Posts

How to Determine the Value of Religious Icons

Antique religious Icons are an increasingly popular and important collector’s item. Regular auctions of these unique and special items engage collectors both new to the items and veteran collectors. To learn more about these items and the category, we turned to Maxwell Easter of Dennis Easter’s Russian Store.


The question I get the most in my field is what makes an Icon more valuable. What are the characteristics that make one Icon, maybe similar in appearance, sometimes cost thousands of dollars more? It’s true there is a big range in pricing, Icons can be priced anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a couple million dollars but why? To answer this, I have compiled a list of six criteria that influence price. This information will arm you with the knowledge needed to become an educated consumer in the great world of Icons.

Quality

One of the more obvious and most important is the quality of the Icon. How fine is the detail?
How bold are the pigments? How blended are the brush strokes?

Age

The age of the Icon plays an important role in its valuation. Naturally, an Icon from the 15th century will fetch a higher premium in comparison to an Icon from the 19th century, however, there are exceptions.

Rarity

Some scenes, like the classic Christ Pantocrator are more common than others like the Day of Judgement, an Icon I’ve seen only once in my career.

Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker of Myra, icon painting village of Kholui, Russia, 12 in x 9 in (30 cm x 23 cm). Egg tempera and silvering on gessoed wood. $700. Dennis Easter image

Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker of Myra, icon painting village of Kholui, Russia, 12 in x 9 in (30 cm x 23 cm). Egg tempera and silvering on gessoed wood. $700. Dennis Easter image

Desirability

Some pieces are just inherently more desirable than others. An image of Saint Nicholas, the patron Saint of Russia, will be more valuable that an Icon of a random Metropolitan or other obscure subjects. Additionally, Icons that have decorative covers called oklads, made of gold and silver with precious and semi-precious stones, are typically worth more.

Condition

Like with anything, condition is important. The better an Icon’s condition the higher the price. This usually holds true but gets complicated based on the personal preference. Some collectors want a piece that has no restoration favoring a more naturally aged look while other collectors would rather have a piece restored to its original condition.

St. Nicholas of Myra with vita, the Evangelists and four border saints - S. Prince Michael, St. Gregory, St, Catherine and St. Justinia, ca. 1870s, icon painting village of Palekh, Russia. 20 1/2 in x 17 in (52 cm x 43 cm). Dennis Easter image

St. Nicholas of Myra with vita, the Evangelists and four border saints – S. Prince Michael, St. Gregory, St, Catherine and St. Justinia, ca. 1870s, icon painting village of Palekh, Russia. 20 1/2 in x 17 in (52 cm x 43 cm). $25,000. Dennis Easter image

Region

The finest Icons were produced by Iconographers from certain communities referred to as “schools.” Often monasteries, these centers for Iconography specialized in their own adopted styles. An Icon from the famous Palekh School will be much more expensive than an Icon from a small rural village.

Provenance

Finally, the history of the piece can play an important role in its valuation. If the Icon was from a particular collection, spent time in a museum and or once belonged to royalty, the piece can skyrocket in value.

For a beginning collector, understanding the value of an Icon can be bewildering. It’s better to start small. One would rather make a $300 mistake than a $30,000 mistake. Allow yourself time to find your own taste, explore the world of Icons, study the history and understand the value of an Icon through the application of these seven criteria listed. Most importantly, if it speaks to you buy it because no Icon is exactly alike and you might never find it again.

 

View this week’s Religious Icons auction and discover your new treasure.


Maxwell Easter is an expert in antique Russian icons and Catholic relics. He manages sales and public relations at Dennis Easter’s Russian Store out of West Palm Beach, Florida.