What is my art worth?

That can be a very complicated question and a definitive answer is risky at best.  Since I’ve been observing original art sales for the last few years, I can give you a few guidelines derived from recent movements in the market and general trends I’ve seen over time.

Original sold on ebay in 2009 for $1,400.  Current value roughly $3-5,000*

Original sold on ebay in 2009 for $1,400. Current value roughly $3-5,000*

After the economic downturn in 2008, many pieces were liquidated at significant discounts to what they were being offered at just a few months prior.  This obviously mirrored the overall collapse in the financial markets and in the years following the Magic art market has followed a similar trend of recovery.  When I got back into the Magic art market in the spring of 2012, the average selling price for minor pieces listed on ebay was around $150-$250 with many sitting at that price.  There really weren’t that many major pieces being listed at the time and overall the hobby still seemed obscure.

With the advent of the Magic Art thread on The Mana Drain, the writing of Mike Linnemann and the creation of OMA, the average level of interest increased.  By the end of 2012, we were seeing minor pieces (random commons & uncommons by established but not prominent artists) going for a bit more than before, with many selling in the $250-$300 range. 

This jump in interest coincided with another general trend, the increased average age of Magic players.  In general, as you grow up your buying power increases, your free time available decreases and the desire to recapture past moments in your life begins to manifest.  With the game entering it’s 20th year, many of the kids that grew up with the game are now ready with kids of their own, less time to play but the same desire to enjoy Magic.  The financial downturn forced this trend to take a breather, but once things turned up again, Original art provided a unique avenue for an adult collector of the game to embrace their past.  Increased interest generated from the new proponents of collecting art benefited by the overall growth of buying power took the market out of the lull and back on an upward trend.

Sold for $300 on ebay in Late 2011.  Current value roughly $600-1,000*

Sold for $300 on ebay in Late 2011. Current value roughly $600-1,000*

By the summer of 2013, the average minor piece price had risen to the $400 range and appears to be stable around there with many pieces being listed and still sitting on the market today.  Whereas pieces were being picked up enmasse last year at increasing prices, we are seeing more supply unlocked by the increased interest in the hobby as people liquidate their minor pieces and evaluate their collections. 

Given the recent market trends, I would encourage any collector or artist looking to sell their originals to consider their reasoning before listing any piece below that $400* threshold.  Listing it lower will make it likelier to sell, but any lower than $300* and you are probably selling yourself short.

While the minor pieces from Magic have seen some appreciation, the market for major and easily recognizable illustrations has gone on an even bigger run. 

Big Money

Every artist that has done work for the game recognizes that the power of the card influences the popularity of the art.  The more the card is played, the more exposure the art gets and the more opportunity for nostalgia to get attached to the image.  Many artists bemoan the curse of commonality that Pete Venters opined on in his blog.  For Alpha art this gets even more interesting, as the extremely limited number of images and large amount of interest has established a floor well above what many might expect based solely on the strength of the card.


Original Alpha art is still available if you're desperate

Original Alpha art is still available if you’re desperate

Green Ward is the bellweather, it appears. 

The auction for Green Ward has been listed and relisted for years now and most recently took a jump from $3,000 to over $6,000.  Since the seller was likely getting offers closer and closer to the asking price and appears to list it as an advertisement for other auctions, the price increase reflects the overall trend we have seen in Alpha originals.

Since most of the remaining Alpha art was picked up about 5 years ago, any would-be collector has been forced to deal with a very limited number of sources for these original paintings.  This scarcity is compounded by the fact that many of the paintings were either given as gifts at the advent of the game to the artist’s friends and family or were snapped up by savvy collectors very early on.  Many have tried to guess what certain pieces would go for on the open market, but Green Ward gives us a good concrete low end to work from when making such valuations. 

Of course Alphas aren’t the only major pieces from the game that have been going up in the market, the more recognizable pieces have also seen a great increase in demand since the interest level was piqued in late 2011. 

It's not the Alpha art, but it makes a good stand in.

It’s not the Alpha art, but it makes a good stand in.

The poster child for this is probably the Black Lotus holiday cube art that sold for over $16,000 in December of 2012.  Not only had this art never been printed on a card, but it was only going to be playable for a limited time during the holidays.  It certainly helped that Chris Rahn did an outstanding job with the illustration, but that single auction turned a lot of heads when it came to Magic originals.  Since then, several other high profile pieces have gone for significantly more than I was expecting.  Both of the Swords from Modern Masters went above $3,000, Thoughtsieze from Theros for more than $2,000 and a few more that I can’t disclose show me that highly playable and popular cards are commanding premium prices in the current market.

The Basics

To wrap things up, here are some rough (emphasis on rough) guidelines for valuing your art in the current marketplace:

  • Minor pieces (obscure commons, uncommons and rares) have a floor around $300* with average finishing prices in the $400* range
  • Alpha art has a floor of at least $5,000* with the consensus price for most of the recognizable paintings in the $10,000 and above range
  • Premium by set degrades quickly after Alpha with minor Arabian Nights, Legends and Antiquities pieces moving around $1000 and sitting for a while in the $1500 and above range
  • Premium by set all but disappears once you hit Fallen Empires and anything later. 
  • Most of the recognizable, but not super iconic pieces are settling in the $2,500-$3,500* range (Super iconic is subjective, leave questions in the comments)
  • Outliers are frequent as the market is illiquid and very small
  • Sketches and Color studies are moving frequently for between $50-$250* depending on size, artist, etc.
  • Paintings from newly released sets are commanding a large premium due to recent growth in the game and speculation.  Artists should definitely utilize ebay to capitalize on this fact once their art is publicized by Wizards
    • This trend will likely continue for some time as any increase in artists moving to paint will be counteracted by the increased number of people playing the game

I hope these guidelines help you and gives you an idea of how much your art is worth.  If you ever want my best guess on a valuation (still working on getting official appraisals implemented), make sure to contact me through this website or on Twitter @OriginalMtGArt and I will let you know what I think.

*The values are listed as ranges due to the illiquidity of the art market and are approximations based on sales of simliarly popular Magic art. 

Like this article?  Have an idea for what I should cover next?  Make sure to let me know in the comments below!