Tuesday, January 10, 2006

2005 a record year for Chinese Antiques

On the paper copy of the Asian WSJ of January 5, 2006 page 31, I read that Christie's business was up 30% over 2004 and for the first time over 3 billion USD. Last fall, they set a record for Chinese and Asian art with a Yuan Dynasty jar from the mid-14th Century, which sold for 27,7 million USD! The reason for the intergalactic price is fact that it's one of the oldest blue and white wares still around (they only become mainstream in the 16th to late 19th Century).

With China producing new millionaires every day, their currency under pressure to increase in value and global interest in arts and high end auctions, it's quite natural that Asian antiques have become particularly sought after. Some commentators see this as a sign the bubble is about to burst. For my part, I think the interest in Chinese antiques will continue to strengthen with China's rise. The good news for us (average consumers) is that it's the very unique Guan Yao (imperial/high society ware) that will increase most in value. Call it the Jordan or Zidane effect on antiques. Only the very best see their value increase exponentially. The average stuff doesn't participate in the craze. At least not if you're a smart buyer and do enough research on sites like Gotherborg.

Regular readers of the blog will have noticed that I have started to acquire Chinese antiques related to tea in the last 6 months. Let's do a quick summary of what I've got.

For instance, here is my late Qing dynasty blue and white jar:

Much later but also much cheaper than the record setting blue and white jar!

It actually all started (below) with this Yuan Dynasty plate with a beautiful tree:

Maybe was it because I cleaned it myself, but I really got attached to this plate and am not thinking of selling it.

And of course, there are the old blue and white tea cups:

Oolong tea and old puer look very nice in it. It really brings great style to my brews and the price is reasonable too.

These 2 are a little bit less old (150-80 years) and of finer execution, but the glazing is by far not as smooth as the previous ones:

Then comes this Tianmu shan (Tianmu Mountain or Tenmoku in Japanese) bowl. This style was invented during the Song dynasty (and is still used in Japan for green tea), but this is Qing dynasty piece actually (still over 100 years old!) I use it to brew cooked or old pu erh in it directly. The color of the tea is great and the thick glazed walls keep the heat very well.

This Sung dynasty (960-1279) ever was used to pour the hot water in tianmu bowls. I may attempt to use it one day, even though my friend the potter/collector advised against it because of its age.

Below is my last purchase: a larger and finer black tea plate. For this object, the exact origin and time are unknown. "Old" is all I could get as an answer.

I needed a bigger plate for my bigger red teapots. The black and the red clay of my 7 years old yixing teapot go very well together.

I once spent a whole afternoon in Taipei's Chinese antique flea market looking for old tea cups. So many cups looked bad, overpriced or fake! I ended up buying nothing at all! So, I am glad also to have found this trustable and knowledgeable source of Chinese antiques at reasonable prices. To know that a piece is antique is often sufficient (to me). If the seller starts to tell you a long story he usually just tries to catch you with that. For me (us?) it's not about collecting antiques. It's about finding teaware that match best with my feelings when I do a gongfu cha.

Some people may ask for an authentification certificate, but for pieces that cost below 300 USD, I don't think it's necessarily a good idea. Certificates can be faked even more easily than pottery, and the cost of having an independent expert look at the piece may add too much cost to its intrinsic value. It's like with small diamonds: they should shine and be true, but you don't need absolute certainty about their color, clarity... To know they come from a reliable person is good enough (if the price is right).

Using antique teaware can significantly increase the beauty and harmony of gongfu cha. Tea cups and bowls are made differently nowadays and there is a different feeling and even taste (!) when you use antiques. My advice is to buy items that you will use often, not just put on display.

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