Updated: May 23, 2020
Whether it’s an estate auction or eBay, it’s always exciting to ‘win’ in an auction bidding frenzy. And for the sellers, the hope is that interest in the collectible item is strong. Both as an appraiser and as an auctioneer with nearly 20 years’ experience, I’ve seen the ups and downs of what buying and selling at auction truly reveals: the fair market value. The thrill of a record-breaking auction can influence demand for a particular artist, a style of jewelry, pop-culture ephemera and more, and for years to come. Likewise, soft prices realized for a particular genre of art, a china set, Hummel figurines and more, indicate declining demand, in many cases based on cyclical trends and the tastes of a younger generation of collectors.
So now that, that’s all out of the way. What’s hot right now? Or, as I call “a lottery ticket?” The Chinese Antique Market! It’s been strong now for a few years and continues to be a hidden gold mine for found treasures. Local estate sales, area thrift stores and garage sales have all unearthed some amazing, fresh to the market treasures as of late.
A well-carved, decorated blanket chest recently sold at an Arizona auction house for $10,000. Sold as part of a Scottsdale resident’s estate sale, this treasure from the Orient silenced the crowd as online bidders from Asia began to battle live online during a webcast auction. The chest turned out to be made of finely carved and highly prized Zitan wood. Zitan is an extremely dense wood which sinks in water. It is a member of the rosewood family and the box dated to the Middle Qing Dynasty period. The bidding began at $50 and ended up eclipsing the estate's wildest dreams. What was even more unreal was that the owners told our staff that their father purchased the chest at a local thrift store for $50 just five years ago.
There was a small Buddha statue found at an Arizona Goodwill by a local collector for $10. Offered at auction a few years later, it unleashed a bidding frenzy with international interest. Estimated at fetch a few hundred by the Auction House, in the end, it sold for $96,000. And the list goes on.
This is a trend we continue to see in the Chinese antique market. As China’s burgeoning economy blossoms and its new affluent "middle class" begins to collect history, the world is the new market and Asian collectors are proving to be serious shoppers. Prices on all things oriental have been skyrocketing. It's a trend we have seen for the past three years and it shows no signs of slowing down.
For many Chinese collectors, it’s a matter of reclaiming valuable items that were taken from them. During the Cultural Revolution in China, the mere possession of many of these items became outlawed. Often confiscated, these treasures and antiquities made their way to the Unites States though trade and importation. Every record we see as of late seems to be in this genre.
With each passing year, China becomes more open. Collectors want jade, bronze works, cloisonné, cinnabar, furnishings, and fine decor. Ivory has been the only trend we have seen reversed. As the laws tighten to restrict illegal trade in modern reproductions, it frightens purchasers of even the most antique of items. The uncertainty makes the ivory market volatile, which is completely understood when investing or collecting. But on the upside, if I were to be hunting the estate and yard sale markets today, I would be buying all things oriental. That's where today's lottery ticket money is best spent!
I would just like to close with his. Even with many saying our next global recession is here, I truly believe this market will be unphased. I believe this for many reasons and offer, that if true, there will just be more opportunity to find these hidden treasures. As people sell or are forced to sell family heirlooms here in the US, the desire to purchase, or the “demand” for these Chinese antiques will still be there, from abroad. We don’t have to look to far back in time to prove my point.