Mainland Chinese Buyers Beat a Path to Toovey’s

A group of five Chinese famille rose porcelain rectangular plaques, Republic period (1912-1949), sold at auction by Toovey’s for £16,000
A view of the entrance to The Forbidden City from Tiananmen Square, taken by Rupert Toovey on a business trip to Beijing

We are familiar with stories of revolution in China. When you go there, the influences of the communist takeover of mainland China in 1949 and Mao’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 onwards are apparent everywhere. Tiananmen Square in Beijing is dominated by marching Chinese People’s Liberation Army guards and enormous television screens project images of modern China beneath fluttering red flags. A queue, ten people wide, stretches patiently as far as the eye can see, processing into Mao’s mausoleum, where his embalmed body lies in state. On the other side of this square is the entrance to the Forbidden City. You enter past an army guard through a narrow arch beneath an enormous portrait of Mao and, as you do, you witness families and people venerating him, bowing and reaching out to touch one of the large bronze studs on the ancient red door, which are polished by the stream of hands. It is apparent that Mao is perceived by many to be the father of the nation and is now a cultural icon in his own right. It is as though these people are on a pilgrimage to visit the relics of a saint. There are the qualities of both the ancient and the modern in these scenes. Once inside the Forbidden City, the atmosphere is more playful with Chinese families enjoying a day out.

A Chinese porcelain circular plate, Republic period (1912-1949), sold at auction by Toovey’s for £8,500

The Xinhai Revolution began with the Wuchang Uprising in October 1911. By January 1912, the Republic of China had been established. It brought to an end two thousand years of imperial rule. Emperor Puyi was allowed to continue to reside in the Forbidden City, his story made famous by Bernardo Bertolucci’s film ‘The Last Emperor’. Through much of the 19th century, Imperial China fought numerous rebellions and invasions. The relative stability which the Republic period brought in the 20th century signalled a revival in porcelain manufacture in Jingdezhen in the Jiangxi province.

A Chinese porcelain rectangular plaque, Republic period (1912-1949), sold at auction by Toovey’s for £4,000

The items of Chinese porcelain shown here date from the Republic period (1912-1949) and were sold in Toovey’s specialist Asian Art auction in August. They were the property of a local collector, who had spent several years in the Far East. His interests reflected the tastes of the Western connoisseurs from Britain and America who purchased this porcelain in the early 20th century. The delicacy of the enamelling on the group of five porcelain plaques, each measuring 19 x 12.5cm, is exquisite and the composition of birds and flowers is highly refined. Despite the fact that two of them were restored, they sold at auction for £16,000 to a collector in Shenzhen, China. Just as fine is the single plaque, measuring 37.5 x 24cm. The two birds in flight are beautifully depicted, framed by the restrained floral branches. This piece was sold to a Chinese collector from Nanchang for £4,000. The delicately painted Republic period plate, diameter 23.5cm, decorated with a scene of a man and maiden in a boat beneath a willow tree, also found favour with Chinese bidders and went under the hammer to the same collector in Nanchang for £8,500. All pieces bear the black enamelled calligraphic script which is so often found on objects from this period. Although many such pieces imitate Imperial designs, these later examples are sometimes signed or give clues to the artists or private workshops which proliferated at this time in Jingdezhen.

Tom Rowsell, head of Asian and Islamic Ceramics and Works of Art at Toovey’s, commented: “We have specialised in Chinese porcelain and fine art for almost twenty years at Toovey’s. We have a long-standing Chinese client base but we are continuing to build relationships successfully with new, emerging mainland Chinese collectors through our business activities out there, working with China’s leading collectors’ internet platform, EpaiLive.”

Today, it is the Chinese collector who is driving the demand for Republic period porcelain, rather than the Western buyers who originally patronised this beautiful work. Tom Rowsell is always pleased to offer advice, whether you are interested in selling or acquiring Chinese objects in this boom market. He is now taking in entries for his next specialist sale on Thursday 9th October 2014 and can be contacted on 01903 891955.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 27th August 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

A Maori carved hardwood waka huia at Toovey’s

A Maori carved hardwood waka huia or feather box at Toovey's
A Maori carved hardwood waka huia or feather box at Toovey's

A fascinating piece of colonial history went under the hammer at Toovey’s Spring Gardens saleroom last month, in the form of an early 19th century Maori ‘waka huia’ or feather box. The boat-shaped hardwood box with carved decoration, length 43cm, was a rare and unusual thing to find in a Sussex auction.

