Help support the WCHA Forums by making a tax-deductible donation!

asking prices --canoe model or salesman's samples

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous' started by pathologist, May 15, 2016.

  1. pathologist

    pathologist Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Can some knowledgable person tell me why the canoes referred to as salesman's samples have an asking price nearly 5 -10 times that asked for a functional boat of the same vintage?
  2. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    Rarity, for the most part. That pretty much drives the price of all collectibles.
  3. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    The short answer is supply and demand as Dan suggested. My calculations at estimate that there are nearly ten thousand old wooden canoes around today. The membership of the WCHA indicates that there are less than two thousand people interested in these old canoes so it appears that there are more than enough for all of us. Roger Young's research at indicates that there might be a few hundred model or 'salesman sample' canoes around. These also appeal to ordinary antique collectors, including those who specialize in hunting, fishing, and 'smalls' (i.e. miniature versions of things). They also catch the interest of many decoy collectors who regularly pay very large amounts of money for similarly sized antique display items. There is a huge price range between the model canoes in pristine original condition with clear manufacturer's identification and the battered ones which were abused as children's toys. The latter tend to be priced more like full sized canoes of a similar age and condition. There are others here who are more knowledgeable about model canoes than me and can probably offer a longer and better explanation.

    Last edited: May 15, 2016
  4. Roger Young

    Roger Young display sample collector

    The comments provided by both Benson and Dan pretty much provide the answer. It may indeed seem strange to some that a mere 'sample' should command a price several (even many) times greater than the full-size functional object it portrays, yet this is often equally true with respect to objects other than just canoes. Functional use is not often a consideration. 'Salesman's samples', as they are commonly referred to, are smaller, compact items, usually of substantial age and relatively scarce as commodities go. It is usually the oldest and rarest ones in excellent, near-original condition that bring high prices; these values are often established in well-attended, highly competitive auctions. Salesman's sample canoes have a following from those who love old watercraft, from collectors of outdoor sporting memorabilia, from those who are interested in antique advertising items, and also from interior decorators and those seeking to furnish a den or lodge in a rustic look. When members of these groups come together and 'lock horns' in an auction environment, spirited and very competitive bidding usually results, with new, 'record' prices being set. When this happens, and the news gets around, those who own similar items often then ask for similar values when offering an item for sale. As always, reliability and authenticity are key; "buyer beware" should be a constant watchword.

    As one who has frequented antique shows and auctions in pursuit of miniature canoes as well as decoys for the past 30 years or more, I have witnessed my share of such sales, even been a participant in both buying and selling. A number of factors govern what a seller may ask, and what a buyer might pay. First, though, what the 'asking price' might be does not always equate to what the 'selling price' becomes. Brand name, condition, authenticity, original finish, scarcity of supply, intensity of demand, all play a part. An item in pristine, near-mint original condition may bring three to ten times more than a similar item in only 'very good' condition. Elite collectors will often pay seemingly unheard of prices for that 'special piece' to complete a collection, or to be able to own an item of which only one or two are even known to exist.

    For example: many folks have seen old hunting decoys at almost every flea market; lots of them sell for $10 or $20. Yet, the record for an old hunting decoy is over $1 million. And several have sold for better than $700,000. Incredible, especially if you think of it only as a little old chunk of wood that someone made to lure a duck to its demise and fire a shotgun over; many of these old blocks are riddled with pellets and exhibit wear and tear. Millions of them were made. Still, the collector market demand is such that at least one major auction house holds several two-day auctions a year during which 800 to 900 antique/vintage hunting decoys will change hands for $2 to $3 million each time.

    When it comes to sample canoes, a number of auction houses have produced noteworthy results. James Julia of Maine has routinely sold 4' Old Town models in the $18,000 range; Guyette & Deeter (decoy specialists) sold a 1920's vintage Old Town model last year in Portsmouth, NH, for $27,600, inclusive of buyer's premium. A few years ago, White Auctions of Middleboro, MA, sold a 4' Old Town for $29,900. And, the highest public auction sale to date, Wm Smith, NH, saw $42,000 spent to acquire the only known John Henry Rushton model. I mention these sales simply to substantiate that such values have been established at open public auction, by different groups of competitive bidders in different locales over a spread of years. This would suggest that there is a market for sample canoes, and that demand for them is sufficient to command prices between $20,000 and $40,000 at the upper end. Admittedly, there are also sales that take place at much lower prices. Anymore, though, it usually takes several thousand dollars even to go home with a worn or damaged item, and $12K is a fairly average price for a sample canoe in average condition. My experience suggests that the lower end for sample canoe models today is probably roughly equivalent to the upper end market for full-size canoes. Why? The broad answer is determined by supply and demand. The narrower or individual answer depends upon the motivating factors driving the individual bidders. Functional usage as a paddled watercraft is rarely part of the equation. It is also understood that private sales by established antique dealers as well as those between knowledgeable collectors have tended to reflect or even exceed the reported auction sales.

    Another way to put it might be to simply say that there are two fairly distinct groups doing the buying and selling - those interested basically in functional (antique) watercraft, as opposed to those seeking a decorative, collectable, miniature, antique or vintage item for whatever reason (sporting, advertising, rustic look, etc). While "canoes" are the object in both cases, the players and the purpose are very different, and the market prices can be very divergent. Be aware, though, that not all old paddling canoes are what a seller might claim; neither are all so-called "salesman's samples" authentic or as claimed. There are reproductions, alterations, even outright fakes. Do seek competent and knowledgeable advice when contemplating a purchase. Many WCHA members can be of help.
    Last edited: May 18, 2016

Share This Page