The 19th century produced some of the best and most popular bronze statues in the world. Very few of these pieces are left, but some are still available for private collectors. Buying bronze means becoming familiar with the different categories of castings and copies in order to understand value and price.
Original Bronze Antique Art
All bronze sculptures are copies made from clay or wax models, so an original bronze is a copy made with the artist’s approval. Because the foundry can use the same moulds or master copies over and over, there might be dozens or even hundreds of original copies of each piece. That means private collectors can buy exactly the same antique bronze statues displayed in the world's major museums. The most popular original antique bronzes are very valuable and excellent investments, especially if they still have the original patina.
Posthumous castings are bronzes made with the original models but after the artist's death. Sometimes, the same foundry artisans who made the original castings also work on the posthumous castings. These secondary bronzes are almost as valuable as the pieces made for the artist, and they often look almost exactly the same.
Antique Bronze Copies
If the original models are not available, it is still possible to produce new castings using existing castings. Many of these pieces, called surmoulages, are also interesting, great-looking pieces, but they do not have significant collector value. Their price does not usually go up over time, and their quality is not as high as the originals, so many sellers take pride in not offering surmoulages. Some people use these copies to commit fraud, and even an honest seller can sometimes mislabel a copy by mistake, believing it to be an original. However, a correctly labelled and appropriately priced surmoulage can make a lovely and affordable decorative piece.
Copies Not Made of Bronze
Not all bronzes are actually bronze. Some are cast iron or metal sculptures, while others are cold cast bronze, a mixture of powdered bronze and resin. Paint or stain makes the pieces look like antique bronze, but a person familiar with real bronze can usually tell the difference without trouble. Pure bronze pieces, in contrast, are called hot cast bronzes. Again, these copies sometimes appear listed as genuine antique bronze, but if properly labelled and priced, there is no reason not to buy them. The point, after all, is to buy interesting and beautiful art.