Here’s an idea for sourcing goods that could make you the sole supplier of high value, ethnic craftwork on eBay; in today’s case featuring goods from Native American artists and craftworkers, alongside tribal antiques.
Ethnic Craftwork from Native American Artists: a Niche with Profit Potential
My initial encounter with Native American artists came when I spotted dishy Canadian actor Eric Schweig playing Uncas in The Last of the Mohicans. He has the face of an angel and, like many women, I decided to learn more about him and hopefully find more films starring this very able actor. And that’s when I discovered Mr. Schweig is not only a total dreamboat but also a world-renowned artist specialising in Inuit masks.
Now I could go on talking about this man for the remainder of this issue, but that wouldn’t benefit you. So I’ll restrict myself to telling how I Googled for more information about this particular artist’s work as well as others specialising in mainly Native American and other ethnic crafts. The idea was for me to open an eBay shop selling purely ethnic artwork and crafts, notably jewellery, and including vintage and more recent manufactures. I decided to start with Native American products and move later into selling goods from other ethnic groups renowned for producing quality art and craftwork goods.
I was in for a big surprise because:
• I found just one location online selling Mr. Schweig’s work, and no one, then, selling it on eBay. So I wrote to the webmaster at the site concerned, and asked for permission to sell their masks online in the UK... and they agreed!
• I began searching for other Native American artists and craftworkers whose goods I could sell on eBay, I expected to find very few, but in fact I found a great many people willing to let me sell on their behalf. The reality was that few other sellers had ever approached these people direct, and the market at the time was wide open for me to target.
So the moral of this particular story is “You only have to ask!” I asked a great many times... and I was never refused!
• With one successful ethnic search, I began adding other indigenous and aboriginal groups to my range, including remote Russian and African communities, alongside others in Kibbutzim and Moshavim, and numerous other groups worldwide. I ended up with more than 100 sources of high quality products and with no one else promoting those goods online.
I’m going back several years with this story, but I discovered that a great many hugely talented ethnic artists and craftworkers are crying out for people to market their wares, leaving them to get on with the process of creating all of this beautiful stuff that can fetch fabulously high prices on eBay.
My own earliest product search was for jewellery from Native American designers. For proof of high prices fetched on eBay for jewellery from Native American communities, click top right of the page to do an Advanced search on eBay.com, then key something like “Native American” into the search box and click on “Completed Listings” further down the page. Then top right of the following page search again by “Price: Highest First” where you’ll find the following jewellery items sold recently on eBay:
- Native American Navajo Inlay Bracelet Julian Arviso – $788.00
- Native American Turquoise Necklace – Stunning – $575.00
- Large Native American White Buffalo Turquoise Bracelet – $205.00
Most such products sell on the .com site, but even in the UK ethnic jewellery represents a very profitable business opportunity, categorised as “Jewellery & Watches > Ethnic & Tribal Jewellery”, and featuring the following sub-categories:
African, Celtic, Chinese, Gothic, Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Oceanic / Australasian, Pagan / Symbolic, South American, South-East Asian, Tibetan, Not Specified
As well as Native American being one of several ethnic and tribal groups whose products are extremely popular on eBay, you’ll also find that jewellery is just one of numerous different product types with an overall very high following at the site.
And that means, even if you initially specialise in selling ethnic and tribal jewellery, you can subsequently add other popular ethnic products to the mix, such as wall hangings, clothing, dolls, paintings, antiques and vintage collectibles, and more.
What we’re looking at here are niches within niches, and all are hugely popular on eBay. But by far the biggest benefit to sellers is the fact that most people interested in a particular ethnic group tend to buy across a wide range of products, in today’s case not just jewellery. So as a solitary seller or one of few other people selling specific ethnic products on eBay, you should enjoy a stream of regular, repeat, big spending buyers.
And that explains why you’ll find some eBay shops, notably on the .com site, having more than 1,000 listings for Native American products, in one case more than 16,000! For obvious reasons, no one lists that many products on much the same theme unless that theme is extraordinarily popular. And profitable!
Faced with such an incredible choice of products to sell, the best way forward is to pick one product type and learn all you can about it, then when that product is up and running and making money on eBay, you add another product or another ethnic group to the list. Then you do it all over again and again!
Other popular Native American products – i.e. created by or previously belonging to members of specific named tribes.
While you’re searching for genuine Native American jewellery to resell on eBay, you’ll come across numerous other product types, some even more popular and profitable than jewellery itself.
And that makes it a good idea to learn a little about those other product types to help you gain experience to use later when you branch into selling non-jewellery native-made products. Antiques is a good area to focus on.
