Learning About Chinese Antiques, A Never Ending Process
Learning About Chinese Antiques, identifying periods, styles, shapes, spotting fakes, starting a reference library, and collecting takes time & experience. It is however among the most rewarding endeavors and pleasurable addictions one could hope for, once the “bug” has bitten you. It bit me in the 1970’s, the love affair continues to this day with no let up in sight.
The entire process of learning about Chinese antiques, like most art, is a lifelong pursuit. As you learn, your tastes will evolve as well as broaden resulting from deeper understandings and appreciation garnered from learning. You may start out interested in blue and white ceramics from the Qing dynasty and end up in love with Song dynasty jade animal carvings years later. You never know, you may accumulate multiple areas of keen interest.
Learning About Chinese Antiques, Follow Your Heart
For many would be collectors it starts off simply enough, often by spotting something that just caught their eye. A bowl, a painting, jade carving, perhaps a simple bronze sitting in an antiques shop. Maybe they just found themselves for some reason lingering in the Asian gallery of a museum entranced with fascination. That first encounter of attraction to an object is often inexplicable, it just happens. The piece or pieces “spoke” to the person. From that moment, some of the best collections on earth have sprung.
To be a true collector follow your heart and instincts, let them inform your collecting and quest for knowledge. Do not fall into the trap of going
after “whats hot” or the most prestigious to own. If you do, you will never be a true collector but merely a trophy buyer. Trophy buyers are a bore and will often dump the collection once the markets change, it’s ok, they were never collectors to begin with.
Resources for Learning About Chinese Antiques, Art, Porcelain, Jade, Silk etc.
The Asian art community is a massive one, after all it covers the artistic output of a very large part of the earth’s population. Within that category you have Chinese art and antiques, it’s still huge going back thousands of years. The earliest known Chinese writing and drawing still extant dates back nearly 20,000 years (yes TWENTY THOUSAND) .
All collectors have a network of relationships they’ve created. They usually consist of other collectors, Museums, dealers, book dealers and your spouse if at all possible. They all play a significant role as you go along. You’re looking for knowledge after all, so be smart and surround yourself with as much available help as possible. Also be very willing to share what you’ve learned too, collecting is not a one way street.
Make friends with other collectors, especially if they have been at it a long time. Having friends and good acquaintances with whom to share ideas and observations with will hone your knowledge and their’s as well. If your spouse shares your enthusiasm, it’s also a great plus on many levels.
Join a good Museum and sign up for all the free information they offer. Attend lectures and seminars lead by scholarly curators, dealers and long term collectors. Do it for several reasons, first you’ll learn a lot and very quickly, second you’ll meet folks who share your interest. Make a point, if possible , to meet and ask questions of the speakers.
Get to know good specialist dealers. No matter how hard you try to see as much as possible, an experienced active dealer sees more in a week, than you’ll see in three months. An experienced dealer has also been “in the trade” most likely for decades, in some cases for generations. What they can tell you off the tops of their heads are the result of lifelong daily learning, so take advantage of what they have to offer.
Also, do business with them. Sure you might pay a little more than finding something on a shelf of a generalist antiques shop. You will more than make it up by not out of ignorance buying the expensive fakes. Learning you’ve bought a fake and have been deceived by your limited knowledge can be very discouraging. I’ve lost track of how many thousands of photos of superb fakes have been sent to me by newish collectors. “Newish” means ones with less than 5 or 10 years of experience. I hate telling them the Chenghua bowl, they paid several thousand dollars for is a modern reproduction. When it comes to money, buy quality even if it costs a bit more, you’ll quickly forget the price and will enjoy it more.
Buy great books, BUY BOOKS! I have never seen, not once, a great collection where the collector didn’t have an amazing library of very focused reference books by specific category. Do not buy generic books, with titles like “The Arts of China”, “Asian Art Throughout History” etc. While some are pretty to browse through, they rarely offer much beyond an extremely broad overview of the topic.
Be sure to buy books that are profusely illustrated, with dimensions and with ample descriptions. Also, shop online carefully for your books and in stores comparing prices. The cost of the same exact book can vary by as much as 1000% from seller to seller. Also bear in mind, most great Chinese art reference books only get printed in small batches and often only once. If you can find it online “used” through ABE-Books, that’s great, if not bite the bullet and just buy it. Good Chinese art books often leap in value once the printing is done and rarely decline. I’ve never regretted buying a good book and will pay for itself many times over.
Buying at Auction, be very, very careful. Fewer than ten auction houses in the United States have true Chinese or Asian specialists on staff, or even as consultants. Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Freeman’s do and a few others, but that’s it. Dozens and dozens claim they do and that they only handle the finest and rarest examples, sad to say it’s a fib. Today, more than 95% of the purportedly fine Chinese art auctioned in America by the “other” auction houses are fakes and copies. Many of them also own the material or are selling in partnership with an importer from China.
If you want to buy at auction and you’re not a real pro, ask a dealer who is, for their opinion or to represent you.
Some Resources for Learning About Chinese Antiques
- This, the Bidamount website: We update it regularly, we have dozens of areas full of information. Including an image archive, two blogs usually loaded with images and information, a page for books we’ve hand picked available on Amazon. We’ve also done over 30 videos on You Tube and the free “BidAmount Weekly News Letter” you can sign up for.
- The Facebook groups for Asian and Chinese Art Collecting. Join these! There are numerous “Groups” on Face Book for Asian antiques.(Be careful, many are groups set up to flog copies.) The two below are good ones. Frequented often by really good dealers and collectors, sharing information, images and comments. You can learn a lot on these two in particular.
3. The British Museum Collection A searchable index with good images and information, explore and enjoy!
4. The Freer-Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum A great fully illustrated site of thousands of enlargeable images with text of their ceramics and painting collection.
5. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Not long ago the MET did what the Freer-Sackler did, they digitized a big part of their collections, including Asian-Art
6. Amazon Books: Asian-Chinese Art A page we set with Amazon comprising books, most of which we already own and can recommend. Also, some handy things like bright portable lights, loupes, cameras etc we also recommend.