Understanding The Chinese Art Market Today

Collecting Chinese art including porcelain is probably the longest running collectible category in world. Exceeding even those of European and Middle Eastern Art.. Since the creation of first bronze and carved stone the Chinese people began collecting and appreciating objects while passing them down from generation to generation. Records were kept, inventories were maintained; emperors, poets and scholars wrote about the splendor and historic purposes of them. Many of these writings exist in
Pair of Qianlong Vases-Bottles, Inscribed Famille Rose
museums and private collections to this day.

Typically these early objects had religious and mystical significance to the multitudes of China's past cultures however admiration and the concept of connoisseurship coupled with the impulse to collect has always been a connecting driving force. Today Chinese art probably enjoys the largest audience of collectors in the world. These collectors live not only in China but in virtually every country on earth, not to mention the dozens and dozens of museums scattered about the world dedicated to enjoying and appreciating this ancient material culture.

Today the demand for top quality Chinese art: paintings, bronzes, carved jades, furniture, pottery, porcelain and fine silk garments has never been stronger. In the last 30 years following China's robust re-emergence into world trade making millions of Chinese citizens millionaires (and growing) have with this newly earned wealth opted to join the well established world market for Chinese art.

Demand For Chinese Art Has Done Two Things

As a consequence of this intense demand two things have happened. First and most obviously the
Yongzheng Period "Zun" Form Vase, 18th C. 
prices for fine objects have skyrocketed, with frequent transactions in the millions of dollars.  Second, a vast proliferation into the market of masterfully made fakes and copies have permeated every country on earth. All produced within China by fraudsters hoping to cash in on the huge leap in prices since the 1980's.

The fakes being produced, particularly in the area's of porcelain, jade and paintings (both old and modern) are of stunningly good quality. So good in fact they are being sold in mainland China as well as around the world as authentic pieces, often for very large amounts of money.

If you're a new collector, be very very careful. The best makers of fakes KNOW authentic pieces better than many experienced dealers and specialty auction houses. After all the forger's task is to fool the experts and doing so demands an extraordinary level of sophistication and technical know how.

By NEW COLLECTOR, I am referring to people who've been collecting and studying for less than 10 years. With less than 10 years of active experience, you likely know just enough to be dangerous to your wallet, but you are very unlikely to build a fine collection on your own.

So, how do you avoid the traps? How do level the playing field to protect your yourself from fakes and end up buying only authentic pieces?
Late Qing Dynasty "Cixi" Bowl, Circa 1900

Ten Basic Things You Should Do and/or Know When Collecting Chinese Porcelain Today

Do's and Dont's..

