What's It Worth? The Fascination With Russian Orthodox Icons
Russian icons (as well as those of Greece and other orthodox countries) have been included in many private and museum collections, and most importantly, in the private homes of the faithful for hundreds of years.
They became sought-after collectibles in the ’70s and ’80s, when few were exported to the U.S. during the Cold War; so their value increased. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, there was a feeding frenzy behind the Iron Curtain – and entire contents of museums were being sold en masse or as individual pieces, thanks to newfound capitalistic fervor for cash from the West. Huge shipping crates of Russian icons made their way into the U.S. and the market plummeted.
We recently took in a small collection of Russian Orthodox icons for auction. This will be an exercise in reality, since we will give you the 1988 appraised value now, and report back the actual sale price in a few weeks. The two most important icons in the collection include an 18th-century St. Nicholas painted on wood. The condition is fair, but the wood has extensive worm holes. It was estimated to have brought $800 in 1988 by a Russian Byzantine art professor. The same professor appraised the second, early 19th-century icon of St. Demetrios. Demetrios was a defender of the Christian church against pagans – hence the spear in his left hand and military cuirass (upper body armor). The auction estimate in 1988 was $1,500. The rest of the collection was newer and more decorative, and only worth $100-$300 apiece.
Actual auction sales will be reported in a later column.
We are always buying antiques and are one of the top buyers in the U.S.
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