Chinese art as the road to instant riches

opinion It’s happened again. A lucky lady from  got up with the lark some time last year and went to her local car boot sale in Hindhead in Surrey.. Having splashed out all of £2 she returned home clutching a colourful, tiny  (4in. wide) metal object which had rather taken her fancy. Said object is illustrated below.

Well, it’s the same old story. Fired no doubt by The Antiques Road Show, Flog It and Treasures in the Attic, she trolled down the road to John Nicholson’s auctioner.  Nicholson’s were doubtless enthused when they came to the view that the Qianlong mark to the base was of period and that the small cloisonne censer was probaby worth £5,000-8,000. It was a great day for both parties last December 16 when the £2 censer transformed itself magically into a £22,000 treasure trove.


It was, of course, great for vendor, auctioneer and the press. Newspapers and TV love overnight rags to riches stories; tales of effortlessly achieving a small fortune. The £50m. vase discovered under the sink, the porcelain panels under the bed in a seaside bungalow: these make great copy in a rich blend with the mysteries of the Orient.

The immediate after effect, we can reliably report, is to spark hope in the breasts of owners of bijouterie nationwide. Such reports spark energetic scourings of attics, guest bedroom mantlepieces and garages and garden sheds. Within days, a marked increase in emails arrive in our inbox and little old ladies totter into our gallery with chipped, sometimes completely broken, Cantonese vases. Alas, we have always had to disappoint the owners and out of many hundreds of objects not a single one has proved to be worth more than fifty quid.

On The Antiques Road Show only last Sunday, a man who was told that a treasured family heirloom was worth only £500 visibly crumpled in front of the camera. It was apparent that dreams of riches had been brutally snatched away from him. The British public have been led to believe that if it’s Chinese, it’s worth a bomb. Unfortunately, the general level of knowledge of things Chinese is superficial, to put it rather mildly. There are an awful lot of damp squibs out there . . .