Articles / Collecting Pre-Columbian
Learning about prices, painlessly.
Now you're ready to buy - catalogs that will teach you about prices. Get hold of a bunch of old auction catalogs- Sotheby's is best. If they don't come with prices realized lists, you can print them from their website. Study them, Go back and look at your books again; then back to the catalogs.
These are the bibles of the field; but you still won't get any totally definitive answers. Make some allowances.
Maybe some event happened that day, or that week, that affected prices.
Maybe two guys got in a pissing contest for a lot . Maybe a piece was actually better looking than the photos, and sold for far more than estimate - or actually lousy looking except in one photo, and sold for far less, or didn't sell at all. But the auctions were put together by people who've seen a lot of art- they make mistakes, but far fewer - and far smaller, and cheaper than you will.
Keep looking - it will take you time and time again, but you'll start to get some pretty good ideas about prices.
Now About Prices, And Realities.
You're going to get some surprises. You're going to have to rethink some of the wonderful bargains you've see on E-Bay and the net. You won't see any Mayan carved jade pendants for $179 - there aren't going to be any of the wonderful Olmec jade figures available for $199 starting bids, because they don't exist.
All of these auction pieces have been authenticated by experts in their fields. You won't read " I'm not an expert in this field, but I know this piece is real"; "Anyone can see the piece is authentic because of the erosion"; "This is guaranteed to be authentic, but I don't know what culture it is" "Here's your chance to own a fabulous, one of a kind piece" "My father/ uncle/ brother dug this piece up himself"
These are verbal weasels, used to make a tourist trinket sound like a crown jewel.
Auction prices reflect a real, knowledgeable, highly competitive market - on that day, at that place the person willing to pay the highest price of anyone in the field gets the piece, plus a hefty sales commission.
Don't think for a minute that on the net you'll find a wonderful, hidden and ignorant source that you can get fabulous bargains from. First, there are people who've been in the field for mucho years, who can tell a real piece from a fake far better than you can, and with that knowledge and certainty, can afford to pay a lot more for a good piece than you dare risk.
And really - who the hell is going to sell you an Olmec jade mask for $3000, when any decent auction house would be happy to offer it at 10 times that price.
Who'd be stupid enough to sell a line of Mayan carved jade figural pendants for a very small percentage of what they could sell them for in a legitimate, well advertised auction? You'e not going to get a bargain, but you're going to have some fun when you try to get your money back by selling all the great pieces you bought. And if you believe "The owner will only let me sell his prized collection on E- Bay" Well, we have a bridge you might be interested in.....