Welcome to November and a UK Asian auction virtually every day!

opinion hl

Well, it’s November again and the great annual Asian art fest which launches itself against the background of Asian Art in London. Lectures, openings, book launches and world class exhibitions gather under the direct aegis of AAL. There is, however, an array of events which are rather more loosely associated but which are of massive interest to some collectors, and an awful lot of dealers.

There will be more Asian art auctions this month than in any other month of the year. We have listed no less than 29 on our Asian Auctions Nationwide page on this site. We have maybe missed a couple (just a few auctioneers inexplicably treat the details of their auctions as some sort of dark secret!), but it is clear that over the next 30 days there is virtually an auction of Asian Art in some part of the UK every day. Some days are rather busier than others.

On November 9 the London heavyweights Christie’s and Sotheby’s compete for bidders whilst Gorringes in Lewes and Halls in Shrewsbury have sales further ‘out of town’. The following days Bonhams in London fight it out with Ewbanks and Thomson Roddick, north of the Border. A really difficult day for the avowed enthusiast is November 15 with a Bonhams sale in London; Dreweatts & Bloomsbury at Castle Donnington and day one of Wolley & Wallis’s usual epic 2-day sale in Salisbury (really interesting things in all three sales).

How does a serious enthusuiast keep on top of such a plethora of offerings? Last May, we did a week of sales: Chiswick Auctions on the Monday; Dreweatts & Bloomsbury on the Tuesday; Woolley & Wallis on the Wednesday; and Dukes of Dorchester on the Friday. It was fun, but it was exhausting . . .  and expensive. Six days on the road with a thirsty 4WD diesel knocked up well over 1200 miles and six nights in hotels plus meals brought a total cost, without too much extravagance (well, just a little), of something under £2,000. We did completely fill a Chelsea tractor to the roof with all the seats down but it took a couple of days to recover.

This November we are doing it differently. We have increasingly, this year, bid online. I used to say I would never buy anything I had not handled but, in those days, we were buying porcelain in a market replete with dubious items. However, these days we are buying differently: furniture and decorative items feature higher on our priorities and condition reports from auctioneers are usually very reliable; similarly, they are usually happy to send excellent pictures.

So, this November, as an experiment, we shall stay in our gallery, and newly acquired 4,500 sq ft warehouse, and bid online. We shall be able to cover two or three auctions a day and home in on what we really want. Online buying tends to focus your mind with set budgets, rarely exceeded in the absence of the excitement of the rooms! I also have a sneaking suspicion that often we get things more cheaply when we are not in the rooms . . .

Of course, there is the cost of getting these highly anticipated objects back. But as we have saved a couple of thousand on tripping around the country there is a budget there. Those auctioneers who offer their own packing service are favoured by us (honourable mentions to two highly efficient and reliable firms in the form of Hannams and Eastbourne Auctions) as the ubiquitous Mailboxes, Etc can be pricey, dependent on the branch.

Of course, there are sometimes disappointments when these new treasures arrive not quite as they were fondly imagined. What do we do with them? Pack them up again and send them off to auction, of course. And, we do have a new warehouse to fill . . .








