Don Spohn   7 Oct. 2005



I receive many questions about the value of copper artifacts. Other common questions are: Who made it? What is it? And how old is it? But in the end, everyone wants a value. And value is subjective; there are kinds of value, and many things affect value.


There is wholesale value and retail value. And does insurance value differ? Artifacts collectors often sell to each other and sometimes to others at wholesale. Wholesale is what a retailer pays, and of course, he turns around and sells the same item for retail. Retail can very greatly, but on the average the asking price may be double wholesale. ThatŐs the way the retailer pays for his expenses and makes a profit.


We have great finds and great buys below wholesale. Someone needs to raise money in a hurry and sacrifices profit for a quick sale. Others sell things they know nothing about, at yard sales, estate sales and in other ways. This occasionally occurs on E-bay. More often, one might pay more than retail for an item on E-bay. People pay more than retail in auctions and in other places, too, because they donŐt know the value of what they are buying, they misunderstand what they are buying, they get caught up in the heat of competition, or perhaps, they see an authentic ancient copper artifact for the first time and believe this is their only chance to own one.


People may have to pay more than average (average can have a very broad range for prehistoric copper) if they wish to replace a unique piece. Unique pieces donŐt come up for sale often and a seller may demand a premium. This is the reason objects are often insured at premium prices. I lost a copper artifact excavated by a famous archaeologist and exhibited at a historical WorldŐs Fair in the 19th century, well over 100 years ago. Years have passed and I have not found a replacement.


Similar copper artifacts may have distinctly different prices. One significant variable is age. If all conditions are equal, but one is 200 years old while the other was crafted 8000 years ago, value increases greatly. Condition is of great importance. If one is perfectly preserved while another shows significant loss of copper, the prices may very greatly.  Size is also significant. Bigger and heavier are more desirable and worth more. All prehistoric American Indian copper is hand pounded. Some ancient craftsmen were better than others. Some pieces are symmetrical and well proportioned while others are not. Eye appeal greatly affects price. Rarity is very important, if the piece is recognized and collectible. Ear spools, spuds and crescents are three examples of rare, but recognized and sought after copper pieces.


In addition to, or in spite of all these significant variables, supply and demand is king. Copper is not as highly collected as is stone and bone artifacts. Even some historical pieces of non-copper are more highly sought after and draw more clients and higher prices than do rare pieces of prehistoric copper. If we have two nearly identical Paleo points, one of chipped chert and the other pounded copper; the chipped chert Paleo point may go for more than ten times that of the identical pounded copper Paleo point of equal size, age, and type. This is true even though the copper Paleo points are more rare. Why? Because, there are far more buyers for chipped Paleo points, than for pounded copper ones. For every copper collector there are thousands of chipped chert collectors.


In summary copper always comes with a value range. Plenty sell outside that range.

Copper is increasing in value, and as it does, counterfeiters, who have been with us for more than 150 years, increase in number. Still, there is not nearly so much copper as stone and bone artifacts, not nearly so many collectors of copper as of stone and bone, and still, fewer counterfeiters of copper, than there are of stone and bone.


Once one makes an investment in copper, it is wise to protect that investment. There are two ways to protect your investment. First, it must be securely archived and protected from damage, loss and theft. Next, it should be insured.  The only way to guaranteed top dollar for a lost or stolen artifacts is to have it certified, appraised for top dollar, and then insured for replacement cost. It is not enough to have your house or building contents insured. In most cases you must list your antiques, artifacts and art, and insure them for replacement cost, not for what you paid for them.


Remember, too, ten years down the road replacement cost may be far more than your 2008 appraisal. If your copper artifact is jewelry, you may not have to list it. It may be insured under your general household goods, as jewelry. Non-jewelry artifacts definitely have to be listed. Even copper jewelry artifacts may have to be listed. Check with your agent to be sure. Congratulations on the copper artifacts you have selected. May your collection grow in number and value.


7 Oct. 2005