Fans of Antique Helper have had the opportunity to witness some terrific sales of Asian antiques during recent auction events.
At our October 30 Art and Antiques Auction Featuring Mission to Modern and Tribal Art, the star of the show was a porcelain vase with oxblood glaze. Mounted as a lamp, this object was given a presale estimate of $100 to $200. Despite the modest estimate, as soon as the catalog was posted, the oxblood beauty began to receive plenty of attention. Once the item opened at auction, the bidding swiftly surpassed high estimate and continued to rise, until it reached a hammer price of $8,000.
This wasn’t the first time this has happened with a Chinese antique.
It has become fairly common to see Chinese antiques selling at auction far above estimate. Even though this is a phenomenon that reaches far beyond Antique Helper’s doors, we have witnessed our own fair share of surprises in recent years.
Marking what we view as the beginning of this trend at Antique Helper was a Chinese incense burner, sold along with a wood oil lamp in October 2006. Even before it was reunited with its matching chicken finial, the incense burner was drawing its fair share of attention. Based on available research, its presale estimate was $150-$250. When all was said and done, the bidding ended at $20,000.
Most impressive of all was a six-piece ensemble of carved jade, including a ring with imperial insignias (est. $300-$500), that sold for $40,000 in June.
According to Dan Levin’s Feb. 3, 2010 article in the New York Times, a new spirit of capitalism in China is to be given credit for the recent surge in prices for Chinese antiques. Chinese collectors are willing to pay high prices for items that they view as good investments. According to Levin, the gathering and collecting of Chinese antiques has evolved into a national pastime in China.
Dan Ripley echoes these sentiments. He points out that many high-priced Chinese antiques sold at Antique Helper have found their way back to China. “Every auction that features Chinese items has the potential to pack a surprising punch,” says Ripley. He explains that while dealers don’t always know for certain that the items they are bidding on are what they hope they will be, they are typically willing to take the risk, because the stakes are so high in China.
At first glance, it might seem erratic to see such a number of items given low estimates leap to such high results.
The truth is that the market is in the process of forming itself, so values continue to evolve. Since this is a relatively new market, selling to an even newer group of collectors, it is difficult to determine the value of some items before they sell. Benchmarks that did not exist before are being set auction by auction.
The staff at Antique Helper goes to great lengths to reflect fair market values in their estimates of items offered at auction. Curators and scholars in the fields of Asian, African, Oceanic and Native American art and artifacts are frequently called upon to lend their expertise in the evaluation of certain items.
As the Chinese economy continues to grow, it is likely that more collectors will surface, in search of these lost pieces from their cultural history. We are pleased that we’re able to play a part in this unfolding story, and look forward to more of these pleasant surprises in future auctions.