Some interesting lots feature in Dreweatts 2-day sale

Over the next ten days, with the Asian sale season not yet upon us, four English auction houses have some very mixed sales with Chinese lots cropping up randomly. As we have a penchant here for the curious and the unusual, these general sales (often termed ‘Interiors’) seem to turn up intriguing items which have somehow not made it into the specialist Asian sales. For the buyer, that can be good news as occasionally it cuts down on the competition! H0442-L88863219 Lot 238 at Dreweatts Four large Chinese porcelain figures of Lenin, Stalin and Mao (43-67cm. high) probably dating from the late 1950s or the 1960s. Estimate £4-600. We wrote a couple of days ago about Duke’s upcoming sale on February 18 and 19 (http://chineseart.co.uk/auctions/some-interesting-lots-seen-at-viewing-of-dukes-sale/). Also Gorringes in Sussex (www.gorringes.co.uk) have an Interiors Sale on February 23 with many Chinese lots, and Dreweatts at Donnington Priory have an Interiors Sale on February 23 and 24 which boasts over 100 Chinese lots on the 23rd. On the 24th, they are selling the contents of Cherkley Court, the former home of newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook. Cherkley is a late Victorian mansion near Leatherhead in Surrey, bult in 1893 in the French chateau-style. It was bought by Lord Beaverbrook in 1911 and was filled with antiques and miscellanea. There are a few Chinese items and several lots feature ‘lamped’ vases and stands. One of these seems interesting to us. Lot 319 is a very large Chinese yellow ground baluster vase, probably early 20th century. Standing at nearly 54cm. high, the honeycomb ground encloses flower heads reserved with panels of Taotie masks and Buddhistic lion masks, the shoulders decorated with wufu and shou medallions. It is an imposing piece and is estimated at £600-900. Cheap, if it falls within that price range. 319 Lot 319 at Dreweatts  Large and imposing lamped vase.

We have just been made aware that Hannam’s (Selborne, Hampshire) also have a Fine Antiques & Collectables sale on February 18/19 which features a large number of Chinese items (www.hannamsauctioneers.com).

Are UK owners of ivory in panic mode?

There are no statistics available so this might just be a guess on our part . . . but it does seem to us, at chineseart.co.uk, that there is an awful lot of Chinese worked ivory coming onto the market in the last few months. Indeed, there seems to be a plethora of beautifully worked pieces around at the moment. Are owners disposing of their collections in fear of the present Conservative government fulfilling its rash and ill thought out election pledge to ban the sale of ivory?

The many recent Asian and Chinese auctions have featured a considerable amount of ivory – certainly, rather more than usual. Some auctioneers, however, are abjuring ivory and not accepting it for sale at all. Chiswick Auctions went down that road after their prosecution and £3,200 fine in 2014 for selling a piece of worked ivory which turned out to date from the 1960s. In a recent Antiques Trade Gazette article on Asian Art in London, Lyon & Turnbull’s Lee Young went on record as stating his company would only accept some of the very best pieces and was drawing away from the area.

Effectively, if auctioneers stop selling historic ivory pieces they will simply pave the way for government legislation allowing the politicians to say, “Well, the market has decided not to sell the stuff so all we are doing is formalising it.”

Although there is a welcome academic initiative from the School of Law at Portsmouth University, which has just embarked on a year-long study of the possible outcome of a ban, it may well not have a direct impact on law making apart from spurring more unwelcome attention..

Our position here has always been that we think the existing CITES regulations are perfectly adequate as a basis for dealing in historic, worked ivory; and that any ban on trading such items would be unfair in the extreme on reputable dealers, collectors and those who have unwittingly inherited items of beauty and history which happen to be made of a material now ruthlessly condemned by the politically correct. As much as we deplore the killing of endangered elephants for modern use of ivory, it is not possible to turn back the clock. Historic pieces of worked ivory, many of them exquisitely accomplished centuries ago are a part of our heritage and should remain so. Any ban will, of course, drive the market underground, closing down availability and pushing up prices. So maybe now is actually the time to invest . . .

Illustrated below is one very fine piece which will be exposed for sale in Hannam’s next auction on December 11.

hannams lot 612

hannams lot 612 detailhannams lot 612 detail end

Lot 612 A Canton carved ivory tusk. Most probably 19th century, if not earlier, and particularly well carved.


Now there are 25 Asian Art auctions in the UK during November . . .

Further to our recent story highlighting the extraordinary number of Asian Art and Antiques Auctions taking place all over the UK during the month of November 2015, we have now identified a further five which takes up the grand total for the month to twenty-five!

Recent additions to our list include Capes Dunn in Manchester, Tom Keane’s The Swan at Tetwirth and Hannams in Selborne, who have a session with 400 lots. That makes almost one auction a day and, indeed, there are many days when there are two or three, often scattered over a wide area. The only solace for the hard pressed serious dealer or collector must surely be that some goodies are bound to fall through the net with such a plethora of offerings!