Recent high prices fetched by antiques from what look to be genuine original tribal sources include:
- Antique Native American Indian Beaded Bag Purse Pouch – $2,739.00
- Native American Indian Apache Olla Basket c1920 – $1,300.00
- Antique Native American Indian Beadwork Bead Moccasins – $1,050.67
- Navajo Blanket Native American Indian Rug Textile Weave – $763.50
- Old Native American Indian Navajo Rug – $750.00
- Antique Large Navajo Blanket Swastika Design – $690.00
How to play it really safe
A really good way to stay legal is to describe your item in a way that leaves nothing to doubt, such as the following descriptions for original and reproduction Native American blankets respectively:
– “Made and used by the Navajo tribe in the late 1800s and looking as good today as it probably looked more than one hundred years ago. Genuine original.”
– “A stunning reproduction of the kind of blankets the Navajo tribe made and used in the late 1800s. Made in the UK. New.”
The problem we’re considering today is more likely to manifest itself on the .com site, where very strict restrictions are placed on art and crafts items listed as “Native American”, and where any breach could result in the perpetrator receiving a letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior saying something like this:
“The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. For a first time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000.”
• You’ll sometimes find items described as “Native American” selling at smaller provincial auction salerooms. But be careful because many inexperienced auctioneers use the term to describe the art form or design, not the creator or previous owner. If you’re uncertain, get the auctioneer to verify the source of the item, ask whether the previous owner was Native American or a known collector of Native American artefacts.
If there’s a name on the item that could suggest a native creator, then do a Google search just to be sure and emphasise the name in your listing. For artwork, key the name into the search box at www.findartinfo.com, or search an extensive database of Native American artists at: http://www.artcyclopedia.com/nationalities/Native_A merican.html.
If you have proof the artist is from a specific tribe, add the name to your title and proof to your description. Without such proof say something like “The artist is XYZ, the name suggests he or she could be Native American, but I really am not sure”. That way your product will appear to people searching for “Native American” who can subsequently make their own minds up about its source.
• Bigger city-based and international salerooms frequently hold specialist sales of ethnic jewellery and other goods, both antique and contemporary. Some focus on art, some on jewellery, some on antique items only. Find most prolific sources by keying “auction native American” into the search box at Google.com, where today I discovered the following salerooms, in the UK and elsewhere:
www.allardauctions.com – US-Based, specialises in the sale and auction of Native American artefacts, including moccasins, turquoise, cradleboards, etc.
www.bonhams.com/eur/ethnographic – auctions in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, and focusing mainly on Native American art.
www.christies.com/departments/American-indian-art – auctions, mainly sales in the United States, but some sales feature ethnic goods selling in the UK also.
• Find UK-based companies that import goods from authentic sources, or who represent specific ethnic groups and individuals, by Googling for “native American jewellery uk”, as I just did and came up with the following:
Mad About Jewellery
Claims to be selling “Genuine Native American Indian handmade jewellery”.
Cent Gallery and Navajo
Describe themselves as specialising in “Native American imports including Southwestern Silver, Navajo, Zuni, Hopi hand-made jewellery and crafts”.
NOTE: We have not checked these sources; you must do your own research. Also, ask if goods can be resold on eBay!
• Turquoise and silver are especially popular among highest priced items selling recently on eBay, for both modern and antique jewellery. Make sure whatever you buy gives written evidence of the article being created by a genuine native worker, and what materials were used. This will prove your innocence should you inadvertently list non-genuine goods on eBay.
• The highest prices on eBay are for contemporary designs by specific tribes, notably Navajo and Zuni, as well as popular native artists such as Roger Skeet, John Hoxie, Leekya Deyuse, Rodger Montoya, and more. Find more respected artists in American Indian Jewelry 11,200 Artists Biographies by Gregory Schaaf, published by the Center for Indigenous Arts & Cultures. Be warned however, that even a used copy of this excellent book will set you back £139.98 at Amazon.co.uk
• Because we’re talking about a very popular product, with plenty of potential problems to guard against, you’ll find fellow eBay sellers offering useful advice to help you spot good jewellery items from bad. Find them at http://reviews.ebay.co.uk. Then top left of the page key something like “Native American” into the search box to locate reports relating to numerous different product types.
Reports I found particularly useful include:
How to Evaluate and Buy Navajo & Zuni Jewelry by eBayer turqraven
How to Avoid Buying Fake Native America Jewelry also by eBayer turqraven
Fake Native American Jewelry – How To Tell? by eBayer mygloweb
eBayer “turqraven” gives the following advice for spotting genuine Native American jewellery from fake on eBay, but these tips are just as useful for checking outside eBay sources:
• “Be on the watch for any warnings that say the jewelry is not made in the USA. It is illegal to pass off foreign (or even non-Native made) jewelry as Native so sellers usually have a disclaimer. (eBay Confidential Editorial Team. It’s a good tip, but potentially ambiguous also! The reason is, just because an item isn’t made in the United States, that doesn’t mean it isn’t from genuine Native American sources. It could be, for example, the maker is from a recognised tribe who happens to be living outside the USA. Also, Canadian tribal artists and craftworkers are sometimes included in the overall umbrella of “Native American” sources.
