A "Blue Book" for used harps

  • Participant
    Steve Moss on #237411

    Many harpists need their instruments appraised, either for insurance purposes or to help with a sale. As a technician, the job of doing these appraisals falls to me. Unfortunately it’s the job I dread the most, since I have no hard data on actual sale prices to support any claim of an instrument’s fair market value. I have often wished a resource existed that would help harpists and technicians better estimate the value of their harps based on documented sales.

    Anyone who has asked for an appraisal from the harp’s manufacturer knows that all they will do is send you a letter saying what a new harp of the same or similar model would cost. But based on my limited discussions with insurance companies, they want a fair market appraisal of the harp’s actual value based on condition, demand, etc. They don’t want to insure a sixty-year old Style 23 that needs major work at the same value as a new 23.

    I am thinking of starting an online resource dedicated to tracking used harp sales, and I am reaching out here to start a discussion about the topic, to see if others have thoughts or opinions about this. As I said, such a resource would be invaluable to technicians, but it would be of value to all harp owners as well in understanding what their instruments are worth. I’ll list some additional thoughts below, so if you’re interested in this topic, please read on.

    1. Unlike the car or housing markets, which are regulated and sales prices are documented, the harp market is completely private. Obviously any resource like this would be on the honor system, and thus vulnerable. Is there anyway to prevent possible fraud or gaming of the system?
    2. Buy in. Something like this would depend on buyers and sellers voluntarily submitting information. Would they bother? Would you as a harpist see the value in this? If you’re a teacher, would your encourage your students to report on any harps they bought or sold, just for the good of the community? Along the same lines, would dealers and manufacturers be willing to participate?
    3. Confidentiality. In order to insure some accuracy of the information, some personal information on who is buying and selling might need to be disclosed, not publicly, but to an administrator or such. For instance, if someone reported selling a harp for a certain price, it would be advantageous if the buyer could be contacted to confirm or deny the details. While any public facing website could let people remain anonymous, someone behind the scenes would probably need documentation.
    4. Harp Condition. There are a lot of variables here. A fifty year old harp may have all original parts, some of which may need major repairs, or it may have already been rebuilt. Could variations in condition be included in a database? Who would determine the harp’s condition?

    I have discussed the idea of writing a Sounding Board column or article with the editors of Harp Column on this topic, but thought I’d start with a forum post to invite folks to share their ideas and thoughts. Please join me if you’re interested in discussing this.

    Participant
    balfour-knight on #237527

    Hello Steve,

    I think you have a wonderful idea! Although I now own the two harps I want to spend the rest of my life with, sometimes someone asks me what their harp is worth. They could be interested in selling or trading, so the usual thing that I do is put them in touch with the Atlanta Harp Center. I am in western NC which is about three hours away from the A. H. C. in Alpharetta, GA.

    I think a “Blue Book” for used harps would be a valuable resource, either a printed copy or just on-line. I will be interested in reading other thoughts from those who respond about this topic. Thanks, Steve.

    Best regards,
    Balfour

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #237529

    Steve,

    Nice to see you here. I too have been asked more times than I can count over the years to appraise a used harps value. When it is for someone who wants to sell their harp, the short answer is: Your harp is worth what someone else is willing to pay! I’m really tired of THE MAJOR HARP COMPANY telling people their old decrepit style 11 is worth $65,000 because that’s what a new one sells for. I’m the one who has to inject a heavy dose of reality to the situation and tell them that on today’s market they might be able to sell it for $18,000 to $20,000, if they’re lucky.

    I never give a single price when I appraise a harp that is up for sale. I give a range, like an auction house. If I tell someone who has a harp to sell that it is worth $16,000 to $19,000, the only thing they remember is the high price. If I tell a potential buyer exactly the same thing about the same instrument, the only thing they remember is the lower price!

    In the past 4 years or so, the whole used harp market has crashed. Prices are much lower now than they were 15 or 20 years ago. Just look at the prices on harps on the Harp Column site. Gold 23’s in decent condition advertised for $18,000. And I don’t know if they are selling at that price. 15 years ago, I could sell such an instrument for $28,000 to $35,000 without much trouble. Not now. So again, it all comes down to what someone is willing to pay.

