The Smart Collector: Chinese artifacts are valuable; decorative wares are not

2011-11-20T00:00:00Z The Smart Collector: Chinese artifacts are valuable; decorative wares are notDanielle Arnet Tribune Media Services Arizona Daily Star
November 20, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Q: Any info on my three Chinese porcelain bowls? The marks show they are from the Guangdong porcelain factory, 1875-1916. They are floral garden style, in very fine condition.

A: Readers have really reacted since we covered the current market boom in Chinese wares.

Reviewing images sent by this reader, we see that he has three bowls - two 8 inches across, one 12 inches across - decorated in what's commonly called the Rose Medallion pattern. The pattern belongs to a design family called Famille rose. That means "rose family" in French; it's called this for its dominant pink to purplish rose colors.

Appearing first in the mid-1600s, Famille rose Chinese porcelains have been made since the beginning. Examples are still made for export.

Smart collectors know that boatloads of Oriental wares made expressly for export were shipped to the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was the era of a burgeoning middle class, and every aspirational home considered a Chinese vase, bowl, or ceramic piece to be a mark of refinement. Famille rose decoration was especially popular.

This is a good time to draw the line between traditional Chinese artifacts and Chinese decorative wares. Big money goes to the former. Made in quantity for overseas buyers, decorative wares are still common and too plentiful. Remarkable pieces do sell well, but standard export wares are ho-hum.

Looking at the painted rose medallion decoration on the reader's pieces, one notices general lack of refinement in detail. Made as mass production, the bowls were produced for look and Oriental effect.

Bowl insides are painted with the pattern's characteristic four panels of decorative scenes featuring people, butterflies, birds and flowers, but they are not finely rendered. In all, decoration is sketchy.

A decade or so ago, large 14 inch or wider rose medallion bowls, called punch bowls, were prized as décor and were the darling of decorators. That bloom is past, though mint condition and well-designed larger pieces have held value best.

Then, prices were astounding. On www.worthpoint.com we found a mint-condition late-1800s bowl measuring 14 1/2 inches that sold for $2,500 in 2004. A similar bowl with extremely ornate hand painting brought $3,800 in 2006. Both were retail sales.

But looking at recent sale results on www.liveauctioneers.com we saw a 15-inch bowl that sold last May (estimate $800-$1,000) at auction. Only one bid came in - via Internet - and the bowl went for $300. A 16-inch version brought $800 this month at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago.

The lessons are clear:

In a very old form, the earliest and finest bring serious money. Be honest about how your item compares.

When a market is down and/or many examples exist, buyers can - and do -hold out for the best.

Tastes and demand change. Ditto prices realized.

When a form is desirable, especially fine and rare versions often bring more.

When you want to know realized prices, pay for short-time use of a databank such as those mentioned here. Some are free. Read details about the sold items. Compare what you have and learn.

Considering the late date (first decades of the 1900s) and quality of the reader's bowls, retail value today is under $100 each.

Correction: An earlier column erred on contact information for Andrew Lick, director of Asian sales at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. It is Andrew@lesliehindman.com

Auction action

A leaping stag weathervane that brought $10,350 last summer in a James D. Julia auction sold high because it was aesthetically fine. Horse vanes are far more common; the leaping stag is a rarer form. The attractive vane had original gilt and verdigris patina, and sold with a museum mount.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

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