Beijing antique market selections – Antique collectors picks – Part 1

After last weeks visit to the Beijing un-restored  antiques market, several people had asked me for specific recommendations on “which pieces I would buy and why would I buy them.”

I will break this list down into three categories and discuss each in a three part post.

  1. Collectors level: These are often investment worthy classical style pieces which are good materials (such as rosewood), valued in collectors  terms and will appreciate in value. Collectors and those with taste for quality should put their money here. This is a tricky category as Westerners and Chinese value things in different terms (see note below).
  2. Quality antiques: In general these are pieces that may be provincial but good value for the money.  Either the condition is quite good (such as original paintings), it has a fair amount of age to it or its difficult to now find a similar piece at a reasonable price.  Note that these pieces are getting harder and harder to find and will increase in value as well. And this is a difficult category as some pieces here may be a worthwhile investment, even if they don’t fit the strict definition for investment level.
  3. Decorative items: Pieces which may not be significantly worth money but nevertheless charming and have good aesthetic or design value.

Of course its impossible to discuss each piece in detail here and these are just a few of the  items which stand out. Nor will you will not find any Huang hua li or Zitan here – those sort of items will never reach these markets and are rare enough inside China as it is.  However for those with the means and those who appreciate these are items I would put my money into. As this is a three part post, we will start with the collectors level recommendations.

Rosewood mirror stand

Beijing camphor wood console table

Antique chinese Rosewood mirror stand. Chinese camphor wood alter table
Not only is rosewood a valued hardwood but this particular mirror came from a well to do home in Beijing. As home capital and home to the emperor, items from Beijing are in greater demand. Its difficult to find mirrors like this these days and this one is in particularly good condition. This is a fairly large camphor wood tiao an (console table) which also comes from Beijing. I had a close at this piece and it was in surprisingly good condition. The materials are satisfyingly thick and the carvings are delicious. Crisp. Beautiful. Click here for more images of this piece.

Shanxi black lacquer cabinet

Shanxi Fuo Gui

Antique wedding cabinet from Shanxi province

Shanxi Buddhist Cabinet

This cabinet comes from Shanxi province – likely from Pingyao or a surrounding area. The sloping waves of cracked lacquer are unique and in Chinese this type of lacquering is know as “pi ma hui” (披麻灰). It refers to the covering of the wood with a layer of hemp and clay before the overcoat of lacquer is applied. By the Qing dynasty this method was in decline and rarely used due to its labor intensity and thus makes it easy to roughly date this cabinet to late Ming early Qing period. While many foreigners might incorrectly refer to this as a “Chinese wedding cabinet,” the motifs and color tell us otherwise. Known in Chinese as a Shanxi Buddhist cabinet (山西佛t) this look is fairly unique to Shanxi province. Constructed of Elm and Walnut what makes this cabinet unique is its condition. There is very little damage to it and the carvings are original. I n fact, the whole cabinet seems to be in its original form. That’s very unusual, even for Shanxi province.   

Additional images of this cabinet can be found here.

Top section – Compound cabinet

Ming Dynasty Chest

Miao jin paintings Mind Dynasty wooden chest
This is likely the top section of a compound cabinet from Shanxi; the lower section long lost or destroyed. What draws me to this piece however is the painting. The delicate artist touch as well as the condition of the painting itself makes this an excellent example for comparing the beauty of an old painting verses a new one.  Its difficult to preserve the delicate gold in these paintings which is why its rare to see a piece like this in such good condition. One look and you will instantly despise the newly made crude paintings on most reproductions. Also often mis-labled as a wedding trunks, chests like this were common during the Ming and Qing dynasties and used for storage.  Some where stacked, others were on stands. This particular one is very likely to be late Ming dynasty which would place it at about 300 to 350 years old. In fact the style is an almost exact match of the miniture mingqing tomb models that were popular during the Ming Dynasty.

Han dynasty Jar with lid

Huali half moon table

Han dynasty jar with lid chinese half moon table
While this is no where near the level of quality that can be found in Hong Kong, (and a terrible photo as well) for a someone starting a collection with a limited budget this is a good starter piece. Its on this list  for two reasons: a) its Han dynasty which makes it approximately 2000 to 2200 years old. That’s far beyond what you would normally call and antique. b) it still has the original lid. Known in Chinese as Ming Qi this would have come from a tomb and provided for use in the afterlife. Known in Chinese as a half round table (半圆桌) this particular one is made from Huali – a hardwood similar to rosewood. Also from Beijing, these two factors make it a reasonable buy.


Next post:  Quality Antique Selections…

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