How much is my old wooden canoe worth?

Discussion in 'Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)' started by Benson Gray, Nov 14, 2004.

  1. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    How much is my old canoe worth?

    One of the most common questions that gets sent to the WCHA webmasters is "how much is my old canoe worth?" Tim Hewitt's responses over the years have included the following comments:

    Any wooden or wood/canvas canoe in usable condition is worth $1000 - $1500. A canoe that is documentable will go on the high end, one that is particularly rare will bring more, up to $3000 for a wood canvas canoe, and as high as $5000 for an all-wood canoe. These high end canoes must be in showroom condition and you must have evidence or documentation of their age and pedigree. You also need to find the right buyer of course, and this can often take many months. Run-of-the-mill canoes or old canoes that cannot be verified of age or heritage needing restoration, typically sell from $50 (or free) to $500, depending on how serious you are at getting rid of them.

    A professional restoration will run from $400 for a simple canvas job, to $3000 for a full "make it like new" restoration with a smattering of new ribs, planking, decks, seats and of course canvas, filler and paint. Many restoration tasks can be done by a competent woodworker or handyman at a fraction of what you would pay for a professional restoration, however without shop equipment and a good place to work, serious restorations can be more trouble than they are worth.

    New canoes can be had for $1200 to $10,000 ranging from serviceable canoes to works of floating art.

    Using this guide, how much do you think your canoe is worth? As in any sale into a niche market, it's going to worth what someone will pay, and that will be weighed by how long you are willing to wait. I have held $500 canoes for up to two years, and sold $2000 canoes in one day, but the opposite is also true. I can tell you that if selling quickly is your goal, price it low. Wooden canoe "collectors" are not willing to pay $1000 for a speculation on future worth. If your goal is to make money on a canoe, go into another hobby, you'll not likely make any here :). If you enjoy working on old canoes and eventually need to sell them to make space for new projects, this is a great hobby.

    The problem with selling old canoes is an interesting one. Name recognition can mean everything. I've seen run-of-the-mill Old Town canoes in the Midwest bring $2000, while a pristine Gerrish brings $500 because no one knows the name.

    Selling a canoe into the antique market is also very different from selling a canoe into the wooden canoe users market. The WCHA membership tends to use these old canoes, as well as care for them. The canoe is a wonderful machine, and most are still very capable of performing the tasks they were designed for after 60-100 years of use. One of my favorite personal paddling canoes was built in the 1880s. It paddles as well today as the day it was first put in the water. I would no sooner hang it on the wall as an antique as I would park a brand new car in the garage and leave it for fear of getting something dinged or dirty.

    The other issue of course is who is buying it and for what purpose. A businessman from Japan came to Maine a couple of years ago and paid $10,000 for an old canoe to hang in his store in Tokyo. He didn't even shop for it, he simply bought the first wood/canvas canoe he found in an antique shop. The owner would have sold the canoe for $1500 - the unposted asking price - but the fellow from Japan opened himself up for price gouging with his unbridled enthusiasm, and was happy with the purchase.

    I went to survey a canoe for insurance purposes a few weeks ago. The owner is an acquaintance of mine, and so for the cost of a lunch, I gave him a surveyors report, similar to what you would get when buying a large power or sail boat. The report detailed everything that was wrong with the boat, and my estimation of it's fair market value, along with it's insured value. These two numbers were very different. When his insurance company representative called me a week later and asked me to explain the difference between the fair market value of his canoe $1800, and the insured value $3800, I said simply that the builder of this canoe was dead and the forms had been gone for 50 years. If he knew a cheaper method to have the canoe reproduced by a professional builder in the case of it's loss, I would love to know what that is.

    The canoe is insured for $3800. He could never sell it for that in an informed market.

    The Classifieds Ads on this website are a good place to sell an old canoe. I find some boats will sell in days, others not in months, for no apparent reason. WCHA members place ads free, for non-members the cost is $40.

    The local papers might work out well depending on where you are. "Little Nickel" type want-ads seem to be a fairly good place to sell canoes in the spring and summer. Probably not too hot a place in the winter - though you never know.

    Good luck, and let me know if we can be of any further help.

    Best regards,

    -Tim
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2013
  2. OP
    Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Dave Wermuth has offered his own personal rule of thumb

    Basket case canoe: $Free- $200.
    Restorable, not too bad: $200 - $500
    Needs help but Floats: $500-$700
    Useable as is more or less: $700 - $1,000
    Needs nothing, daily driver, good shape or better: $1,000 - $2,000
    Original/Well known maker/ and very nice/no flaws: $2,000 - $3,500
    Special/rare: $3,500 and up.
     
