Value of tribal masks from high to low

Q: My opinion is that the masks field can be subdivided in 4 parts, considering two criteria “use” and “age”: As far as the ethnographic interest is concerned, the criterion “use” seems the most important to me, whatever old or recent. The criterion “age” intervenes mainly in the determination of the commercial value of the mask.

– Old and used : the best, but certainly the most difficult to find today, and the most expensive

– Old and not (or scarcely) used: unfrequented situation (the mask that has spent years in collections)

– Recent and used : those used today in dances or dramas

– Recent and not used : probably about 95% of the masks available for sale today. It includes a vast majority of tourist stuff, low end items, artificially aged. But it is sometimes possible to find good quality decorative reproductions which worth collection. Jean, 1462


A: Jean tells us a lot about masks and their desirability. I agree with her first 3 parts, but would like to expand on the 4th. We’re showing photos only of 1 and 3.

— Careful reproductions:  Our photo is of a Dan racer mask that looks like it came from Liberia or Ivory Coast. If it was old and used it would not look much different. Though it should sell for a reasonable price, dealers will sometimes try to get much more money. I think this is what most collectors should look for… at a reasonable price.

— Quickly-made reproductions:  These and the next 2 represent the 95% you see most of the time. Dealer cheating even occurs with these not-so-accurate masks. When the carver doesn’t get the tribal style right they can be confusing.

— Souvenirs and decorative art:  The second photo is of a tigre (the jaguar in several dances) made of papier mache by a talented Mexican maker. As you can see, some tourist masks can be decorative and fun to collect.

— Airport art:  There’s more of these than any of the above. They may look like masks but no one would ever use one, and collectors with education and taste don’t buy them.


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