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On Facebook, I am a member of a private group called Estate Liquidator Pros, and there are over 2000 of us who conduct estate sales and do appraisals. The purpose of the group is to pool our knowledge and give each other advice, anything from contract issues, dealing with a difficult client, pricing and helping to identify items. Recently, a fellow colleague from the southwest had an interesting issue with Certificates of Authenticity.

Among the items at this colleague’s estate sale was a bunch of art that the couple had purchased on cruise ships, including 3 paintings by Donald Roller Wilson, and everything had a Certificate of Authenticity, but when this liquidator starting looking at the Wilson paintings and then compared them to Wilson’s gallery work and other paintings that had sold at auction, she had a bad feeling about them, but she had never encountered Wilson’s work before so she did not feel 100% confident in her judgment, so she asked the group.

I saw the thread and I am very familiar with Wilson’s work, because one of my parents’ closest friends was an art dealer in New York and he represented Wilson and owned several Wilsons. I had spent a great deal of time in his apartment and saw the Wilsons plus I went to one of the shows for Wilson and met the artist. I remembered that Wilson was a friendly and quirky guy and found a phone number for him and suggested to my colleague that she just call him and ask, which she did. Wilson told her that the 3 paintings in question were all forgeries. Of course, this cast doubt on every piece of art in the estate, and they all came with Certificates of Authenticity.

Last night, I had just concluded my A STYLISH GENTLEMAN IN ROGERS PARK SALE, which had a few very nice signed and numbered prints by Salvador Dali and Joan Miro, and we were at our local watering hole celebrating the end of another successful estate sale, but I expressed my frustration at being continually asked if I had Certificates of Authenticity for the Dalis and Miros. I didn’t, but I had their provenance, but everyone was clamoring for a certificate.


The instructors in our appraisal courses talk about this and warn that most Certificates of Authenticity are bogus. The Wilson case is a perfect example.

Ask for a provenance of a work of art instead. Look, high end art galleries and auction houses do not issue Certificates of Authenticity; they give you the provenance. The provenance details when and wear the work was sold over its lifetime and may include opinions of art historians and museums who have studied the work or exhibited it.

But can’t provenances be faked too? Yes, they can and they are sometimes, but provenances are frequently faked to conceal a different crime, like the work was stolen by the Nazis or illegally imported. Sometimes a provenance is faked to conceal a forgery, but more often, forgeries suddenly appear as a previously unknown, undiscovered work by an artist (Look what I found in this barn! It’s a lost Van Gogh!). Read about the 25 forged Basquiats that were “discovered” in a rented storage locker in LA.

Ask for the provenance instead, and if something looks fishy, do a little sleuthing.


Yes, certain Certificates of Authenticity are valid and for certain kinds of items, you should ask for one.

Baseball and sports cards, Magick and other collector card games, action figures, comic books, etc all have professional grading organizations who not only issue a Certificate of Authenticity but also encapsulate the item and issue a condition grade. Nowadays, there is also a serial number, frequently a unique bar code, and maybe an NFT that comes with item too. These Certificates of Authenticity, issued by a recognized grading organization, are valid.

Luxury hand bags and watches also have professional grading organizations and these certificates are valid too. I recently had an Hermes bag done and that bag now has a certificate and a unique NFT identifying that bag.

And some artists create their own Certificates of Authenticity for their works. Those are valid and a key piece of the provenance. Whatever you may think of Thomas Kincaid, a Kincaid with a Certificate of Authenticity provided by the Kincaid Gallery is valid.

Next time you are considering buying a piece of art, ask for the provenance, and if all the seller offers is a Certificate of Authenticity, do some due diligence.


Sophia du Brul, ISA AM is the owner of Sophia’s Estate Sales and Appraisals, founded in 2015. She is aa accredited member of the International Society of Appraisers.


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