Welcome back to Hammer Drops! Each week, Back to the Past dives into the reasons why collectibles realize the prices they do. This week is one of our more esoteric topics, as we turn our eyes to original artwork. Whether it be convention sketches, paintings, comic pages, Roy Thomas’ work in our gallery, or a banana taped to a wall, art pricing is…well, we will get into that.
The Subjectivity of Art Pricing
On October 3, 2020, we sold original artwork of a two-page spread from Wonder Woman #216, drawn penciller Rags Morales. That piece realized $260 at auction. From what we could find, DC Comics pays about $200 per page to pencillers these days and we imagine that it was a little bit less in 2005. Even so, it’s fair to say that DC Comics paid more to commission the page – especially when you factor in inking, coloring, et al – than it achieved at auction.
Meanwhile, our pal Roy Thomas prices his larger and more elaborate pieces at a comparable rate to that auction price. His smaller creations, on the other hand, can be as low as the $20. Likewise, a collection of convention sketches from a variety of comic artists is available for $23 on up to $94 each. Our custom figure collection, all hand painted and/or sculpted, range from $25-75 apiece.
Elsewhere in the world, bananas duct taped to walls nets $120-150k each (there were three originals made). We say all of that to demonstrate that prices on original artworks are hard to nail down. Dennis could duct tape Scott’s lunch to the wall and we promise you it wouldn’t sell for…well, it wouldn’t sell. Why?
What Are You Buying?
It all comes back to the same central question as last week’s installment: what is that you’re actually buying? Original artwork is, by its nature, one of a kind. There may be prints made, reproductions produced, etc, but there is only one true original. So uniqueness or rarity are taken for granted when deciding price. Since some artists are more prolific than others, the number of unique pieces produced can still affect overall value.
The aesthetic factor is a major part of art value. Does the art look good? What does it make you feel? Those are the main rubrics by which people grade art, and you will notice that they are entirely subjective. The artist’s intended message, when there is one, goes along with that second question. It doesn’t apply to most production or otherwise pop cultural art, as the intended message is “check out this cool thing!”
What’s in a Name? Money.
Another intangible you’re buying with a piece of original art is the artist’s reputation. In our research for this article, we discovered that the hierarchy of realized value goes like this:
- The fame of the artist sets the price ceiling.
- Fame of subject or piece sets the individual item price.
Using our favorite realized price resource, Worthpoint, we did some research on Jack Kirby’s original artworks. It doesn’t get much recognizable in the field of comic book art than Jack Kirby. Original Fantastic Four pages can run you as much as $15,000. A page from The World Around Us #32, circa 1961 I.E. right around the same time as F4, goes for a more modest $900.
Neither is a sum to sneeze at, to be sure, but “Kirby drawing the Fantastic Four” versus “Kirby drawing Spanish conquistadors” makes considerable difference. Another artist drawing the same thing would realize an even lower price.
Unlike a lot of things that pass through our doors, art’s price is highly subjective. You can estimate based on similar pieces from the artist, but its one-of-a-kind nature means that there’s no price guide the way there can be for mass produced items. You rely on reputation to get the get the best price, both of the artist and the seller.
Back to the Past is nothing if not reputable. We are highly recommended by consignors and buyers alike. We are prominent and established on platforms like eBay and ProxiBid. We are constantly open to new avenues of selling, like our recent entry into the world of liveselling on Popshop Live. So if you’ve got a collection of original artworks and you have no idea whether you should be selling them for $5 or $5,000 each, let the experts at Back to the Past do the hard work for you! And if you’re a dedicated do it yourselfer, keep coming by every Wednesday for new Hammer Drops.