We often see and hear about how old, and therefore valuable, a bonsai is. In my view a bonsai is like any other work of art. Although its age does have some bearing, it is the beauty of the piece that really influences its value.We see at art auctions that one old painting is sold for much more than another of similar age because it one is perceived to be technically better or more beautiful. Often a more recent picture can command a higher value because it is aesthetically more appealing.
Age alone should also not influence the value of a bonsai. A tree that has been neglected for 20 years and still lacks shape and style is really only worth the same as a much younger tree that has the same attributes. A tree that has been well grown and styled may show far more beauty and character even though it is only a few years old so if you are considering purchasing a bonsai, ignore the sales pitch of great age and ask instead how well grown and styled is this bonsai?
There is also a tendency to equate size with value. We are used to seeing larger plants in a nursery with a larger price tag and this makes some sense – generally it takes longer to produce a larger plant so the producer needs a higher return to make it worth growing the plant to that size and consumers are willing to pay the producer to save them years of growing. Bonsai is different. In bonsai, small is good and we get to choose the size of our tree. A tree that is 20 cm tall can be as old, or older, than a larger bonsai. In actual fact it is more difficult to produce small bonsai than larger ones so I’d go as far as to say that, in bonsai, there should be an inverse relationship between size and value – the smaller the tree the more valuable? What do you think?