Q: My husband was a professional orchestra musician who collected antique musical instruments. Since his death, I have many fine pieces to donate or sell. How do I start?

A: It’s sad but true that the trade in musical instruments is rife with scam artists. In any area such as this where there is potential for big money, shady characters operate.

Without knowing particulars on content or condition, we do know that while the collection may or may not amount to a lot, learning that it does after it’s gone would be heartbreaking.

Selling potentially valuable antique instruments is no place for an unprepared novice. Our reader needs to proceed carefully and with caution.

Options are to donate or sell. Think this one through. You want the instruments to be housed and-or used where they are appreciated. So, donation to an institution for use could be problematic if pieces are a wreck.

My thinking is that the reader could have overlooked a goldmine of expertise. How about musical colleagues? Could your husband’s fellow players make suggestions about where to donate or sell? I’d certainly start there.

The players would also be an excellent source on trusted repair persons to consult, as well as vetted buyers and sellers.

I’ll bet the musicians also know of other collectors who faced the same quandary. Find out how they solved their problem.

If our reader wants a professional opinion on the collection’s content and current value, professional appraisal is needed. (See FYI for a list of sources.) Sometimes fees can be kept down by agreeing to a verbal summation instead of a detailed written version. Negotiate.

Several auction houses have dedicated sales of fine instruments. If the goods fit that category, shop them around. If auctions agree to take the lot, they can set estimates. With an appraisal in hand, you’ll know if they’re in the ballpark.

Yes, all this involves work. That’s how selling goes.

FYI: To find a professional appraiser in your area, key Appraisers Association of America, appraisersassoc.org; International Society of Appraisers, isa-appraisers.org; or American Society of Appraisers at appraisers.org.

Q: How do I find value on my Imari and Kutani collection? Some of the pieces are more than 100 years old.

A: To clue readers, Kutani is a pottery style named for a territory in Japan. The oldest, going back to the mid-1600s, is art pottery and quite dull looking compared to later pieces. Original pieces are valuable today.

Imari is a Japanese design style in porcelain that became a rage during the late 16th to 17th centuries in England and the continent as goods from Japan were introduced through trade. Traditional Imari patterns featured geometric schemes combined with stylized florals in deep, rich colors.

By the late 1800s, large amounts of both Imari and Kutani were made expressly for export. Both are made to this day, both in traditional Japanese style and with Western influences.

Later pieces of Kutani with a red ground, such as the reader’s, show Chinese influence. That’s what we see in the reader’s excellent images. BTW, most shapes viewed are standard, consisting mainly of vases and some urns.

Serious collectors draw a line between very old and newer versions of both patterns. The reader’s decorative porcelains date from the mid-19th century to WWI, when boatloads were made for export. Because so much was made, a lot still survives.

I suggest a look on liveauctioneers.com for a review of sold vases, etc., of both types. Similar Kutani ranges from $50-$275. Imari has about the same range, with more for unusual forms. Many vases realized about $200.

Auction action

These days, certain antique Tiffany silver is better than money in the bank.

When Morphy Auctions in Denver, Pa., sold Tiffany serving pieces, a pair of circa 1882 sterling center bowls with wavy rims and footed bases brought $134,000. A pair of ornate 9-arm candelabra sold for $111,600. All pieces were richly embossed with nautical images, including mermaids, tritons and seahorses. All four pieces sold to a New York bidder.

Here’s an interesting fact: A single candelabra of the same design sold at another auction house for $20,000. The candleholders are more valuable as a pair than as singles.

Collector quiz

Q: Today’s quiz has three parts:

1. Were most Imari porcelains exported from Japan during the heyday of production marked?

2. Was Imari made in figural form? Was Kutani?

3. Name two popular Imari themes in decoration. Name two different themes used to decorate Kutani.

A: Answers are 1-No; 2-Yes, both were formed as people and animals; 3-Imari themes include florals and dragons. Kutani are landscapes and people. Source: “Japanese Export Ceramics 1860-1920” by Nancy Schiffer (Schiffer, $49.95). Prices reflect 2000 publication date.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.