I am indebted to that doyen of the UK tax world, Robert Maas who has written about this on his blog. I will simply summarise the issue here.
The case involved the need to impute a market value to a work of art called “Canyon” by Robert Rauschenberg. This is a collage. Unfortunately it incorporates a stuffed bald eagle. It is a criminal offence in America to sell a bald eagle under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act 1940.
The owner didn't sell it but, when she died, the question was what value to place on the collage?
Three separate art appraisers told the executors that “Canyon” is valueless as all that the owner can do with it is gift it to a US art gallery. The IRS disagree. They say, apparently, that the executors should be able to find a reclusive Chinese billionaire who would buy the artwork on the black market and smuggle it out of the USA in order to hide it away. On this basis the IRS value the artwork at $65million. They are also apparently seeking a $11.7million penalty for “gross valuation misstatement” even though the executors accepted the unanimous view of three separate professional valuers that the artwork had a nil value!
Not so much a tax funny as a bizare true story, worth sharing I thought. If you agree do read the full story on Robert's blog.