Americana and Folk Art today with H. Peter Curran


H. Peter Curran has over thirty years of experience as an appraiser and antiques dealer. His areas of expertise are American and European furniture and decorative art. He is particularly interested in American folk art.

Peter appeared on PBS’ Antiques Roadshow for several years and has been published in The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Country Living, and Forbes. He is a member of the Appraisers Association of America (AAA).

What are some notable discoveries that have been made recently in your area of expertise?

A few years ago I received a call to look at some “whittlings” in a storage unit.

When I arrived there were over thirty cases filled with wonderful twentieth century folk art carvings depicting various animals, American eagles, and famous political figures from history. There were several hundred pieces. The material had been purchased directly from the artist’s estate about 40 years ago and locked away. The artist was generally unknown and now has a growing following in the marketplace.

What are your top tips for an aspiring collector in your area of expertise?

Try to be well informed about your chosen area. Read, go to shows and auctions and most importantly, ask questions! Expose yourself to as much as possible. Develop a sense of quality and buy the best examples you can afford.

Some of our favorites shows include:

– The Armory Antique Show
– Brimfield Antique Show
– Shipshewana Flea Market
– Marburger Farm Antique Show
– Winter Antiques Show

What should a collector ask to identify an item and avoid common pitfalls?

Be wary of fakes, forgeries, and fraud! In my field, objects are often misrepresented. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Reputable and honest dealers generally don’t gloss over important details and provenance.

What questions should a collector ask to determine the fair sale price of an item?

Today, there is a huge amount of sales data online. Take advantage of it! Fair sale price is determined by market comparables. A bit of research can be very edifying and can prevent you from overpaying.

What is selling best in today’s market (which particular makers/styles)?

Americana and folk art are experiencing a resurgence of interest. Early American folk art portraits from the eighteenth century are fetching record prices as are great decoys!

What other questions do people ask you most frequently in your area of expertise?

‘Is it real?’

‘How much is it worth?’ Authenticity, as you can imagine, is an important and often problematic issue.