META-MUSEUM: THE SILVER SHANGHAI JAZZ AGE 銀色上海爵士樂年代.

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THE SILVER SHANGHAI JAZZ AGE  銀色上海爵士樂年代.

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1920’s Shanghai was New York without the speakeasies! It was a city ready, ripe and totally made for the Jazz Age and it did it with style. Known as the “Paris of Asia,” Shanghai boasted fine restaurants – it also had casinos, greyhound and horse racing tracks, scores of nightclubs and several hundred ballrooms. Shanghai was Berlin and Paris combined with heady oriental overtones. For those who wanted it, Shanghai was decadence on steroids!

By the 1920s Shanghai had an expatriate community of 60,000 living in the designated International Settlement and the newer districts to the north of there. Most of foreigners were British but there were also sizable populations of Americans, French and Russians. Between World Wars I and II tens of thousands of European refugees fleeing Bolshevism and Nazism and equally large numbers of Chinese refugees fleeing civil strife and the Japanese invasion flooded into Shanghai.

Most of the 20,000 white Russian aristocrats that came to China after the Bolshevik Revolution in the 1920s and 30s arrived on the Trans-Siberian railroad. Many of them supported themselves with jewels they carried with them from Russia. Some managed to maintain lavish lifestyles and villas.

Living in Shanghai has often been romanticised in Western and Chinese popular culture alike. Life was particularly glamorous in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s. Whereas Canton had been traditional centre for silvermakers at the beginning of the Chinese Export Silver period, it seems natural that this stylish city would attract the makers to set up an operation there. This is the common thread that links all the silver in this article – all the makers had a Shanghai manufacturing base. The fact there was also an international community there was an cherry on the cake the makers obviously couldn’t resist. Suddenly they had a “home market” in addition to their lucrative export market.

Of all possible silver objects, it was the cocktail shaker that became an iconic symbol of the Jazz Age; a “must-have” for anyone embracing the age and the style. One would be hard-pushed to think of an object that is so best suited to the Art Deco style since not only did the shape lend itself so well. Art Deco was the age of the cocktail, not to mention decadence.

Laing Chang Cocktail Shaker

In the short time I have been writing for WorthPoint, my own web traffic on this site has doubled and I have become privy to many a spectacular find by WorthPoint readers and subscribers sharing images with me. This image sharing is invaluable to my greater research. I was planning this very article when what lands in my inbox but a UK-based WorthPoint reader who shared with me an image of a cocktail shaker she’d found in a Car Boot Sale. I am well aware that Americans don’t even have a car boot, let alone a car boot sale! I am guessing that the nearest phenomenon in America is a garage sale; imagine one of those on a baseball field sized plot, then you have a car boot sale.

Pictured left is the very item. A circa 1920 Chinese Export Silver cocktail shaker by the Shanghai silvermaker Lain Chang. It’s high quality and of heavy gauge silver and it’s typical of a Chinese export Silver shaker. What sets this apart from the fray is it was acquired at the said car boot sale for £3 [$4.60]. It’s easily worth $1000 plus!

Pictured below, we have a circa 1925 Chinese Export Silver cocktail shaker by Hung Chong who operated from 11b Nankin Road in Shanghai.

Decorated with the same dragon chasing the flaming pearl but embellished with some fine planish work, this particular piece achieved £875 [$1340] at Bonhams in London earlier this year

Hung Chong Cocktail Shaker

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shanghai, as with Hong Kong, were both free, materially minded playgrounds of the East where Deco and decadence went hand in hand. This heady combination and the affluent international set settling there in droves, this was a gift to Chinese Export Silver makers to create luxury items for both the home market and export; anything “oriental” had added value when it came to decadence and liquor.

I’ve always looked upon the very shape of the cocktail shaker as being synonymous with Deco. Compare this image [below] of the Peace Hotel on The Bund in Shanghai with the traditional Chinese with the previously mentioned Laing Chang piece.

The attraction of all things oriental in the 1920’s created a rather unique opportunity for Chinese Export Silver to shine with a unique fusion of Art Deco style.

Peace Hotel, Shanghai

 

 

Wang Hing Cocktail Shaker 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Chinese Export Silver circa 1925 cocktail shaker [above] by the prolific silversmith Wang Hing, skillfully combines a classic dragon with the equally classic motif of bamboo leaves which are this time translated into a pure Deco style.

Drinking was and still is very much part of Chinese culture. With the advent of the cocktail shaker – a purely Western invention – another fusion of cultures occurred with the inclusion of Chinese Export Silver “cocktail sets” that included what are known as tot beakers. Tot beakers were ostensibly rice wine beakers that evolved into being used in Hong Kong and Shanghai, especially in fashionable clubs, as cocktail shots.

Wang Hing Cocktail Set

Wang Hing Cocktail Shaker 2

A particularly stunning circa 1930 Chinese Export Silver cocktail shaker [left and detailing below] by our old friend Wang Hing. The superb high relief fusion of herons amidst irises against a finely planished background yet again combines traditional Chinese motifs in what is essentially a throughly modern item.

Wang Hing 2 Detailing

Lastly, a rather delicious circa 1920 Chinese Export Silver cocktail shaker [below] in the high Chinese style by Hung Chong that combines several traditional motifs.

1920s Hung Chong Cocktail Shaker

The current buoyancy of Chinese Export Silver as an antique silver category is in the main a result of the high volume of affluent Chinese “buying back” lost culture. It might seem strange to place [bordering on sacrilegious] to place cocktail shakers in the realms of culture, but the workmanship and artistry of the way Chinese Export Silver makers embraced them simply has to set them apart in a category of their own.

Where these shakers were de rigeur in Shanghai in the Jazz Age, so are the shakers that survived with the new affluent Shanghainese.

One of my many mantras is that Chinese Export Silver is an ideal vehicle to demonstrate the sign of the times in China at the time of manufacture. As such, all the silver I have shown in this article is a good thermometer to show Shanghai as it was in the Jazz Age – a vibrant, stylish, international city that didn’t shun decadence. Scott Fitzgerald would have deemed it paradise, no doubt and Gatsby would have probably moved there from Long Island!

Shaghai Flapper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My thanks to Danny Cheng in Hong Kong for his profuse translation skills and general encouragement. Images are from Adrien von Ferscht’s research archive augmented by images from Daniel Bexfield, London; AC Silver; Bonhams, London; Silverman Antiques, London

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Adrien von Ferscht’s website is the largest online information resource for Chinese Export Silver: www.chinese-export-silver.com

His Catalogue of Chinese Export Silver Makers’ Marks [1785-1940] is the largest collector’s guide for Chinese Export Silver available, with information on 155 makers and 133 pages of in-depth history. It is updated every 6-8 months and is only available as a download file. The single purchase price acquires the Catalogue plus all subsequent editions free of charge. Adrien also encourages people to share images and ask questions. The Catalogue is available at: http://chinese-export-silver.com/catalogue-of-makers-marks/

© 2013, Adrien von Ferscht. All rights reserved.

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