  3. OP
    Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Greg Nolan has summarized how the location and other factors impact the price...

    It is difficult to make any kind of comment without knowing the condition of the canoe -- photos would be useful -- and its location. Even with such information, it is difficult to make a value estimate, and almost no knowledgeable person would make an estimate without actually inspecting the canoe.

    Consider the location of the canoe, relative to potential buyers -- transportation/shipping is a serious issue that will likely affect price. A few years ago I bought a canoe on eBay located in Mattawamkeag, Me. We live in Brooklyn, NY, and probably would not have considered the canoe at any price, except for the fact that we also have a place in Dover-Foxcroft, Me., about an hour from the canoe seller. As it was, we were the only bidder. If that canoe had been located in eastern NY, Conn., or MA, I would have expected more bidding, and it may well have sold for quite a bit more than we paid for it.

    As a WCHA member, you can place a classified ad here on the forums or in Wooden Canoe, our journal. An ad should include basic information such as length (it’s surprising how many ads leave this out), and an ad on the forums should have some good pictures -- look at several existing ads to see what works and what doesn’t. Reviewing the asking price in current ads may give you some idea.

    Canoes often take time to advertise and sell. Needing to sell anything in a hurry decreases the likelihood of your getting a good price, and increases the chances of some buyer getting a bargain.

    Saying that the canoe needs work introduces a major price variable -- "some work" ranges from a just a bit of paint to replacement of several ribs, some planking, and a new canvas cover -- which is why you are not likely to get an estimated value here.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2016
  4. OP
    Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    MGC's thoughts on fiberglass, comparing old to new, desirability, and depreciation

    It seems like every time I look at a canoe I end up having to educate the sellers about what they have, what the true condition is, what is involved in repair/restoration and of course what it's worth. With restorations costing $300 per foot in some cases it does not take an overly active imagination to realize that "investing" in old canoes will almost always leave you "upside down" with your "investment."

    If a canoe has been fiber-glassed the glass is probably hiding bad stems that can no longer hold a canvas. There may be concealed rot and planking damage. If the canoe is a Shell Lake or Thompson, would anyone with a knowledge of wood and canvas actually pay several hundred dollars to buy and restore it? Probably not. I have walked away from several Morris and other collectable boats because it is simply not worth the effort to restore them once they have been glassed. I know other hobbyists will do the same. Unless a canoe is really significant it is simply a fools errand to tackle. Once you have done a few you learn that. I am currently finishing a Rushton that had glass on it. I have been working on it for over a year. It took me over 400 hours to get the hull to a point where it could hold a canvas...and when it's done it will not be a show queen. The Gerrish I will restore next has glass on it. I have no idea what I will find when I start to tear that one apart... but it's a very unique Gerrish, the only one I have seen like it so I will take it on...otherwise I would have left it for some other fool.

    Point being, fiberglass makes common canoes essentially worthless and greatly reduces the value of the more rare boats.

    The cost of a new canoe has zero influence on the value of an old one. We often see a clunker Old Town for sale that needs at least $1,000 of restoration advertised for $5,000 dollars because the seller learned how much others charge for a new boat. These are not parallel!

    Further, some boats are more collectable than others. Not all Old Towns are Wolf Ponds or Double Gunwale boats. I can find a dozen Ideals and HW's every week if I try. A Rushton, Gerrish, or an early White is more desirable to a collector than a Thompson or Penn Yan. Fabers and Hurons are not as desirable as Burley Falls or Chestnuts, etc.

    So three things, more clarity about the effect glass has, some guidance about not comparing old canoes to current production to establish value and some direction about how collectability affects desirability.

    The other thing that needs to be addressed is the valuation of "local" builders canoes. I also keep running into people trying to sell boats from builders like West Hollow, Alder Creek, Reckards, etc. with insane asking prices.

    Even canoes from the most experienced modern builders will have their values shrink dramatically after the boats leave their shops. Why anyone would expect to sell a fiber-glassed Reckards with pine decks for $2,000 is beyond me, but I see it often. Letting the air out of someone's inflated asking prices without insulting them is like walking on glass barefoot.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2016
  5. OP
    Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Dave Osborn's thoughts about overpriced and priceless canoes

    The sad truth is that most vintage canoes are overpriced, even as rough hulls. If you take the time to do a proper restoration or pay for a proper restoration, the cost involved will exceed the sales value of your canoe in an informed market. The exception would be if you had an extremely rare and collectable canoe or if it was tied to someone historically famous like Teddy Roosevelt or Ernest Hemingway.

    But I digress.. Your canoe, properly restored and cared for, would serve as a really cool canoe to use and pass on for generations...that is priceless.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2016

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