    I believe there are two reasons the used market has crashed. The first is that the major companies have been building too many new harps in recent years(meaning, in the last 20 to 30 years). The number of instruments has increased enormously, but the size of the potential market has not. So it is now saturated. Exactly the same thing happened in the late 19th century with the piano. in the 1880’s and 1890’s, every house in America, from cabins on the prairie to 5th avenue mansions, had to have a piano in the parlor. By 1900, they all did, and suddenly there was no market for new pianos. Dozens of very fine piano builders went under.

    The second reason for the glut of used harps on the market has to do with harps that are no longer being used. For the past 140 years, when parents bought a harp for their child, more often than not the kid studied for a couple of years and then went on to something else. The harp sat in a corner of the living room, unused, for the next 30,40, or 50 years. I couldn’t count the number of times I have gotten a call from someone saying “We’re breaking up grandma’s house and there’s a harp there. We were told you might be interested.” Now, an unused instrument in good condition can be put up for sale in any number of places on the internet, and that has resulted in an over supply of used harps.

    The bottom line is that, while your idea for a kind of bluebook value sounds like a good idea, I think the reality is that the price is ultimately going to depend on the circumstances for each sale.

    This past summer, a client brought me a gold 23 in gorgeous condition, except that the baseframe was coming out. She asked me to repair the baseframe, and then asked if I could sell it for her. I politely told her I didn’t sell harps on consignment any longer, because I didn’t want it sitting around for several years while I tried to sell it. I told her I would give her a list of places where she could advertise it. While I was working on it, I got an email from a harpist in Europe telling me she was in the market for a used Gold 23, and did I by any chance have any thing? I told her that if she could wait about 6 weeks, I would have one for her to look at. She came to the U.S. and looked at several other used gold 23’s for sale, and looked at the one I had last. She played it for several hours and loved it. She told me that the other ones she had looked at were all cheaper, but they all needed work. So she bought the one I had here, for what today would be considered top dollar. I’m telling you this only to say that each sale, or each used instrument up for sale, is a complicated and unique situation, dependent on numerous factors.

    Participant
    Steve Moss on #237764

    Carl,
    I absolutely agree that there are a lot of variables and every harp is unique. Any reference material that was created could only be a guideline. For instance, the worth of two Style 23’s from 1959 will be drastically different if one is all original (and needs rebuilding) and the other has been completely rebuilt recently. But some kind of guideline would still be better than relying on hearsay.

    The resource I envision would strive to collect details on whether major rebuilding has been done (or would need to be done).

    Thanks for your thoughts, and thank you Balfour as well.

    Participant
    karen on #237839

    I have encountered people who tell me that L&H told them that their harp was worth “X”—-I find it hard to believe that L&H would give anyone a figure without even seeing the harp. There is someone in northern CA selling a used L&H 85 XP—and asking $17,500 because she said someone at L&H told her that is what it is worth. It is a 40 string harp with questionable engineering! Also, there are style 15’s that 40+ years old, and people are asking far more than the original price, despite being all original. It is just an odd market.
    Carl—my theory about the price of gold harps is that most people don’t want them. I have a dozen harp friends, and not one would choose a gold harp. They seem a bit passe, and of course increased maintenance. Unless you are a true professional, a gold harp seems overdone–and the majority of people buying harps these days seem to be adult learners, students, etc. Merely my opinion.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #239167

    Don’t help the insurance companies! We need full replacement value for our harps. As cosmetic damages increase and perhaps repair needs, the tone quality improves, and that never seems to get a monetary value as it should. To not be able to replace a harp that is smashed up, would be a disaster. That said, having a ball-park figure for value is useful, and there is a depreciation formula, I believe, which might be from Lyon & Healy. Beyond that, it is what the market will bear. I think one can see what is overpriced by how long it goes unsold. It doesn’t help when sellers say, “local pick-up only.” People overseas need inexpensive pedal harps, so second-hand ones may be the only option for them.
    On the other hand, many second-hand harps should be growing in value, because of the quality of wood they were made with, the quality of workmanship, and that their sounding boards do not need replacing. Lyon & Healy has often produced instruments that should be considered the Stradivarius of harps, yet hooray for us, they are not priced as such.

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