Sunday, July 24, 2005


Starting to Collect Masks

Another question was;

"I have visited many countries where masks were made. How could I start a retrospective collection?"

This, of course, is in the context of tribal and ethnic masks.

This raises several questions in my mind.
Do you want old, new or reproduction masks? To explain.

Old masks are what excite most collectors as they are what are often called "Danced masks." Meaning that they were used for their original purpose in their tribe or community.

A new mask could be one made by a traditional carver to high local standards and intended to be used for its original purpose but bought by a collector instead. Such as buying an original Noh mask from the carver.

Reproduction masks are simply copies made for tourists. Some of which are the result of very high quality craftsmanship some are not.

Some people collect masks for the love of it others for both that and investment. Good, old, danced masks from some areas that are rare can fetch $100,000+. Other good old masks can be bought for $90 upwards. It depends upon what you want and how much you have to spend. That of course is one of the major questions.

Another question that comes to mind is do you want a themed collection? Or is it just a collection to remind you of the place that you have visited?

Where would I start to look?

Tribal art galleries are a good place to begin your search. But be warned their mark-up can be very high. There are lots of places to visit on the web, I'll list a few later. Also visit some of the on-line museums, see the back list of newsletters for a few. (link below).

The one thing that all collectors will tell you is collect for the love of it. I have masks that fit all categories. This is a result of using many of my masks in an educational and creative arts setting. For instance I will use my masks in school for workshops and for working with teachers. Having high quality masks in these settings is not always appropriate.

But the masks I display at home are all of some quality, either through carving or age.

The other thing is to cultivate contacts.

One danger! Asking friends to bring masks back from holiday. If you do this ensure that you friend has a FULL understanding of your needs. Don't expect them to have your patience or knowledge. If it does not work, gratefully thank them and display their purchase until you change your collection around again.

One last thing always be prepared to haggle. Remember a good price for you maybe well be a very inflated price to the seller. That is both in the context of galleries and in local markets. Some places it is anticipated that you will bargain for a good price and make it fun.

I once spent a whole week on holiday bargaining for a masks. Finally on the last day of my vacation I went to the stall holder and said "I have 300 pesos left and am leaving today. Do you want to sell?" We made the sale at less than half his original asking price.

Don't always go for conventional ways of buying. With galleries ask to reserve a piece and pay in instalments until you have made the purchase price.

Another rule of thumb. If you are somewhere for only a short time and see a mask that you like. Offer the best price you can and if you really like it buy it, even if feels a little too much. If you don't buy then there have to be no regrets. I find in situations like this there is a feeling that I get. It will feel right or not quite right. Trust your feelings.

Finally to authenticity with old masks this comes through experience. Look at and handle as many old masks as you can. The wear at the back of a masks often gives the most clues. Masks used regularly are often bashed about and will show signs of wear and repair. Don't let such factors put you off.

As your knowledge develops so will your ability to judge masks.

One final last word. All my important masks have a story. Each one came from some place or was a gift or the result of something, whatever, they each have a resonance for me.

Enjoy your collecting.

To look at back issues go to

Best Regards
Ian Bracegirdle

© Ian Bracegirdle 2005 1 Elderberry Close East Morton BD20 5WA UK 01535 692207 You may use this article freely on condition that you include this copyright line and URL and that people who subsequently use this article follow the same conditions. Thank you for accepting these conditions.
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Thanks again and I'll be sure to bookmark you.
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Thanks for your great blog!It's great to know about diffrent kinds of masks.
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