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Lofty Marketplace Puts "Antiques Roadshow" in Your Pocket

It's an online marketplace for collectibles valued between $500 and $50,000.

Say your great aunt died and left your family a watercolor painting that hung in her hallway for years, and you have a hunch it might be valuable. How are you to know who painted it, or what it’s worth, or even whom to ask?

A service called Lofty wants to be the easy answer to that question.

Lofty recently identified just such a painting, based on photos submitted by a family in Northern California, as the work of American watercolorist Paul Sawyier. One of Lofty’s 80 appraisers is a specialist in American 20th century paintings who formerly worked at Sotheby’s and put the painting’s price at $7,000 to $8,000. It sold in a live virtual auction on the site for $10,695.

Lofty is basically “Antiques Roadshow” on demand. It’s an online marketplace for collectibles valued between $500 and $50,000. All you have to do is upload photos to the Lofty iOS app or site. Within 48 hours, Lofty will find the right domain expert to appraise your photos and give you a free estimate. If you choose to sell, Lofty sets up an online auction, markets the listing, handles escrow and shipping and takes a 25 percent cut of sales.

Some other recent sales on the site include a 19th century chalice, sold for $5,800 by one priest to another to use at mass, and an ostrich sculpture by the Swiss artist Diego Giacometti that sold within two weeks for $25,000.

New York-based Lofty, which has been in testing for the last year and is now launching a full version, provides an alternative to “a pretty Byzantine industry,” as CEO Mark Lurie described it. “Most people don’t have personal expertise, access to world-class experts, a hundred positive eBay reviews, or a $1 million painting to send to auction in New York City,” he said.

Of course, Lofty doesn’t accept everything people submit. Lurie wouldn’t say how often submissions are rejected, but he said it’s mainly because they appear to be worth less than $500. What’s more surprising is that he claimed Lofty has so far been entirely able to screen out fraud. “We’re appraising about a thousand items a week, and we have a return rate of .05 percent,” Lurie said. “That’s really remarkable, considering we’re doing a lot of this virtually.”

Lofty accepts items from sellers in the U.S. but sells all over the world; so far, the site has been translated into Mandarin and Russian to serve active buyers in China and Russia.

Earlier this year, Lofty raised $3 million in seed funding led by Founder’s Fund Angel.

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