Detail of the waka huia
Detail of the waka huia

Waka huia were so-named because the striking black and white tail feathers of the huia, the largest species of the New Zealand wattlebird, were highly valued by Maoris and used for personal adornment. These feathers and other prized and sacred effects would have been kept in the box, which would have been suspended from the ceiling of the owner’s home, out of the reach of children. For this reason, as much attention was given to the decoration on the underside as to that on the top. To Maori families, waka huia were important objects in themselves. They were lovingly carved in each family style and handed down through generations. Sometimes they were given away as presents to mark friendships, tribal affiliations or special occasions. Probably crafted around 1810-20, this particular example had an interesting addition – the underside of the lid was inscribed ‘George Hawthorn 1830’ in yellow paint. Little is known about Hawthorn but he may well have been one of the explorers, sailors, traders, missionaries or government officials who visited the Antipodes regularly at this time. The vendor of the waka huia believed that Hawthorn was a distant relative and the box had been passed down through her family, just as in Maori tradition. It was not the most elaborately carved example but the curvilinear decoration was nicely done and each end had a handle in the form of a stylized head. Unfortunately, both of these had at some point been broken off and glued back on. The lid was also split in two and in need of expert restoration. None of this put off a London specialist dealer, one of seven telephone bidders up against a host of live internet bidders around the world participating in the sale at Toovey’s, who was pleased to secure the box at the hammer price of £8,500.

Amber: Liquid Gold

0641 - Amber Beads at Auction
A single row necklace of amber beads. Sold for £7,000

As documented in our previous blog posts on amber, the market for amber is undeniably incredibly buoyant.

Among the offering of amber beads in Toovey’s February auction was a single row necklace of nineteen large and thirty small vari-coloured oval and spherical butterscotch coloured opaque amber beads (gross weight approx 175.5g, total length approx 88cm). This necklace (illustrated right) sold under the gavel for £7,000. The prices for this fossil tree resin which starts out in a liquid form are about twice the current price for gold per gram for the right example.

The February auction included a number of other examples, a selection of which can be seen below.

Toovey’s jewellery auction on the 26th March 2014 includes another good selection of amber.

Green Light for Amber Beads at Auction!

Detail of Amber Beads sold at Tooveys
Detail of Amber Beads sold at Toovey's in January

Further to our blog post ‘Amber Beads in Fashion at Toovey’s‘ and Rupert Toovey’s article in the West Sussex Gazette ‘Prehistoric Treasure in Demand Today‘. We wanted to share some of the prices achieved for amber beads in our January auction on the 29th January. Highest price was £10,000 for a single row necklace of thirty-eight slightly graduated oval vari-coloured opaque and semi-translucent butterscotch coloured amber beads, total weight approx 255g, total length approx 110cm, length of smallest bead approx 2cm, length of largest bead approx 2.7cm.

More amber beads are consigned in our Specialist Sale of Jewellery on 26th February 2014. See lot numbers 640-664. If you would like your amber beads valued for possible inclusion into a forthcoming auction please contact our offices, pre-sale valuations are free of charge at our Spring Gardens salerooms.

Amber Beads in Fashion at Toovey’s

Detail of Amber Beads Sold Recently at Toovey's Auctions
Detail of Amber Beads Sold Recently at Toovey's Auctions

Amber is a fossil tree resin. It originates as a soft and sticky substance and, as such, sometimes includes animal and plant material or insects. Many people will remember amber as being the source of ‘Jurassic Park’ in Michael Crichton’s fictitious novel, with dinosaur DNA being extracted from the blood of a mosquito trapped in amber.

Since the neolithic period amber has been appreciated for its colour, beauty and supposed healing properties. It has always been seen as a status symbol since these prehistoric times. The transparent amber seen in the movie adaptation of Crichton’s novel is the image most people conjure into their mind when thinking of amber. Pieces containing insect inclusions were particularly prized among aesthetic Victorians. Historically, and up until quite recently, this type of amber was the most desirable.

A recent fashion change has lead to another type of amber realising astonishing prices. This amber is less translucent and almost milky in appearance. The ‘butterscotch’ coloured amber and variants of it were popular in the 1920s and have dipped in and out of fashion ever since. Today, this specific type has captured the eye of the emerging economies of China, India and the Middle East. With Toovey’s global internet marketing, these buyers are only a mouse click away. Over the last few months Toovey’s have had a good number of amber necklaces consigned to auction, many from a single private collector – a small selection is shown below. The highest price achieved to date was in Toovey’s end of year auction on the 31st December 2013. A single row necklace of forty-nine mottled yellow butterscotch coloured graduated amber beads, gross weight 278g, total length 136cm, achieved £11,000. Other examples can be seen by searching for ‘amber necklace’ in the archive on Toovey’s website. The price variations are largely attributable to the colour, number and size of the beads, as fashion reverts back to prehistoric times using amber as a symbol of status. Another group of amber bead necklaces will be offered in our specialist jewellery auction on the 29th January 2014.

Click on an image to enlarge.