volume 1 number 1
Tips on buying antique Chinese furniture:
When considering any piece, learn to rely more on your eyes than your ears. Most people view objects superficially, without penetrating attention to detail; the ears are also prisoners of enthusiastic talk. Impulsive purchases, which satisfy the immediate desire, are frequently found to be less than satisfactory or even problematic over time. In the excitement of finding a treasure, remember to take time to carefully examine the work you are considering, and above all, use common sense. For example, ask yourself, "is it really old?"
The Chinese have a natural affinity toward reproduction. In China, art reproduction has been going on for centuries. Because the supply of old furniture from the countryside has diminished dramatically over the past years, many furniture restoration shops in China have adapted themselves to the manufacture of reproduction hardwood, softwood, and lacquer furniture. Reproductions that are distressed to give the superficial appearance of age are often frequently sold as antiques.
Invest in Original Patina:
The importance of conserving the original patina on antique Chinese furniture is becoming more clear over time. Objects that were heavily restored during the late 80's and early 90's do not generally hold their value in the secondary market (the recirculation of objects from collections). Today's discriminating collector will not pay for poorly restored works with surfaces stripped of their age-earned patina. Therefore, when considering antique furniture as an investment, remember that the quality of its restoration and conservation are important assets.
'Those who are optimistic in their dating, as they consider that the earlier an object is the more valuable it is, place value above knowledge and aesthetic beauty.' -- Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture in Hawaiian Collections
Wen Zhenheng (c.1620) Superfluous Things (Zhangwuzhi)
The greatest variety is found amongst chairs. I once saw a large Yuan chair [inlaid] with mother-of-pearl that could seat two peoplethis style is the most antique. Those of ebony (wumu) with Dali marble inlays are most highly esteemed; however, they must be made according to the traditional antique patterns. Generally speaking, [chairs] should be short, not too high, and wide, not narrow. The folding chairs with a single backrest, the bamboo chairs from Wujiang, and the meditation chairs from Zhuanzhu are all vulgar, and definitely should not be used. The footrest stretcher should be covered with bamboo to preserve its life and prevent damage.
Hardwood vs. Softwood:
At no point in any piece of pre-modern Chinese writing on interior design is there evidence that the hardwood furniture so admired today enjoyed unequivocally or consistently higher esteem than furniture in other materials. In fact, as we have seen, there is evidence to the contrary. -- Craig Clunas, Chinese Furniture
May 13-16, 2004
China International Antique Furniture Fair
Shanghai International Exhibition Center (INTEX)
We are also happy to introduce Shanju Shanghai, a source for fine antique Chinese furnishings for the discriminating enthusiast. The objects, which have been collected by Curtis Evarts during recent years of travel and research in Asia, include a range of traditional antique furniture and other miscellaneous furnishings. A small selection is posted at <http://www.chinese-furniture.com/shanju.html>. Should you have specific interests, Shanju Shanghai also provides consultation and sourcing service.