This past weekend, ACF China and The Hutong organized a field trip for local expats here in Beijing to visit an genuine outdoor wholesale antique market, where peasants from the countryside bring un-restored antique furniture and other curios to sell to wholesalers, collectors and restorers. The trip proved a success, allowing attendees a fascinating peek directly into the hidden corners of the antiques industry. A bit dusty, a bit dirty, and situated on the far outskirts of Beijing, this market exists solely through word of mouth and is not found on any map or guidebook. Chris Buckley, owner of Torana Carpets and author of the book “Tibetan Furniture” accompanied us on our excursion and his own post about our tip on his RugDogBlog sums up our trip much better then I can:
Antique furniture hunting in Beijing with Roger Schwendeman
Yesterday I went out looking at antique furniture on the outskirts of Beijing with Roger Schwendenman of the ACF company. Roger is a specialist in wholesale furniture and has his own restoration workshop, and it was interesting to go look at unrestored furniture “fresh from the countryside” versus the fully restored variety that we see at most furniture sellers in Beijing.
In years gone by furniture vendors from the countryside came right into the city to sell their furniture, but these days with increasing ground rents and lack of space in the city the trade is conducted much further out from the city, in this case about 45 minutes drive from Guo Mao. This spot is strictly a wholesale market, with unrestored items piled high in the warehouses of individual sellers from different parts of China. In a couple of hours we were only able to scratch the surface of what is a very large market. We visited several vendors from north China (Shanxi and Inner Mongolia), though apparently there are sellers at the market from most regions. It’s been a long time since I have looked at wholesale furniture like this (the last time I looked at it seriously was back in the mid-90s) and it was reassuring to see that there is still old furniture out there! Vendors are now going a lot further afield for their old furniture than in the ’90s and many are bringing in furniture from the border regions versus the central China styles that were more common in previous years.
Aside from carved coffers, money chests, cots for children, side tables and other typical Chinese furniture we also saw wood blocks for printing funerary “money”, door hangings and weapons for defending against wolves.
Buying pieces independently from this market is tricky (you would need to find transport, then arrange for the piece to be cleaned and repaired), but Roger can help with that aspect, and has been taking wholesale customers from overseas to this market for many years. You would also need to be a little braver and bolder than the average customer since you will need to imagine what a dusty, unrestored piece will look like in its finished state (the difference can be dramatic!).
I am not sure if Roger plans to make these trips a regular event, but I can certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to trace antique Chinese furniture back to its source. (Roger is the tall one in the center of the photo).
Though this particular trip was not a buying trip, we will organize future excursions, buying trips and longer outings, so check back here regularly and/or on The Hutong’s Website for upcoming dates. Thanks to Chris Buckley for tagging along and for providing the wonderful group photos shown here