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Collecting rare African artifacts can be fulfilling but challenging.

True collecting requires and an eye for quality and scarcity, coupled with an honest dealer or seller. Often mass-produced airport-art is sold as an authentic, collectable-quality piece. Some unscrupulous dealers mix this tourist-art in with their finer pieces. The key is knowing your dealer.

African masks, statues, and other objects have an inherent meaning for the culture, the work, and the intended individual. Original pieces were related to religious practices and every day life. They were not made for museums or collectors.

Not all pieces were used often, and not all worn pieces are old. The tribes in some African countries, such as the Dogon in Mali, in many cases are used one time and then discarded.


1. Look at the piece. See if it’s well carved, is the patina correct? Worn in the right places? Compare it with similar pieces from Museums.

2. The ethnical provenance or origin. Even of same quality, the art of different tribes can have huge price differences. Where did it come from? Who owned before this dealer?

3. Pedigree: A piece from a collector from the thirties has a higher value than a similar piece recently acquired in the West. Even some very banal pieces from famous artists have reached very high prices. When the piece is published in a book or catalogue it is worth more.

4. Conservation: Too much restoration can decrease the value.

5. Rareness: How individual is the piece?

6. Size does not matter. Rarity and quality are the keys.

7. Auction result prices can yield a higher price for a particular piece. It does mean that the piece is better.

8. The seller. The prestige of the dealer will sometimes boost the price. Large gallery or individual sale, it’s the quality and scarcity of the piece that matters.

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