During the last 20 years its no secret that Chinese antiques have skyrocketed crazily in value, its also no secret that potters in Jingdezhen have busy beavers cranking out fakes by the trainload, literally for most of that time and longer. The same goes for jade carvings and bronzes. The Chinese government not surprisingly, is also helping them do it by funding research on traditional glazing techniques and carving.
Once made how do you sell these fakes for large amounts of money? All ethics aside, the answer is obvious put them in a place where their lack of age will be overlooked by ignorant buyers wanting to score a rarity for pennies on the dollar. Find a market where their presence will be viewed with little or no suspicion. The perfect answer has been for nearly 20 years, the estate auction market in the USA and Europe. After all, the logic chain says; "if it's in an estate auction in Duluth or Paris, Maine, it must be at least old enough that it was made BEFORE all of those nasty fakes started being made in China." Evidently the folks who think like that must have missed the advent of cargo planes and container ships.
Setting The Trap
The next step is getting the items into an honest "Estate Auction". Well guess what, it's pretty easy; call or stop by a local auction house, ask when the next auction will take place, ask if the auctioneer puts all of his items on the WEB and then offer him/her a few, or a dozen or more items without reserve. "Without reserve is music to an auctioneer's ears!" In most cases he will take them as long as it's a no strings attached deal. Then sit back and wait.
The auctioneer, true to his word, pops all of these pieces onto the Internet alongside image of "Granny's bedroom set, doorstop collection, Currier & Ive's Prints, hooked rugs, button collection". These other images coupled with a sale location in some rural area has been enough for several years to ensnare Asian buyers by the hundreds. Then mix in a few ads in the "Arts and Antiques Weekly", aka "The Bee" with some photos, the worse quality the better, and then wait for the hits on the website to spike like never before.
Setting Off The Trap
Soon, these images have been digested all over mainland China, then sent to US based representatives who are given marching orders. This simple approach has been enough to send Chinese nationals, working for newly rich but very naive Chinese collectors and inexperienced dealers for over a decade. Soon they are scurrying to airports bound ultimately for some VFW Hall in the mountains of New Hampshire or the Plains of Iowa. With suitcases laden with cash, cashier checks, and the ability to do wire transfers from packed Citibank Accounts these "Professional Buyers" arrive dressed in Armani and looking very foolish. They then assume positions in the back of the auction hall, often as teams working for several customers, cell phones in hand, they dive into each lot with abandon. Outbidding EVERYONE and then bidding against each other until someone blinks. This has been happening for years throughout the USA.
I've attended auctions where this has happened when the auctioneer had real items mixed with copies and they still manged to radically overpay for the real things. Often paying more for the fakes on top of it. Its a sight to see, all you can do and sit and shake your head in amazement.
How Could This Happen? They are Chinese after all?
The reality is, that during the Mao era, Chinese nationals were not permitted to trade in antiques openly for half a century. As a result those with knowledge left became a very tiny, small group. In fact a good American or European Dealer will likely know much more than the typical mainland Chinese dealer. Hong Kong dealers are very knowledgeable as are Taiwanese dealers, but they didn't seem to get involved in this madness at all. Neither did most American or European dealers with half a brain.
So today, all over China and in the homes of ignorant American collectors are piles of brand new, modern, very well done reproductions of Chinese antiques. They are worth 2 cents on the dollar in many cases compared to what was paid and will likely be made into lamps and eventually sold as Pier 1 Type Decorations. To make matters worse, if that's possible, the more ambitious fakers actually have catalogs from which really unethical auctioneers can actually "assemble a collection" through a mail order system and buy more directly from Chinese sellers. Through the dealer grapevine I've heard of over a half a dozen auction houses who do exactly this, some located here in New England and a couple along the Mid Atlantic area and one in Michigan. Yes, they are crooks.
During this crazy era (its not quite over yet amazingly, but getting less and less so) tens of millions of freshly minted Chinese Yuan's were exchanged for US Dollars and Euros and then lost by buyers of little common sense or knowledge. All caused by fools trying to buy a wholly grail from a pile of junk still warm from a wood kiln in Jingdezhen fresh from packing crates a few months earlier.
Ironically Confucius said, "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance."