As with all areas of antiques and collectibles, Asian antiques are plagued with fakes and reproductions. Some can be quite difficult to detect. Chait said he visits China several times a year now, not to buy antiques as much as to visit the large retail areas to keep up with trends in reproductions. The bulk of the fakes are coming from the Chinese themselves, who are masters at the craft.
Chait pointed out that three primary factors influence value: material, workmanship, and age. Chinese artisans have access to some high quality materials, sometimes indistinguishable from that of genuine antiques. They can also produce workmanship that is comparable to the originals. The sole difference between an original and a copy may only be the age, which isn’t always easy to determine. This is true for jade, for example. Old and new jade artifacts are made of the same material and can exhibit similar superb craftsmanship. The reproduction can legitimately be highly valued for these two attributes, but should not be valued the same as a comparable piece that is hundreds of years older.
“The biggest problem is with porcelain,” Chait said. “Skilled Chinese artists can duplicate the workmanship of the originals, but the pieces don’t have comparable materials or the age that makes the originals so valuable.” Scroll paintings have also been widely faked, he said.
Chait warned that “the vast majority of Asian items on eBay are modern copies.” Unfortunately, people sometimes let their eagerness cloud their judgment and hurriedly purchase an item only to discover later, when it’s too late, that they’ve been fooled. He recommends buying and selling through a reputable dealer or auction house that will guarantee its goods are genuine.
Chait doesn’t see any slowdown in the growth of the Chinese economy or its buying trends. In fact, he predicts “a geometric expansion in the market generated by Chinese citizens who want a connection to dynastic China.” The state of the American economy will not halt the demand. “The U.S. recession slowed only the lower end of the Asian antiques market. The high end was totally unaffected, as there will always be buyers with money, who can afford to buy the most expensive pieces,” he said.
The future is bright for the Asian market, especially Chinese antiques. Chait said Americans have become much more knowledgeable about Asian antiques in recent years due to movies and other media exposure. Those who study the category the most, however, will be in the best position to capitalize on this growing market.
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May 3 Asian auction brings over $4.5 million
With a saleroom packed full of international buyers, the majority from mainland China, almost 600 bidders online and the auctioneers’ book full of absentee bids, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers May 3 sale, which carried a pre-sale median estimate of approximately $1 million, grossed over $4.5 million.
“The auction market for Asian Works of Art is astounding,” auctioneer Leslie Hindman said. “The prices realized were as strong as prices realized at the spring sales in Hong Kong and New York. This market is truly global.”
The auction’s top lot, a pair of rare Chinese imperial bronze vases valued at $80,000 to $120,000, sold for $660,000 after spirited bidding by no fewer than ten bidders. An in-house Chinese buyer won the lot as a crowded, noisy saleroom cheered.
Two carved rhinoceros horn cups sold for $394,000 each. A white jade lidded vase sold for $230,800 while another surprise came in the form of a jade scholar’s object depicting shells and sea animals. Connoisseurs relished the object’s careful use of natural inclusions to portray the crustaceans, and it sold for $122,000. Both jade prizes came from the Estate of William H. Moore in Hobe Sound, Florida.
“Vigorous buying throughout the marathon eight-hour auction underscored the Chinese market’s strength and desire to buy traditional works of art,” Asian works of art specialist Andrew Lick said.
The next Asian arts auction is scheduled for Oct. 4.
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