the decorating cards for individual sale on eBay.  Yes, there’s a value in that paper.

Condition of the actual cutters is very important.  Copper will age as we know and is easily brought back to its shiny state.  But bent cutters or misshapen ones will affect the value as they are damaged.  The protection provided by the original boxes is a good reason in and of itself to keep the original packing material.

6. Are online sources, such as eBay and Etsy, a good gauge in terms of the inherent value of our cutters? 

As I’m not a professional appraiser, I’m not sure that I’m qualified to answer that.  HOWEVER, watching the prices skyrocket on eBay was the factor that made me think that I should consider an appraisal – specifically when the “shield” from the “Flag & Shield” oversize set sold for $350 and I paid only $75 for the complete set, including the original box and inserts.  Again, if I’m starting a collection and my purchase was made via one of these sites, I would print out the invoice and keep it for future reference.  My appraiser used eBay as one of her sources for value.  I don’t know how she did so as I’m not an expert on eBay.  I know that the site has a feature that allows you to pull up past sales of items as a reference or gauge for current listings.  I’ve never figured out how to use that feature.  And, I’ve noticed that the sales can be all over the place.  The “Flag & Shield” set is a good example.  I don’t know whether my appraiser looked at this feature and took an average of the sales.  Listing for the Nordstrom bear can be $15 or $75.  Do you average those prices to reach a value?  I don’t know.  But, in my opinion, I would think that’s a viable way to reach a value.  eBay and Etsy are probably the best places to find these cutters. 

7. Did any surprises pop up while having your collection appraised?

Not really.  In looking at the value of the individual set, I noticed that, for some, I paid more than her value.  However, I’m ok with that because, since I’ve purchased them, I’ve watched them sell for more.  Again, I don’t know whether she took an average of the sales nor do I know the timeframe of the sales that she used.  Here recently, as you and I know, these MBM cutters are selling for pretty high amounts considering the original prices and that they are cookie cutters. 

8. What about insuring one's cookie cutter collection?  Is it important and what would be the best way of going about it?

I think the decision to insure is a personal one.  There is obviously an expense associated with doing so.  Then, there’s the added expense of insurance coverage as the carrier will charge an additional premium for the scheduled items.  I don’t know how much more as I haven’t had a chance to submit the appraisal to my agent.  It depends on how much you personally value the collection.   I have never considered my collection as an “investment” opportunity.  I actually USE them.  But, I would definitely miss them if they were lost in a hurricane or fire.  That use is personal to me.  It has a value to me. 

Look for an appraiser specializing in kitchen collectibles.  I feel like one specializing in estate sales would suffice as well.  Google the topic to determine who is available locally.  Consider the costs and compare that to what you’ve paid for them.  As I’m typing this I’m thinking that maybe the website for Antique Roadshow may be a good start for locating an appraiser and may give some advice on how to make the selection.

9. In your experience, do you think the value of our Martha by Mail cookie cutters will continue to increase in the years to come?

I talked with my appraiser about this very topic.  She said that as long as Martha Stewart is alive, there will be a following for her.  This market is generally fueled by enthusiastic fans of Martha.  Folks that are not as enthusiastic will not place as much value on these.  There’s a limited number of folks interested in these.  That affects value as the general public isn’t as interested as Martha fans are.  In other words,  there is only a limited number of people willing to pay for MBM cutters.  That depresses the value.

In addition to Martha fans however, there are folks that collect kitchen items or copper items.  These would appeal to those markets as well.  The opportunity to sell MBM cutters goes beyond Martha fans but Martha fans are a bit more willing to pay more for the cutters.
The “collectibles” market is fickle.  It goes up and down.  I routinely watch Antiques Road Show and I like the episodes where the revisit appraisals 5 or 10 yrs. later.  It’s interesting to me to see how folks’ interests change. 

My appraiser said “my view is a very practical one.  I enjoy what I have and have little regard of appreciation in terms of value.  ‘Buy what you love.’”   I agree.  There is a base value for the MBM collection.  There will always be a value to someone.  Future generations may not know of the personality of Martha Stewart but they can appreciate the quality of the products to which she attached her name.  These are solid, well-made, cutters in interesting shapes and sizes.  Sugar cookies will always be a part of Christmas, and other holidays.  Bakers will appreciate the quality and durability of the MBM cutters.  So, I think that there will always be a value as they are beautiful, useful, and unique.  

If  you have not already done so, you may want to consider scheduling your extensive jadeite collection as well.  Or any other collection that you have.  This process has made me think that perhaps I should do so as to my Pyrex and Fiestaware collections.  I also have literally a WALL of Nordic ware Bundt pans in my kitchen.  (I hung them on the wall because they were buried in my cabinets and I was using only one or two because I didn’t want to dig them out.  Now, I can see them all out in the open).  They are not particular old or antiques but some of the shapes are no longer produced.  Same for Le Creuset.   I don’t think that I need to “insure” all of this stuff but I am going to take photos of the more expensive items so that I can prove ownership in the event of a loss (I doubt the Le Creuset will ever be “lost” per se as it ain’t going anywhere in a hurricane and it’s made to withstand a fire).

Frankly, you may want to expand this topic to the wisdom of insuring any number of items that you’ve collected.  Based on what I’ve seen on your blogs and Facebook pages, you have a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff that has a value.  This could be presented in a series of blogs – cookie cutters, jadeite, Christmas ornaments, your tea towels.  You could give advice on what to look for when collecting, what’s important to keep like the boxes, original packing, etc. Storage tips, cleaning tips, how to preserve the items. And so on. 

Again, I really appreciate  you taking the time to advise me as I collected these cutters.  I do enjoy using them.  The end results always bring big smiles to whomever I give the cookies.  And that’s what I value.  How these cutters help me bring a smile to other people.    



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