Price doesn't assure quality , true , but it can be a good indicator with an honest dealer.
how is price determined? What factors price a tree? and how does the price and quality = an honest broker? These seem like simple questions, but IMO they are anything but. Isn't quality subjective, especially on collected material?
Though I don't think price assures quality, I go through an interesting process when buying stock. At $100 it had better be good nursery/container stock. At $200 it had better be good pre-bonsai stock. Anything more than $200 and it had better be uniquely attractive. Otherwise I will just go collect from the wild - at least now that I live in California. Most I ever paid for a bonsai was $450 for a JWP that was an import back in 1994. I could spend more... but why? Of course I am more into the process of creating bonsai than owning and maintaining bonsai.
Excellent analysis, Tom. Regarding field grown trees, however, they might seem risky for the grower, but I've seen (disheartenening) photos of row upon row of field grown trees in Japan that have remarkable consistency.
In my mind, money buys age and with age, hopefully, character.
Rick, Very astute question, at least from my point of view . I am sure it varies slightly from one grower/broker/vendor to the next. Yamadori and field grown for me have to different guidelines for pricing. While I will not state what my specific formula for pricing is. I will give you a realistic look at some of the factors involved. You should with a bit of common sense be able to draw an accurate conclusion. I base the following statements with the assumption that the buyer and seller can identify with in reason good material.
Field Grown trees pricing is pretty straight forward. Initial investment for the material and labor involved in preparing the ground and material for planting. This includes tilling and amending the soil as needed depending on pH factors, drainage, etc. Also included are flat boards used for directional root growth, weed barrier, stakes, training wire. A nice little investment up front before the tree ever hits the ground. Then figure in time for maintaining, ferts, fungicides and standing guard. You can have a swarm of Japanese beetles wipe out foliage on 100 trees in as little as 2 or 3 days. Deer, fungus, drought also can be a huge factor. Last year our water bill was over 1800 bucks for a quarter. This on top of a well that hit sediment during the drought. Needless stay say were building a pond for water collection for those drought prone times. So the notion that there is little or no cost involved once a tree is in the ground is really a myth. Remember that cost of a tree is directly impacted by the time that it takes to develop it. So leaving it to its own devises ultimately can drive the cost up in at least a commercial environment.
I have come to the conclusion that field grown trees are a high risk investment for the bonsai grower. Not all trees that are grown will make it to market. Some will perish during development. Some will simply not be good enough and lack the quality that a reputable grower is willing to offer the community (hint #1). That grower will take a loss on those trees selling them for pennies on the dollar for landscape material. I as a grower expect a reasonable return on investment over a stated period of time. Not unlike a person would expect from a bank CD, real estate, or securities investment.
Yamadori I agree with you that this category is subjective. (subjective adj 1: taking place within the mind and modified by individual bias; "a subjective judgment"). The person that collects a specific quality piece of yamadori is going to have a totally different perspective than a person looking to buy this same material.
The factors playing into the sellers mind in pricing:
Age and Uniqueness, is a specific piece a rarity. I have a very large twin trunk English yew with a 12+ inch base. This is rare in the US and even rarer to be able to collect . In my mind that adds value to that piece. Also age obviously adds value, if for no other reason than a extremely old collected tree is unique not every kid on the block has one.
Difficulty in collecting what was involved with removing this material from a specific area. I have some material that I had to repel down a 80 foot bluff like face to get. Swinging 4 stories in the air and taking that risk in my mind has value. If nothing else it has value to me from the grief I heard from my wife after Taylor squealed
Difficulty in transporting, while not all material is difficult to transport, some can be depending on the size of the collection and terrain. I promise that with a 50 to 100 pound tree strapped to your back hiking down treacherous terrain, huffing and puffing all the while it adds value in the sellers mind. I recently was transporting a tree down a deer path. I stepped off the path and fell into a covered pitfall, set by some poachers, sending a piece of stake like wood through the bottom of my foot and out the top. While the first example I think its fair to say, adds a subjective value since its a precalculated task. The second example does not as it was an accident and while I would like to cover my deductible and co-insurance by building it into the trees cost in reality it does nothing to do with the valuing the tree.
