Tapestry is little-known and under-appreciated medium when it comes to modern artists. Consequently tapestries are often undervalued. Important tapestries by 20th century masters like Picasso, Chagall, Miro and Leger have sold for less than their weaving costs at auction.
Because it is such a thinly traded market, prices for tapestries are erratic. In the stock market where millions of shares trade every hour, the “spread” between the bid and ask price can be a fraction of a cent. With a tapestry of which only a few examples were woven, the spread can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. The same tapestry that brought its owner virtually nothing at an auction can and has been resold a short time later by a dealer for a huge sum. This is why dealers can sometimes “make a market” in rare pieces and ask enormous prices for tapestries that they’ve purchased inexpensively from private owners or at auction.
Auction prices can differ significantly from estimates depending upon who is bidding and why. A price below estimate doesn’t necessarily mean a bargain. Though it can, there might be other issues with the tapestry in question. A price above estimate doesn’t necessarily mean that the tapestry is too expensive, either — knowledgeable dealers can sometimes pay well over the high estimate and still hope to make huge profits.
Dealers are often the best sources of quality material, but like any retail purchase there’s always a possibility that an item can’t be resold at any price or only realize a tiny percentage of its initial cost. Sometimes accepting a high price is the only way to acquire a rare work. Even if something similar (or the very same piece) recently sold at auction for much less, it could be a generation before a comparable work appears in a public sale. Buyers would be wise to evaluate their sources carefully and it’s not incorrect to expect a fair degree of transparency from the seller.
If you are interested in purchasing, selling or exploring the possibilities of this medium, there are very few experts specializing in tapestries who can advise you, appraiser and consultant Charles Mathes being perhaps the best known.