Ask the Experts: Chinese vases may be 18th century treasure


LET-Q These vases and other objects came from China just before World War II. The first two are approximately 12 inches tall and the black one is approximately 9 inches tall. The Cork art is approximately 18 inches by 30 inches. I am guessing on these measurements but can get exact if 014needed.

My wife’s grandfather was on a missionary trip to China in the mid-1930s and these were gifts from people that he was friends with. The framed art is cork art. I wanted to know if they are of any historic value, etc. Thanks for your help on this venture.

— J.R.T., via email

Ask the Experts letter "A"The pair of ceramic vases depicting a man with a cane crossing a bridge contain excerpts from a very famous ancient “Quatrain” by a monk named Zhi Nan. The quatrain is written and illustrated on the vases as follows: “I moor my small boat in the shade of ancient trees, crossing the bridge, cane in hand, I go where I please. The drizzle moistens my gown with wet apricot, the wind caressing my face with 011willows chills me not.” The mark, or seal, on the base of the vases is that of the emperor Qianlong (1711–1799) who ruled China for 60 years (Qing Dynasty). Qianlong is credited with saving Chinese literature due to his extensive collection of ancient Chinese writing. He had a habit of marking everything in his collection with his seal, of which he had a variety. If they are genuine, the pair of vases could bring something in the range of thousands to tens of thousands of dollars or more, depending on the venue in which they are sold. I recommend that you have these evaluated in person by an authority on Chinese porcelain.

Unfortunately, there was no information provided about the black vase with the mother-of-pearl inlay design. Most of these vases are metal with the inlaid design, but there are black lacquer vases as well, which would increase the value. These black metal vases with the inlay are still being made in China and Korea and even the older ones do not sell for more than $100.005

The Chinese temple bell on the wooden stand is a simple example of such bells. The bell itself appears to be brass and the wood looks like teak. Bronze bells are more valuable, and while teak is an exotic wood, this example is not as ornately carved, nor is the bell ornately engraved. While bronze bells with intricately carved wooden bases of teak or rosewood can bring in the $1,200 range, an example such as this might sell for $85 to $110.

Cork art seems to have originated in the Fujian Province of China in the town of Fuzhou around the year 1900. Despite the extensive work it takes to create a piece of cork art and the great amount of detail achieved in these pieces, the prices realized have never been high. In general, a piece of cork art such as yours sells in the $85 to $100 range, however, your piece has something unique to offer; provenance. The history you offer of this piece being a gift to a missionary is consistent with the inscription. The Chinese characters on the left describe this as a gift from a group of students to their teacher, with a list of student’s names. On the right-hand side is the teacher’s name; they refer to him as Mr. Zhu Hua with the sentiment that this piece is a keepsake. Considering the detailed and012 rather sweet provenance, I would not be surprised if this particular piece brought twice that at the right auction. Given the history of this piece, the valuation may seem low; unfortunately sentimental value is not something to which a dollar number can be assigned.

The pair of round, highly carved shadow boxes on stands are beautiful, rather impressive and quite unique. Without knowing the height, circumference and more importantly the composition of the figures, it is difficult to determine a value. The difference in price between shell carved or jade carved figures is considerable. Photographs, even with descriptions, are often not enough for valuation; there are certain pieces that simply have to be examined in person. Thank you for sharing these and the sentimental story behind them.


LET-Q I am a subscriber to Antique Trader and enjoy your column. I am hoping you can help me out a bit.

I have this ceramic teapot that I picked up at a garage sale a few years back to add to my collection. The woman I bought it from looked to be about 60 years old and said that the teapot belonged to her husband’s mother. I have tried to research it, but as there is no manufacturer mark I can see, I have had little luck. I’m not very knowledgeable about old pottery, other than what I learn from Teapot 1publications such as yours.

The teapot looks genuinely old to me; but I have no idea who might have made it, when it was made or where it might have come from. Any idea what it might be worth?

What would you suggest I do first when it comes to this kind of detective work? I went to Spain a few years back and bought a pretty, older cookie jar. I would love to be able to find out more about it as well. Are there certain steps you follow in the process of learning about an old item?  I am so hoping you can steer me on the right path for future efforts.

Thanks so much, and I look forward to more interesting articles in the future.

— J.F., via email

Ask the Experts letter "A"Based on the photographs, especially of the bottom of the teapot, I would agree that the teapot does have some age, though it is always difficult to determine age without actually handling an item or examining it in person. The rattan-wrapped bale handle suggests an Asian origin, and the form is redolent of a Japanese piece. The slip painted design is unusual for an Asian piece, though one may argue that it was produced for a western market.

teapot 3There are, however, a number of clues we can use to determine age such as the shape, size and glaze. Teapots were typically round or pear-shaped through the 1700s. It wasn’t until the 1800s that teapots with straight sides were made in any great number. Tea was a valuable commodity, and the teapots from the 18th and 19th centuries were typically smaller. When considering the glaze, it is important to know that early Oriental pottery was typically glazed with the lid on. This means glaze will not appear under the lid or around the rim of the teapot, as is the case with your teapot. The bottom of the teapot is rough with black specs, which is typical of stoneware; it also appears more substantial or heavier. This is another characteristic of stoneware. Older teapots usually have fewer holes inside the pot leading to the spout, whereas this pot has a screen with many holes, although everything else about the pot suggests an early 19th century piece. The value on such a piece is in the $90 range.

The best advice I can give in researching is to read about what you love and go to shows and shops where you can actually touch and handle genuine articles.

About our A.I.A. appraiser: Dr. Anthony J. Cavo is an honors graduate of the Asheford Institute Of Antiques and a graduate of Reisch College of Auctioneering. He has extensive experience in the field of buying and selling antiques and collectibles; at age 18, he became one of the youngest purchasers and consigners of antiques and art for a New York auction house. Mr. Cavo is an active dealer in the antiques and collectibles marketplace in the U.S. and abroad.