The Coliseum Square Association hosts its annual self-guided home tour today, featuring five homes in the Lower Garden District.

But there's an added attraction: an “evaluation fair” staffed by professionals from the New Orleans Auction Galleries, a major sponsor of the event.

“We don’t get the opportunity to do many appraisal fairs — they aren’t all that common,” said Michele Carolla, a staff member at the auction gallery. “But they’re very interesting to do because you don’t know what will show up.”

From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Carolla will be set up inside Felicity Church, 1220 Felicity St., evaluating paintings, photography and sculpture.

Her colleague, Charles Cage, takes over from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and will assess silver.

The New Orleans Auction Galleries are donating the services of Carolla and Cage to the Coliseum Square Association to help the nonprofit raise funds for restoring the square.

Carolla has a decade of experience working in auction houses, specializing in 19th century British and American art. But sometimes she is called upon to establish values for items with which she is less familiar.

“One of the best surprises I got occurred when a woman brought in an embroidered marriage sampler. I’ve seen a lot of samplers but never one like this — it was in the form of a map and included places that were important to the bride, the groom and their families,” Carolla said.

“The sampler had little in the way of retail value but it held tremendous personal value for the bride to whom it was given. It made her happy to see how delighted I was with it.”

Other times, Carolla’s contact with eager owners doesn’t turn out as well as the case of the marriage sampler.

“Sometimes I have to disappoint clients and let them know that their ‘treasure’ just isn’t as valuable as they hoped it was," she said. “Sometimes they have overspent for a piece that they thought might be really, really valuable and it just isn’t. The only consolation is if they really like the piece. The worst is those situations in which they didn’t buy it because they liked it but because they hoped it would be valuable.”

Carolla recommends that novice collectors specialize in a single area or item and that it be something they genuinely like.

“To be able to spot what you’re looking for requires training your senses to become truly familiar with the object. It takes repetition, getting your hands on something and really experiencing it,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s not all factual — you develop an intuition about something. What really counts, though, is looking at something over and over and over again under different circumstances so that you get a feel for it.”


• A Day in the Lower Garden District

• Saturday, Sept. 24, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Felicity Church, 1220 Felicity St.

• $25 - $45