1. Is the potter known? Look for a signature, and collect any documentation that exists–receipts, photographs, written appraisals, other evidence of its maker or prior owners. Documentation of the maker or other provenance can greatly affect a piece’s value.
2. Was it made using completely traditional techniques? Fire clouds–black coloration on the outside of the pot–usually indicate that the pot has been fired on an open fire and not in an electric kiln. While some collectors consider fire clouds less desirable, others value them as visual evidence that the object is made in a traditional way.
3. What is the pot’s condition? Cracks, breaks, or other flaws–even if they have been repaired–can lower the value of the vessel.
4. What is typical about the pot, and what is unique? Values rise for pieces that are considered characteristic of a certain Native American group, place, or period. On the flip side, sometimes it’s the uniqueness of a piece that accounts for its value.
5. From whom are you buying? Always buy directly from the artisan whenever possible. Otherwise, be sure you’re buying from a reputable dealer, and insist on a written description and receipt of your purchase.
Don’t forget to ask someone to take a picture of yourself buying the pot. It may end up to be an important historical document someday!
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