First Person Singular: Francine Proulx, 68, Fairfax, art and antiques appraiser/consultant
By Robin Rose Parker,
Thirteen years ago, when I lost my parents, I had to settle an estate. My parents lived in their house for 45 years; they traveled the world. Trying to figure out what was good and what wasn’t, I realized there are books to figure this out. I had been getting fliers from post-certificate programs, and I thought this was something worth looking into.
My dad was my professional mentor all my life, and in his last couple of weeks, he said, “Do your own thing.” In the ’50s, when I was a teenager, I promised myself I wouldn’t have a dull life. I spent about 15 years in broadcasting. Fifteen years in nonprofits; did various things in my 40s. Now [I’m] a professional accredited appraiser.
In the profession, we are helping people have a true sense of the value of their items — separated from sentimental value. Most people don’t grasp that this is a profession. They think of “The Roadshow” — most of the people are not appraisers, they’re experts. Experts identify; appraisers value.
Nine times out of 10 when I do a house walkthrough, I find something that they had no idea had value. I had a wonderful experience with a senior who was moving out of the area. We decided we would only look at things that she was getting rid of. But in the corner of my eye, I saw a very early painted blanket chest. There are very few 18th-century painted furniture pieces in private hands. Most of them are in museums. She said, “Oh, that’s gonna stay in the family,” [but] I gave her references of two auction houses.
Six months later, I get an e-mail [from] this particular auction house, and it says [the] blanket chest sold for a quarter of a million dollars. It ended up that nobody in the family wanted it. It was a rare Shenandoah cabinet maker, and it was bought by somebody that would really appreciate it. That just gave me goose bumps that she could walk away with so much money.
The sad part is that she ended up passing away about six months later, but it was a consolation in that this blanket chest probably would have gone in a garage sale for, like, $500. So we saved something for history, and the family was able to benefit from it.
This time in my life, when I thought I would be off cruising, I’m learning things that I really want to learn about. I never would have thought that this, technically last, phase would be the most interesting part.