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Friday, March 26, 2010


This comprehensive tutorial was generously contributed by my good friend Stefanie Deutsch, who has been collect- ing antique miniatures for more than ten years, and is currently working on a book on the subject. She is also the author of two books on vintage Barbie dolls: "Barbie, The First 30 Years" (published by Collector Books, the 3rd edition just printed) and "Barbie" (published in the German Battenberg Verlag).

The biggest condition problem often found in old miniatures are cracks or hairlines in the wafer. These are not repairable ... not even by a good restorer, and they greatly reduce the value of a painting. Smudges and small areas of missing paint are fixable by a good restorer, but may cost more than the painting is worth. I would personally rather have a good miniature with a condition problem than an average piece in pristine condition; but that's a matter of taste.

One would think that the "real deal" is always more expensive than a later copy, but that is not the case. Decorative miniatures often fetch more than originals twice their age. This happens when the buyer specifically wants a decorative piece for personal reasons, or a seller offers a decorative piece as an original 18th century painting (either by intention or ignorance). When buying miniatures for their decorative value, most people prefer the idealistic picture of a lovely young lady over the rendering of a real sitter (who was not necessarily an attractive person). Normally, good decorative pieces sell in the neighborhood of $150. While most "real miniatures" sell anywhere between $100 and $500, the really good pieces can fetch thousands ... and occasionally tens of thousands ... of dollars. As a rule, American miniatures are more desirable (and expensive) than European ones. Signed pieces, especially by well-known artists, are highest on the price scale. As with all antiques, age is not the most critical factor in the value of a miniature. One can often get a 17th century oil on copper miniature for less than a good Art Deco miniature. The asking, or starting, price of a miniature on ebay is also not a reliable indicator of value. Some dealers place totally unrealistic prices for copies or low-quality miniatures, while good pieces are often offered at low starting prices in an attempt to encourage bidding.

Stay tuned for Part V of PORTRAIT MINIATURE BUYING GUIDE ... to be posted tomorrow.

Interested in buying or selling miniature portraits? You can contact Stefanie directly at:

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