Time and cost it took to scout out new terrain for viable material A quality piece of material does not stick a root out of the ground, wave and go "Pssst over here". Good material much less great takes a considerable amount of reconnaissance. I scout new areas at a minimum of once a week, 52 weeks of the year. Traveling as far out as 250 miles which does have its cost. Lumped in with this I will include things like permits and permission letters both of these are cost related items that can be associated with collection in general. So all things considered this creates value in a tree.
Risk involved in recovery time This kind of falls back to field grown trees. Its a plain and simple fact that a collected piece needs a minimum of a year to recover. (Hint #2)This piece faces all the pitfalls as potted trees or field grown material. The effort and cost involved to bring it to market is a base expense and in turn adds value to the material.
A lot of factors make up how a yamadori seller is influenced and how that person comes to a conclusion on pricing. I have touched on a few, and the factors that influence me may not be the same as Jason and Rich, Andy Smith, Larry Jackel or other reputable collectors. I do believe there is a common thread that runs through this process where all are concerned.
The Good News
Because something is subjective, by nature is subject to change. When a buyer and seller meet and engage in a dialogue.(Hint #3) The seller relating what it took to collect and the qualities/uniqueness of that material and its possibilities. The buyer expressing their opinion and concerns about the same material. From this exchange of opinions common ground normally can be found and a fair price agreed to that both parties can live with. I personally am always open to discussion and views of my customers. I have also amended the prices on some material based on valid opinions.
Rick asked the following "how does the price and quality = an honest broker?" I gave some hints along the way with this question in mind. I think that while pricing is a subjective issue in the brokers mind. The perception of an honest broker is subjective in the buyers mind. There is no hard fast way to determine this as circumstances are different between growers and collectors. I do think though with some basic homework on the buyers part, dialogue and full honest disclosure on the sellers part. A good idea can be gleaned as to if the tree is of quality and worth the money. Also if that seller has their customers best interest at heart.
I think this is a very generalized thinking. You have identical material that has been treated and trained equally. My question would be why are you selling the one for 60 bucks if it is inferior. Why would you an creditable grower/vendor pass sub-par material on. Unless there is more to this example than you indicated.Let us say for the sake of argument that I have two trees grown from the same raw stock that have been in training for the same number of years and I am selling them at one of the shows I may attend. I am asking $60.00 for one tree and $160.00 dollars for the other simply because the more expensive tree is more beautiful. So now we are into the realm of subjective pricing and not objective pricing. Especially if one takes into account the both of these trees a number of years ago cost me fifty-cents each. According to one person's post at another location any one who buys at one price and sells at another in unethical. So I suppose that because I do not necessarily do this as a public service that I am a crook? Would this apply to anyone who buys low and sells high?
Respectfully I have to disagree. Money does buy age, and character to the discerning eye. I have no doubt that people dig old crap thinking its going to be worth something. That is were having the ability to distinguish good material from bad plays such a major role. If collecting quality material were that easy the market would be flooded. For sure there are young diamonds in the rough...lots of them. I venture a good deal of the community will obtain one if they stay active for a prolonged period of time. However a old piece of material is another story. Since a good pieces are fewer and far between they will demand a higher price ( there is that capitalist thing again). You are correct about no safe way to tell age of a tree on our level of participation. However one can reasonably deduce an approximate age from other credible examples available. Also, be it after the fact, a ring count on major branch that has been pruned. This in turn should give you a relative age when multiplied by a trunks girth. I would venture that most incorrect claims by people of age come from rather new participants or unscrupulous ebay type sellers looking to make a quick buck. The bottom line I believe is and as this thread as suggested. Know your source, know your ability to evaluate, and know what your wallet can handle when making a large purchase.Not quite right, money does not buy age. I have seen in my fifty years doing bonsai some real old crap, people have dug up thinking that because it was old it was good, and some pretty young diamonds in the rough purchased for less than a hundred dollars--a lot less. You have to be careful with this age thing. A lot of people selling trees are pretty good at convincing people that a tree is really old when in fact it is really not. There is no safe way to determine the veracity of this argument.