How does one put a value on works made by hand? The SLOW ART of mosaic is a complex process – designing the pattern, choosing material, cutting units of tesserae that are congruent in size to the geometry and scale of the pattern, placing and setting each individual piece just so, finishing, buffing, sealing, mounting, shipping…many, many steps go into creating a mosaic work –  these few words barely cover it.

My mosaic-making friend Brian Worley emailed me this photo, simply saying:
“At Abell Auction this week. Estimated value $2-3,000. Seems so undervalued…..”

OK, i got so CURIOUS: This ROMAN TABLE just came on the market at an AUCTION in Los Angeles area.

Roman Style TABLE On the Block. Will the cereal taste different?

Roman Style TABLE On the Block. Will the cereal taste different today? Photo courtesy Abell Auctions

The STARTING BID is $1000.  It’s estimated value is $2000 – $3000 USD.

It costs a little more than an IKEA table, but not much.  Of course, you might need Hercules to move the thing, but it’s infinitely more attractive than particle board hung together with those awful faux screws. The cut stone material alone could cost more than the full asking price.

The description reads: The top having a Greek wave motif on two Corinthian style scrolling supports 123 1/4 inches wide; 49 1/4 inches deep; 30 inches high.

Its big.  The wave pattern roundel is lovely, the quincunx gullioche pattern winding its way around the rectangle is very well done, and the choice of polychrome material and pattern are reminiscent the Roman Empire at its height.

Its definitely not an original Roman work, and it appears most of the tesserae pieces are cut with a saw, not by hand. Nonetheless, this pattern is obviously hand set and very labour intensive. It nicely executed in the “face mount”, reverse or indirect technique, using appropriate colour stone to create the fades and shades.  Most likely this work was made in the Middle East, perhaps from the large commercial stone and tile mosaic workshops in Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, or in Turkey, or perhaps in China? We don’t know. There are many workshops that turn out reproductions and linear feet of patterned stone borders, and mosaic floor insets for Home Depot, and even for the more upscale Ann Sacks Tile.
THIS TABLE got me thinking…
Detail of the SAW CUT tesserae, so It's not a real ROMAN piece. Who made this?

Detail of the SAW CUT tesserae, so It’s not a real ROMAN piece. Who made this? photo courtesy Abell Auctions.

Often “Real Roman mosaic” IS available at auction. Of course, it is priced upwards of 5 figures, and that is with “good and legal provenance” papers. (Yes, you’d want that.)
But what is interesting to me is that the actual MAKING has not, in essence, changed in 2500 years.
REAL Roman mosaic for sale. Photo courtesy Edgar L.  Owen Antiques

REAL Roman mosaic for sale. Photo courtesy Edgar L. Owen Antiques

MAKERS: Hypothetically, How much would you charge if you were commissioned to make this table?  Just wondering?  What do you think would be appropriate price? $5000? $10,000, is $2000- 3000 about right?
How do we price our works and educate the public and potential clients to appreciate the thought and care that goes into a piece of work?  In a commercial architectural environment in particular, artists now compete with robots named Arty”.
We know that hand set mosaic is priced on the following baseline:
1. size of tesserae (pieces)
2. complexity of pattern
3. time needed to complete
4. type and cost of base materials (stone, glass, and other materials)
5. studio overhead, installation, and assistants needed
What are the “hourly rates” for mosaic?  What are the guidelines? Is it only dependant on what the market will bear?
Who is setting the standard, the client or the maker?
Have mosaicists received a pay raise in 3000 years?  (Ok, ok…we are no longer indentured slaves, that’s a good start.)
I have heard the phrase “Things are only worth what someone will pay for it”
So what is perceived value? Why can an IKEA table out pace a stone Roman patterned table?
Is price about taste and what is ‘in fashion’? 
Mosaics are adorning haute couture fashion on the run way…even appropriated designs, printed on fabric, a little dress costing several times more than THIS TABLE.
This is a hot topic for many people who are trying to earn a living making mosaics.  I’d love to hear from INTERIOR DESIGNERS, ARCHITECTS AND ART CONSULTANTS, how do you make decisions to SPECIFY MOSAIC  objects, garden design work, or interior or exterior mural work?
Well,  maybe go buy yourself a mosaic table this week…It’s a BARGIN!


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