  1. Real Imperial and Mark and Period Porcelains are VERY Rare. Before the relatively recent boom in prices of Chinese porcelains, the number of authentic "Mark and Period" or "Imperial" pieces an active collector might see at local auctions or in antique shops over the course of a year would number less than 5 and in some years none. This was the case even here in New England where great estate auctions were conducted virtually every week throughout the region of collections established by wealthy Yankee's starting in the 19th C.. If you're seeing more than
    Kangxi Period, Iron Red-Under Glaze
    Blue Dragon vase, Circa 1710
    this, you are seeing fakes, lots of fakes. Do not buy them. 
  2. High Prices Do Not Indicate Authenticity. Trying to find great authentic pieces at bargain prices is a fools errand for the new collector, you'll never do it. Their are simply too many pairs of experienced eyes out there as well as too many inexperienced eyes driving up prices of fakes. As a consequence high prices do not indicate authenticity. 
  3. Only Four American Auction Houses have Expert Departments. In the United States their are four auction houses who have real expert departments on Asian Art. They are Christie's, Sotheby's, Bonhams and I.M. Chait. The rest may have some knowledge or rely on local dealers and/or guesswork based on pictures and opinions based on hunches. Other's provide so little information on their material it's a buying setting only for experts. 
  4. Many Auction Houses Knowingly Sell Fakes. American, European and Chinese based auction houses offer on a routine basis fake "Collections of Chinese Art". For amusement go to an internet site like "Live Auctioneers". These types of sites are subscribed to by thousands of auction houses to enable online viewing and bidding for their auctions.  This is a very are very dangerous way to buy.
    Qing Dynasty Guan-Type vase, Circa 1750
    Caveat Emptor has never meant more. 
  5. Get To Know and Deal With Experienced and Expert Dealers. An experienced Chinese porcelain dealer see's more authentic pieces in a month, than most collectors will see in in five years. They have also been at it for decades, many come from multi-generational family dynasty's of Chinese art dealers. Most are more than happy to share their knowledge if you are serious with them about learning and collecting. Sure you're going to spend a bit more money, but you will be on a learning curve with them that will massively increase your understanding and interest in the material. Be honest with them, be frank about your budget and be respectful of their knowledge. 
  6. Visit Great Museums. Fortunately, here in America as well as Europe, their are numerous superb museums with extensive well researched collections begun in many cases during the 18th and 19th C.. A few of the greats are the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; The Museum of Fine Art , Boston; The Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.; Freer-Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington DC; The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, MO;The Musee Guimet, Paris; The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; The British Museum, London;  Just for starters, their are many other great Asian art museums.
  7. Museum, University and Respected Auction House Lectures.   Throughout the
    Kangxi Famille Verte Wine Cup, Circa 1700
    year specialized exhibitions and lecture series' are often offered by a variety of institutions and a major auction houses. These can be fabulously informative and interesting. It might be visiting curator, a prominent researcher who's written a great book or even a collector/dealer who's experience and knowledge he or she wants to share. Always time worth investing. Often when a museum is bequeathed a collection to inaugurate the addition it will be highlighted by an evening event on the merits of the new addition. On other occasions it could be one of the major auction houses like Christie's or Sotheby's who through their various departments do a presentation regarding an upcoming collection being offered, its never a sales pitch but a truly scholarly presentation and nearly always have free admissions.   GO AND LISTEN, ask questions and have fun!! You'll meet others who share your interests, you can make friends and  most importantly..you will learn a lot.
  8. Major Auction House Previews. Throughout the year Christie's, Sotheby's, Bonhams, and I.M. Chait conduct regular sales of authentic Chinese art. Prior to every sale they offer several days
    Ming Dynasty Lonquan Kiln vase,
    Circa 1500
    and evenings of previews. These events are 100% free to attend, you can take your time to study the best examples or those that catch your attention. Knowledgeable staffers are there to answer questions, buy the illustrated auction catalog and take notes! Word of caution! Do not pick up things unless a preview employee is there to help you. You will be looking at 5" inch bowl that could be worth more than your house. On really rare things ask them to hold it for you..
  9. Dealer Exhibitions. Like the major auction houses and museums, well know major dealers often over each year produce their own exhibition-sales within their galleries. Top dealers not infrequently get things which have been bought or consigned directly from old collections. These can be great opportunity's to see things of better quality than you'll see anywhere else. They, like the museum's and auction houses also often sell an accompanying fully illustrated catalog. Ask questions, be open and honest with them about what you know and do not know. Good dealers always welcome new potential customers and it's a great opportunity for new-ish collectors to learn and build a relationship. The best ones will become friends and advisers and most importantly a source for your collecting. 
  10. The Internet As A Source for Good Information. The web is a double edged sword when it comes to learning about Chinese porcelain and Asian art in general. As you might imagine it is a sewer of reproductions being offered under virtually every pretext imaginable at discount prices, including some sites who've incorporated the name "Museum" into their name. The GOOD NEWS about the web is, most of the aforementioned legitimate museums have good bits of information,
    Song Dynasty Incense Burner, 12th C. 
    images and articles well worth reading, downloading and studying. The Freer-Sackler Gallery and The Metropolitan Museum in particular can be very informative as can The British Museum and the Percival David Collection housed within this famous London institution. The other two areas worth going back to over and over are the major auction houses "Previous Auctions" databases as well as the sites of the best dealers who often keep on their sites previous exhibition-sale images and information. Its all gold to a collector and its all FREE.

The Dangerous Estate Appraisal By A "Certified Appraiser"

I mention this last for those of you who have inherited a small grouping or perhaps a collection Chinese objects and with it came an "appraisal". 

Their is a misnomer out there that their is such a thing as a "Certified Estate Appraiser" and that anything they write is accurate and the "Certification" is somehow a solid assurance that what they've
Ming Dynasty Blue and White Covered Jar, Circa 15th C. 
said must be accurate. The reality is, anyone can become a "Certified Appraiser" in a couple weeks for a fee of a few hundred dollars. Are they experts? The question answers itself, no they aren't. 

As a general rule, the appraisals done by the typical generalist appraiser here in the US, while well-intentioned,  isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Sorry to sound so harsh on it, but it's the truth of it. The general descriptions, age, origin and value are very rarely accurate. Some great and valuable rarities appraised for maybe $500 are in fact worth perhaps $50,000 or even $200,000, some items may have a stated value of $100,000 for which the inheritor paid an estate tax and is worth $1,200. 

The good news is, you can (if not too much time has gone by, less than a year or so) re-file the Estate Return and get a significant refund! Or get a new more accurate appraisal and pay a lot less upfront.

Who Are We?

We are very experienced dealers in Asian works of art and have been in the business for over 35 years. During that time we have handled hundreds of collections and estates covering a broad range of rare objects here in New England and across the country for our customers. We are very discreet, we know what we are doing and we love Asian art. Today, many of our current customers are the grandchildren of our original ones from years ago, they have stayed with us for a reason, we give very good advice and have worked hard for them generation after generation. 

 Feel free to contact me with any questions regarding things you do own, are contemplating selling or things you're thinking of buying. All emails are responded to free of charge. We are always interested in seeing new things. 

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