The Ups and Downs of the Asian Antique Market

By Anne Gilbert
   My recent scrolling of current auction pricing revealed that Korean antiques, from furniture to porcelain, are getting pricier as more items come to market. This led to further research that showed that there are hundreds of antiques markets thriving in South Korea with buyers from around the world. For the last few years Christies has been auctioning various Korean antiques for fancy prices. So, is it too late to collect Korean items?
   Research the history of Korean ceramics. Just as the Ming dynasty is important to Chinese porcelain, the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) is important to Korean porcelain. The Koreans created screens, textiles and other objects of art just as beautiful as did the Chinese and Japanese. If you discovered some unmarked Korean items at a garage sale or local auction would you recognize their origins?
   A few years ago Chinese and Japanese antiques dominated the Asian market and there were faithful collectors. However these days’ auction houses are surfeited with Chinese porcelain objects recently made and others purporting to be antiques. Many go unsold.
   Korean antiques are finding buyers in all price ranges.
   A look at the 1stDibs web page showed many objects offered by dealers at high prices. One example, an antique Korean porcelain wine bottle priced at $20,905.00. A blanket chest priced at $2,900.00. A terra cotta crock is offered at $850. A stoneware vase is priced at $2,500.00.
   Fickle public taste figures in the mix. A good example is Blanc-de-chine, the white glazed Chinese pottery. Several decades ago, with the exception of fine 18th century pieces, prices began to go down. Popularity in the 19th century and increased production saw a decline in quality. Today, they sell for a few hundred dollars, when they sell.
   Chinese robes and framed textile fragments were selling for a few hundred dollars in the 1970s and even turned up at garage sales. By the 1980s new robes and fragments flooded the market and prices went down. However, museum exhibits of Oriental textiles in the 90s raised prices. Prices for 18th century Imperial Chinese robes fetched up to $50,000. These days an average quality 19th century robe can sell for as little as $200 at auction.
   CLUES: Faking has always and is a big problem where even the most knowledgeable can be duped. Chinese wood carvings of figures vary widely in price and those dating to the Ming period still turn up. However, carved wood figures, recently made and with artificial aging and the use of old wood for a new carving can be deceiving.
   Faking of Chinese neo-jades, archaic Chinese bronzes and early Ming blue and white porcelain is hard even for museum curators to recognize.
   Inscriptions are a tip of faking of Ming china. Made for export, these are sometimes blurred or not clearly any authentic combination of characters.
   Probably the most popular fakes have been and continue to be Tang tomb figures, especially the horses. They began to be faked when the first tomb figures arrived in Europe in 1909. By 1912 they were being turned out by the hundreds in Peking.
   In no time the demand outstripped the supply. Even with recent excavation discoveries Tang and Ming horses and camels, made from rebuilt and broken pieces joined the list of faked pieces.
   As of this writing I am not aware of faking of Korean or southeastern Asian pottery or carved figures.
   PHOTO CAPTION: Antique Korean porcelain wine bottle PHOTO CREDIT: 1stDibs PHOTO CAPTION: Antique Korean blanket chest PHOTO CREDIT: 1sDibs

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