Resale Value of Ainu Carvings

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I received an interesting question via the contact form and I’m going to answer it publicly on the chance that other people might be interested in the subject.


I’ve got a question for you. I have a wooden carved Ainu bear that was carved by a chief of Kotan. That’s what it says on this bear. At the time it cost $100.00 translated when it was brought at that time when my great uncle in law had brought it from Ainu, Japan & was given to my mother then passed down to me. Its a very nice realistic carved brown bear. Its very amazing how they could carve it like it. I’m just curious that it has Kotan, chief written on my bear. I’m guessing that this bear was brought about 60-70 yrs. ago. Would you have any idea how I can find out the value of my carved bear?

Thank you.

Dear Eiko,

I’m not an art dealer or an expert on Ainu art. I’m just a tourist who has bought a few carvings, so you can take my opinion for what it is worth.

Ainu bear carvings are pretty common. There are hundreds of Ainu woodcarvers and they probably carve more bears than anything else due to the importance of the brown bear in traditional Ainu culture.

If you log onto ebay and search for “Ainu carving” you will find quite a number of these being offered by Japanese dealers. The smaller carvings of the sort most often bought by tourists seem to go for under $50. Larger more detailed carvings are being offered for $200 or so (plus substantial shipping charges because of the weight.)

If this is the best you can do you are probably better off keeping it for the sentimental value.

Does the age and provenance of your piece make a difference? Probably not unless you can prove that it was carved by a particularly famous craftsman, in which case it might be worth a great deal more.

The reference to a kotan chief doesn’t sound very promising. If it actually says “Kotan chief” in English, that is probably a fake inscription, possibly added by a Japanese dealer to impress English-speaking tourists. If the inscription is in the Ainu language, written with katakana characters, then it might mean something but I’m not sure what.

Generally Ainu artists sign their work either with an Ainu name (in katakana) or with a Japanese name (in kanji.) If you have such a signature and want to identify the artist your best bet might be to send photographs to the Shiraoi Ainu Museum. Possibly someone there might recognize it.

Best wishes,