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Norman L. Sandfield's Netsuke Home Page

FAQ on Learning about Netsuke, and Selling Your Netsuke

by Norman L. Sandfield
September 1, 2006; updated: February 23, 2011

 

  1. How can I get my netsuke appraised?
  2. Charges for Appraisals, Evaluations, and Research Services
  3. What are my options for selling my netsuke?
  4. What else do I need to know?
  5. Are there any periodicals currently available that focus on Netsuke?
  6. What books on Netsuke do you recommend for the beginner?
  7. What books do you recommend for the more serious collector?
  8. Where can I find local Netsuke Collectors Groups to meet other collectors?
  9. Finally: Contact Norman L. Sandfield

Introduction: We have been receiving an increasing volume of letters and emails requesting information, comments, research, evaluations, appraisals, and sources to sell Japanese netsuke, as well as related arts and antiques. The following information, while necessarily lengthy, is provided to help answer the most commonly asked questions in an organized manner.

1. How can I get my netsuke appraised? 

Appraising netsuke long distance can be tricky, and sometimes even dangerous, for both parties. However, if you can send pictures (high photographic quality is not critical) to Norman L. Sandfield, by mail or email, he might be able to give you a better idea of their value.

Two critical up front questions are:

  • What is the goal of the appraisal: selling the collection, appraisal for insurance, appraisal for estate purposes, donation issues, or just idle curiosity?
  • How much are you willing to pay a knowledgeable dealer or authority to do the appraisal?

As to finding appraisers, we need to know where you are located. Some specialists can occasionally provide free valuations, but not always very well from photos alone, some would need to see them. If you go this route, be sure and specify that you want CURRENT MARKET VALUE and not the “insurance replacement cost.” The latter is always higher and represents an amount no one is likely to pay you.

2. Charges for Appraisals, Evaluations, and Research Services 

If you were to bring me a large collection of netsuke and ask for a verbal evaluation, my charges generally start at $100. If only a few minutes are required to evaluate a small number of items there might be a minimum charge of $50. Generally, with email questions, I do not charge to give bad news!

If there is a chance that we will end up doing some business together, then I would not charge for most of these services, or those charges would be included with the other business costs.

P.S. As a comparison, please check out one of many Internet options, such as www.worthpoint.com, where you can “Ask a Worthologist.”

3. What are my options for selling my netsuke? 

Keep in mind that the vast majority of netsuke sold in the last one hundred years, both here, in Europe, in Japan, and especially in Hong Kong, are of a commercial or tourist quality, and generally these only bring $25 to $100 each when resold at auction today. This range is a generalization, as some better ones may bring more, and others less. There are many variables that affect auction results.

If you still wish to sell your netsuke, your five primary options are:

  1. The current trend is selling on eBay, and many people seem to do this very successfully. But it takes time, patience, and knowledge.

    NEW: As of January 1, 2009, eBay issued a total ban on the sale of elephant ivory and mammoth (ivory) items on its website! This is in addition to the steady decline in the number of general antique shops still operating. The result is that the price on lower-end ivory objects has declined as there are just fewer places to sell them.

  2. Put an ad in the classified section of your local paper and try to sell them yourself. This may take time, and requires answering a lot of phone calls, and welcoming a lot of people into your home (hopefully). There is some possible security risk in this.

  3. Contact a local or regional auction house close to you. Call to make an appointment and take the netsuke in for them to see. They should be able to give you a more accurate idea of what price netsuke of this type are bringing in your area. As with any company that you are interested in doing business with, we recommend you check with someone who has actually done business with them to confirm their reputation.

  4. At the higher end, reflecting the currently and increasingly soft Japanese art market, Sotheby's closed their Japanese departments in both New York and in London more than five years ago, and Christie's has put a $5,000 per lot minimum on their sales, making it harder for netsuke sellers and buyers. On the upside, this might be considered a very good time for buyers of Japanese antiques.

  5. If the auction route is not satisfactory to you, and having gotten an idea of their value from above, you might then try to visit an antique shop(s) in your area that carries (or is interested in carrying) some Oriental items. Call first to determine interest, and then visit them. They might be interested in taking your pieces on consignment for a short period and trying to sell them for you at a specified percentage of the sales price (usually 25% or more for items less than $1,000). If you are lucky, they might even be interested in buying them outright.

4. What else do I need to know? 
  1. Be sure to use common sense and get a firm understanding of the arrangement between you and the other party: which pieces you are leaving, expected selling price (often less than the figure they will put on the price tag), their commission, length of time you will leave the pieces (at least four months), and their responsibility if the items are lost, stolen or damaged. Also get a written receipt with the above information on it, and you and the dealer should both sign the agreement.