• If you are lucky the piece will be signed by the Zuni or Navajo artist and will be readily identifiable.”
The following books will help you identify genuine designs and their creators. Try searching for used copies on amazon.co.uk
Zuni Jewelry by Theda and Michael Bassman, published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd. The book is available at Amazon.co.uk where strangely a used copy of this book will set you back £24.17 compared to a new copy costing just £10.93.
The Beauty of Navajo Jewelry by Theda Bassman published by Treasure Chest Books and costing about a tenner a copy, new or used, at Amazon UK.
Indian Silver by Dale Stuart King published by Dale Stuart King and costing £6.86 for a used copy at Amazon UK.
Also from “turqraven”:
• “If you are buying something old or antique, usually the silver has a dark patina or tarnish. Most people do not want to polish away this mark of history. But tarnished doesn’t necessarily mean old, a new piece can be made to look old and dark, and sometimes well-meaning sellers work hard to get an old silver piece shiny. But as a general trend, old pieces are dark, sometimes almost black.”
eBayer “mygloweb” gives the following tips for spotting genuine Native American creations from non-genuine on eBay – but useful elsewhere:
• “Look for a disclaimer in the item description. It may say something like – All of our jewelry is made in the Philippines (or Taiwan, China, etc.). These are the easy ones, because the seller is being honest, though you may have to read the fine print to find out.
• Look for imitation items mixed in with genuine Native American pieces. Some sellers dilute their item listings (and increase their profits) by selling some genuine Native American-made jewelry and even more fake/imitation Native American jewelry. You can identify the fakes because usually there won’t be a COA (certificate of authenticity) offered on them.
• Look for a .925 stamp on new items. Native American silversmiths usually stamp their Sterling Silver jewelry with a stamp that says ‘Sterling’. If it is stamped .925, it is less likely to be Native American. Older, genuine vintage Native American jewelry will often have no hallmark or stamp of any kind.”
• If you’re listing on the US site remember to describe your goods as “Jewelry” in preference to “Jewellery”. Better still, if space allows use both terms and that way you’ll attract searches from all over the world.
• If you’re selling something relating to Native Americans but not necessarily made by those people, such as postcards or books featuring Native Americans, it’s okay to use “Native American” in your title regardless of which site you are using. That’s because such items are peripherals to complement a niche, and they’re usually bought for their intrinsic value, not always for origin or historical reasons.
• Notice how some listings feature “Indian” in their titles, despite the word being widely accepted as politically incorrect. But the fact is a great many people search for Native American goods using terms like “Indian”, “American Indian”, ‘Amerindian’, and others. It’s wise to include those words in your listings to maximise your search potential. But be aware that eBay sometimes reacts to words that have fallen out of common usage, or which have derogatory undertones, and I’m not sure what their stance is on “Indian”. So use the word with caution and only to supplement the more frequent search term “Native American”.
• One term eBay sometimes frowns upon, namely “swastika”, described by eBay as sometimes “offensive”, is also a symbol of good luck and features prominently on vintage Native American blankets and jewellery.
At http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/offensive.html eBay tells you they will not allow listings featuring the swastika on items from Nazi Germany, but they will allow the swastika on items “not related to Nazi Germany (such as good luck charms, Native American blankets, Buddhist sculptures).”
I will tell you that’s just not true. That’s because several times I have had my listings removed for Victorian greetings cards featuring swastikas alongside black cats and horseshoes and other good luck symbols. And once removed, I found it impossible to get eBay to acknowledge their mistake and reinstate my listings. My point here is that, personally, I would avoid buying any item featuring a swastika – the hassle and disappointment is just too great!
To avoid complications and to guarantee you generate the greatest profits on eBay, you should focus on unique, original arts and crafts by genuine artists from specific indigenous and ethnic groups, alongside goods you’re sure are native in origin.
The reason is, regardless of what ethnic group you focus on, trade description laws, on and off eBay, insist you make a very clear distinction between goods emanating from genuine ethnic sources, compared to others that are only intended to resemble ethnic creations. This resemblance, by the way, can be for dishonest as well as for genuine purposes, as for example where a product is faked and wrongly sold as coming from genuine native sources, compared to another being sold as a copy or reproduction of an original native design.
