Recently I received a copy of Joseph Ellis’ Birds in Wood and Paint. It is an amazingly thorough narrative of the development of the New England bird carving tradition. I will be reviewing the entire work when I’ve completed my careful first reading.
I carve in this style though I claim Pennsylvania German roots. Few do. Detailed vernacular smooth bird carvings have been replaced by a wave of realism dictating that carvers carve and detail every feather. The earlier carvers, covered in Ellis’ book, sought a simple representation of the bird.
Ellis points to Elmer Crowell as the father of miniature bird carving. Several of Crowell price lists are published within the work.
I have struggled with my pricing. I’ve thought through is several times and several ways and am convinced that my pricing is fair. I still hear complaints that my work is unaffordable. I couldn’t buy it (But I’m not my target audience.).
Upon seeing Crowell’s prices (always under $10) I wondered how it compared to mine. Crowell experienced success during the Great Depression. His birds sold and were considered fairly priced. (A Crowell full size decoy can now be valued at over $1,000,000!)
I found an online inflation calculator and ran some numbers. To be fair, I have no idea how accurate the calculator is, but the result were interesting.
Sometime between 1920 and 1950 Crowell miniature birds sold for $5.50 each when purchased by the dozen. I don’t sell birds by the dozen. If this price list reflects 1920 a $5.50 bird would have an adjusted price of $58.39. Using 1950 as the baseline calculates a price of $48.00. My price range begins at $40.00 and climbs to about $125.
Another New England bird carver, Allen King, individually priced his birds in 1938. His least expensive were $5.00 with an adjusted modern price of $75.00. His top-of-the-line carvings were $10.00 which adjust to $150.
I presume that these gentlemen priced much as I do. They calculated time and materials and overhead and adjusted according to market trends and perceptions. I find it a bit gratifying (perhaps without much warrant) to find that my work is priced comparably.
Maybe (again with little warrant) I should put a couple dozen birds in a safety deposit box and leave them to my great grandchildren!