What’s it worth to you? Appraisal day at WAAM in Woodstock

William Jenack gets a closer look. (photo by Dion Ogust)

William Jenack gets a closer look. (photo by Dion Ogust)

Through the door they came, bearing works of art, antiques, ceramics, one guy brought in a derringer pistol…there was a book of autographs bearing signatures of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, U.S. Grant, James Garfield, William Tecumseh Sherman, General Sheridan, Hamilton Fish…that was appraised by William Jenack at $6000-$8000…all at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum (WAAM) Appraisal Day, Sunday, September 4.

I’ve got a small thing, a pen and ink cartoon signed ‘John ‘68’ that was passed on to my wife from an old Woodstocker. An earlier look-see from WAAM staff had theorized that it might have been by either of two Woodstock artists, John Striebel or John McClellan. So, let’s give it a shot, see what they have to say.


The Appraisal Day, WAAM’s second one, is taking place on Labor Day weekend when it used to hold its Annual Auction, one of its two biggest fundraisers of the year. But the organization has gone a different way this year, having parted from previous auctioneer James Cox and beginning to work with William J. Jenack Auctioneers, out of Chester, New York.

The Appraisal Day allows WAAM to scout for potential consignment items for its Auction, that will be held November 19.

“We’ve got attractive consignment terms,” says WAAM Executive Director Janice La Motta, of this year’s innovation for those looking to sell pieces. “It’s a sliding scale. Items that sell from $250 to $2499 will require a 20% commission; anything that sells from $2500 to $9999, we’ll get a 15% commission; Anything $10,000 or over, the commission will drop to 10%.”

Asked what had come in during the Appraisal Day, La Motta animates. “We had a very exciting find.” She describes how a woman who was the recipient of a series of postcards from the Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara, had brought three of them in to be appraised. The potential price came back $40,000-$60,000. They may be consigned for the auction.

“We have some nice things, historic Woodstock artists from significant collectors,” says La Motta. “Some more contemporary work from mid-to-late 20th Century artists, a Larry Rivers print, James Brooks painting…some paperabilia from the 1939 World’s Fair. There will be a focus on historic Woodstock artists.” She mentions the autographs and “a signed and numbered Matisse Print, maybe $2500-$3500; a Chagall print…some of it may or may not be consigned…”

William Jenack peers through a metallic contraption that goes around his head with a light on glasses-like lenses over the eyes that he can lift up, at the small derringer-like pistol, explaining to the owner the type of gun it is, how it works, and, after consulting his laptop for comparables, how much it might be worth. He’s got three other experts with him sitting at a long table in the Towbin Wing at WAAM, one of whom is his wife.

“Appraisal days are fun,” he says. “More people than not walk away with thumbs up…We try to go through steps with everyone, try to be sensitive to people and their expectations…Uncle Ralph had told them it was worth thousands…our responsibility sometimes is to burst that bubble. So we try to find comparable items. We have to come up with an explanation, description and pre-sale estimates. Sometimes they are less inclined to sell and it would be a disservice to give a high estimate. Its better to try to reach and exceed our estimate.”

He makes the obvious comparison. “The Road Show on TV is an appraisal with immunity. Here out in the field, if we tell someone $1000 to $2000, they expect to get it. So we tend to be conservative, and we find on line comps. Where we can’t, it’s the hardest part. Then you have to use the seat of your pants…where might I bid if I were in the audience?…”

He allows as to how the internet has changed the business. “The internet is the world…we can conduct a successful auction with no one in the audience…You can have antiquities, roman coins, the internet gives you the world of antiquities collectors. We have 50,000-80,000 hits a week on the internet.”

Being a self-styled connoisseur of wires and wood, I ask if he ever gets guitars coming through. “We had a sale in July of guitars, had 175 high end electric and acoustic guitars, mostly electric. We were worried, but we sold nearly a quarter million worth of guitars. Two guys show up a day before and get out of a yellow cab. They had flown from San Antonio to Philadelphia and then took a cab to our building…the cab cost them $400. They came in and said, we’re here to buy guitars. The next day they showed up with a Ryder Truck…that was a very good sign…and proceeded to buy $160,000 worth of guitars. They became our best friends. I’m not certain if they were acting on behalf of collectors or themselves, but they paid their bill and took the guitars…”

So what about my pen and ink cartoon? Turns out to be a bit of a stumper. There are no sales online of McClellan. He and his wife think the signature might just be Striebel, based on a previous offering of one of his works. But the previous work, offered in New Hampshire, didn’t sell at its original estimate, $500-$1000 and was pulled, later offered for less. “If this came in the door, based on pre sale estimates, maybe $80-$120…It’s subtle, pretty comical…” says Jenack.

But, alas, further research by WAAM’s Emily Jones shows that Striebel died in 1962. She still thinks it’s McClellan, though I postulate that if Striebel managed to draw it six years after his death, as part of what Emily calls his ‘postmortem period,’ it might be worth more…


WAAM will be accepting consignments through September 22 for its 14th Annual Benefit Fine Arts Auction, to be held on November 19. Consignments can include paintings; fine prints; sculpture; works on paper; photography objets d’art, historic Woodstock items; contemporary, American and European items. 

To consign, contact 845-679-2940 or email bryana@woodstockart.org. Consignments are accepted Mon/Thurs/Fri., or by appointment at 28 Tinker St., Woodstock, NY 12498.

To inquire about items to consign email images and descriptive information (Artist, if known, Title, Medium, Edition, Date, etc.) to bryana@woodstockart.org.

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