African Art Investments – Premium components.

Understanding the African Mask Premium

Let’s be clear from the get-go… the last thing anyone wants to do is spend their money and have it quietly depreciate in the living room corner.  In a recessionary period this is the best time to actually purchase tribal masks, statues, et al. Buy low, sell at your convenience is an investing adage that applies well to the art world.

It is clear that there are opportunities in the world of African art, where buying the right piece will be the equivalent of a minor investment which may reward you with an appreciable return if done correctly. There are many ways to look at the premiums which add to the price of African art, African masks, and tribal art …. (for the less blasé among us that last sentence was the equivalent of an internet commercial, and I had to get my keywords in).

The following charts give a visual aid pertaining to the field of African masks, and demonstrate the difficulty in pricing great pieces.

Mask Investment Chart

These charts are not exhaustive — simply meaning that there are many ways to price a piece;  sometimes you fall in love with a piece (or several for that matter), so the premiums become moot and one is willing to take a future loss whether the piece possesses investment potential or not.

The last chart shows a graphic of the relative pricing involved with different types of African masks. Again some authors use different terminology and may use “tourist art” instead of  “airport art” for example.  What is interesting in this chart is that the best long term investment potential lies in the movement of Contemporary to Authentic, or simply holding Authentic pieces. It is always worth remembering however that the greater reward potential comes with greater risk.

Art Investment Graphic

Quality Rating Scale[1]

The quality rating scale presented by Dr. Seiber is as follows:

1. Authentic tribal pieces usually used in tribal ceremonies. The highest rating for authenticity and quality – usually with some age but even newer pieces if authentic and embodying a spiritual dimension.

2. “B Grade Authentic” – Same as 1 except diminished some by condition, newness, or style and quality of the artist’s effort.

3. Decorative newer pieces – still good quality, but sometimes copies. Most often a continuum of an established and traditional tribal piece but with an incorrect patina. Decorative value.

4. African arts made to be sold to foreigners – Europeans, Americans, and others. Not necessarily tribal, could be folk or contemporary.

5. “Airport” or tourist art (souvenirs). Lowest grade and made in great quantities.

In the final analysis, take your time… and purchase a tribal mask you feel comfortable with as an investment, but above all things, purchase African art you thoroughly enjoy.


[1] http://www.howardnowes.com/articles/articles.cfm?article=13

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