Comparing apples to oranges – more on determining quality in Chinese antique furniture

compare quality in Chinese antique furniture

Photos of these two cabinets have been floating around on our file server for quite a while and I have been meaning to put them up here as another excellent example of differences in quality between Chinese antique workshops and restoration as well as in Chinese Country Antique Furniture in general. These are both essentially the same piece but restored in a different manner by two different factories. They are both restored antiques, both a once fairly common Mongolian style antique cabinets and even the dimensions are approximately the same. Piece A (bright red one) comes from a smaller workshop owned/operated by George, a gentleman who has worked with Chinese antiques for more then 20 years. He services mostly foreign customers and says he offers “good quality.” The other piece (Deep burgundy red) was purchased from Raymond, a larger volume based, Beijing wholesaler who claims to offer “good quality product.” Lets examine the differences to see which factory really does offer “quality” and which one is simply inexpensive.

quality comparision of chinese antique furniture

Its the details which count

The first place the differences are evident is in the overall attention to detail. George’s cabinet has been carefully restored with extra attention paid to small details. However, Raymond’s cabinet has been sloppily restored. Area’s where the lacquer has been rubbed off have not been touched up and instead, have been given a quick coat of wax instead – thus saving costs on the lacquering. Simple (IE inexpensive) fittings have been fitted to the door, instead of the large, more functional (IE more expensive) hardware seen on George’s cabinet. Even the painting on the doors of the cabinet alludes to “cheap” – its style clearly from the 1970/1980’s and thus the un-restored cabinet itself probably was much cheaper at the time of purchase.

comparison of restoration technique
poor quality carving vs good quality carvingThe original un-restored cabinet would have had a round circular style fitting enabling the owner to lock the doors and drawers together in one action. Impressions of the original hardware can still be seen one both cabinets. Possibly removed during the 1970’s during China’s great leap forward the un-restored cabinet may have already been missing this hardware. But on George’s cabinet, the time has been taken to touch up this area so it looks relatively crisp and clean. On Raymond’s cabinet, this element has been skipped over completely.

Then there is the sides of the cabinet. Often embellishments become damaged, fallen off and then lost over time in China’s harsh peasant countryside. Depending on who restores the piece these embellishments may be added back on or sometimes skipped all together. I am guessing the embellishments on George’s cabinet was either retained or carefully recreated true to the original form. On Raymond’s cabinet, a down and dirty board has been added to the side with minimal carving detail (again – cheaper) and an even sloppier painting. Unfortunately we didn’t take a photo of the insides of the cabinet, but if I remember correctly, the shelf inside George’s cabinet was made using a relatively thick board. Raymond’s? A flimsy peice of wood which looked as if it would break before supporting any amount of weight.

So which claim is correct? George or Raymond? On a scale of 1 to 10, I would put George at a quality level of at least 6. Raymond’s cabinet is what Chinese suppliers love to call “rustic,” however, I have seen good quality rustic furniture before and I think “crap” is probably a much better word to describe this piece. I would rate it at a 3 or 4 at most. Interestingly George’s piece a was not much more expensive then the other one – maybe ten to 15 percent. Which piece would you (or your customers) rather have in their collection?

For more on this topic see our previous posts on this topic:

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5 Comment

  1. […] guide to understanding and recognizing quality when buying Asian and Chinese antique more | digg story I Love Social […]

  2. […] guide to understanding and recognizing quality when buying Asian and Chinese antique more | digg story I Love Social […]

  3. Alain says:

    interesting. I just bought a piece that looks extremely similar to the one on the left (the higher quality one)m but the art is different, has a lion and some wild deer type animals. Is it an authentic antique ? Feel like i was duped. What do you think they are worth?

    Thank you, Alain

  4. Deremsia says:

    Throughout your site, you consistently write ‘then’ when you mean ‘than’. They are two different words with different meanings. Among other items, you also use apostrophes to pluralize, which is another consistent error. You could stand a proofreader…

  5. You offering yourself up to do the job? 😉

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