By far the biggest problem surrounds the use of “Native American” to describe artistic and craftwork creations as well as antiques and artefacts. The reason is what some people call “Native American” is not Native American at all.
That’s because some people use “Native American” to describe the actual maker of the product; while others use the term to describe the art form itself, regardless of who made it and irrespective of how old it is.
So in purist terms, for the purpose of selling art and craftwork, also antiques and artefacts on eBay, you can only – safely – use “Native American” to describe goods made by or previously belonging to genuine members of recognised Native American tribes.
I’ve put “safely” there in that last paragraph, because your potential to fall foul of the rules depends on words used to describe your products and how bidders and buyers interpret what you say.
So let’s look at a couple of imaginary listings, to show how important your choice of words is to how others perceive your products, and how likely your words are to upset the authorities:
• If you claim, for example, to be selling “A c19th Native American Navajo Blanket”, those words in isolation suggest the blanket is antique and made by a member of the Navajo tribe, or that it was used by members of the tribe in the 1800s. But if your product is actually a recent copy of a 19th century design, then you must make this clear in your description. Something like “Inspired by a nineteen century Native American Navajo design. Made in the UK”’ should do nicely.
• If you list an “Oil Painting of Native American Chief c1920”, you’re saying the image is Native American, but not necessarily its creator. In such a case I’d give the artist’s nationality, native or otherwise, just to be on the safe side. Now let’s say you list your painting as “Native American Oil Painting 1920” which suggests the artist is a member of some native tribe. It’s possible that both artist and view can be properly called “Native American” which you can make clear in your description with something like “Oil painting depicting Chief XXXX of the Apache tribe, painted by Native American artist XYZ”.
• If you list a “Hand-Made Native American Bracelet”, does that mean it was hand-made by a Native American or is it hand-made in Native American style? Or does it mean both? I think it could mean both, suggesting the listing is ambiguous and could give rise to problems. That’s especially so if you are 100% British and you’re describing a couple of turquoise beads you picked up in the UK and fashioned into a bracelet resembling a genuine ethnic creation! I’d personally use words like “genuine” and “authentic”, in my listings, compared to “style” and “inspired” to differentiate native from non-native originals.
Fakes and Copies and Why You Must Avoid Both
There are countless fake and copied items being sold as “Native American” products online, some unwittingly so by sellers using the term to describe the style of product, without realising the illegality of promoting goods as “Native American” arts and craftwork products which are from non-genuine sources.
And that means you have to be careful buying goods which transpire to be unsuitable for listing on eBay.
You want goods that come direct from original genuine sources, not others that are cheap knock-offs and more likely created by have-a-go forgers than Navajo Indians. That’s because the fake stuff isn’t all that popular anyway on eBay and rarely fetches high prices.
So how do we source genuine items from authentic Native American artists and craftworkers, or antiques from original tribal sources? Simple, you either buy them direct from their makers or you purchase from organisations representing those people. For antiques, you ask for “provenance”, being reliable proof the item was once used or previously belonged to one or more members of a particular tribe. Provenance might be a letter accompanying an antique testifying the current owner is a descendant of the original tribal owner of the product. Or it could be a photograph showing the item being used by its previous tribal owners in earlier times.
One way to find genuine products, mainly recent creations, is through a basic Google search where you’ll find many hundreds of listings for products from genuine and non-genuine sources. You won’t always know which is which, but there are ways to help you avoid fakes and non-native designs.
As an example, my search for “wholesale Native American products” on Google today returned a number of sites with “authentic” in their listings, alongside others using words like “inspired” and “reproduction”. “Inspired” and “reproduction”, mean what they say, they’re not original Native American creations, and they are words to steer clear of in wholesalers’ listings. Look instead for listings mentioning “authentic” which suggests you’re getting the real thing. Only “suggests” mind you; you still have to do your own due diligence!
To help you I found ‘authentic’ mentioned in listings from the following:
There were many more so go look and check out the best for yourself.
As to organisations representing genuine Native American artists and craftworkers, I suggest the following:
Great Trading Path
Describing itself as a “Directory of Native American Craft Related Sites”, you’ll find listings for individual designers, as well as wholesale suppliers, also a range of different product categories to choose from.
The site describes itself as a “wholesale Native American crafts manufacturers directory”.
Indian Arts and Crafts Association
Describes itself as “Sponsoring the largest wholesale trade show of hand-made American Indian art – from Native artists living in the United States and Canada.”
For help to identify fake and non-Native made goods masquerading as genuine visit the website of the Council for Indigenous Arts and Culture at: http://www.ciaccouncil.org
by Avril Harper
eBay Trading Expert
Avril Harper is the editor of eBay Confidential and helps new and expert eBay traders find ways to increase their eBay profits. You can sign up for her free weekly eletter here:
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