  2. Be sure to use common sense and get a firm understanding of the arrangement between you and the other party: which pieces you are leaving, expected selling price (often less than the figure they will put on the price tag), their commission, length of time you will leave the pieces (at least four months), and their responsibility if the items are lost, stolen or damaged. Also get a written receipt with the above information on it, and you and the dealer should both sign the agreement.

  3. Collectors or dealers who might be interested in any collection would need to see reasonably good pictures along with sizes and a statement as to condition, i.e., whether there is any damage or restoration. Some dealers might be willing to make an offer on the whole collection, but always at a steep discount. This is how they make their living, not by buying at full retail.

  4. You may need to have a value or number in mind or most people won't take the time to respond. They need to see that you are thinking at a reasonable basis before they start negotiating with a stranger many miles away.

5. Are there any periodicals currently available that focus on Netsuke? 

The only current periodical publication specifically on netsuke and related arts is our International Netsuke Society Journal (previously known as the Netsuke Kenkyukai Society Study Journal; (Kenkyukai means Study Group). This is a fine art, glossy quality, quarterly publication (since 1981) full of fine color illustrations, with education as its primary goal. It is recommended highly for those with a serious interest in netsuke and related arts. It comes with a membership in the International Netsuke Society, and a membership form is available at www.netsuke.org. Current annual dues, including four issues of the magazine, are $125.

6. What books on Netsuke do you recommend for the beginner? 

There are so many books on netsuke available today that to send you a complete Bibliography would probably confuse more than inform. Instead, we recommend a book that most professionals in this field suggest as the best book for beginners: The Netsuke Handbook of Ueda Reikichi, adapted by Raymond Bushell, published by Tuttle (1961). Check with your local bookstore or Paragon Book Gallery in Chicago (www.paragonbook.com) for this book and all of those listed below.

On the other hand, many beginners prefer Mary Louise O'Brien's book, Netsuke, A Guide for Collectors, which is also a good book, published by Tuttle (1965 and 1977).

7. What books do you recommend for the more serious collector? 

For a more serious book on netsuke we recommend two favorite netsuke books: Netsuke, Familiar and Unfamiliar, by Raymond Bushell, published by Weatherhill, Tokyo (1975), which now costs about $85. This has been reprinted.

Also, Collectors Netsuke, by Raymond Bushell [yes, he was our most prolific author], published by Weatherhill, Tokyo (1971), now costs about $50.

If you want further information on other netsuke publications: books, magazines, catalogs, etc., serious readers may want to buy a copy of Norman L. Sandfield's recent book, The Ultimate Netsuke Bibliography (TUNB), which has more than 4,400 bibliographic sources in it, and other helpful information about forming netsuke libraries, etc. It is available from Paragon Book Gallery in Chicago (www.paragonbook.com), Amazon.com, and other Internet sources.

UPDATE: TUNB is now available as a Searchable On Line Database (TUNB SOLD), through www.internetsuke.com

For a great source for any new and old books on Asian arts, please contact those listed on this site under LINKS, PUBLICATIONS, or:

Paragon Book Gallery
1507 South Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60605
TEL: (312) 527 5155
FAX: (312) 663 5177
email: paragon@paragonbook.org
web site: www.paragonbook.com

Paragon has the world's largest stock of current, rare, out of print, and scholarly books on Asia and Asian arts, and are very good at mail and phone orders, and knowledgeable about netsuke publications.

You can also check with your local bookstore or library, nearest art museum, university library, or netsuke dealer for more options on books that you can look at or read before buying, in order to determine which one book best meets your interests and needs.

8. Where can I find local Netsuke Collectors Groups to meet other collectors? 

Local Netsuke Society chapters of the International Netsuke Society in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., Ohio/Michigan area, Seattle, Tokyo, and London are listed on the INS Website, www.netsuke.org, under: Events, Local Chapters. They meet irregularly several times a year, as special events, visiting speakers, or as other programs become available. These meetings are always of interest to all netsuke collectors, no matter their level of knowledge. You are welcome to come and bring a few of your own netsuke to learn more about them. If you are in one of those areas, you can contact them through the addresses shown on the INS website: www.netsuke.org.

9. FINALLY: 

We hope that some of the above information has been helpful to you, and has answered all of your questions. If not, please feel free to contact us via the Contact Us page, so that we can get you more information as necessary.

Finally, if you are interested in viewing and possibly purchasing quality antique or contemporary netsuke, or some of the related arts, such as inro and ojime, please contact Norman. We suggest that you call in advance to set up an appointment to come by and see some of the many fine netsuke and related objects he has for sale.

© 2007 Norman L Sandfield