META-MUSEUM: THE TALE OF A CHINESE EXPORT SILVER HIDDEN GEM 中國出口銀隱藏寶石的那些事兒

 THE TALE OF A CHINESE EXPORT SILVER HIDDEN GEM

                                                                                       中國出口銀隱藏寶石的那些事兒

Being a regular contributor to Worthpoint has its benefits – for me that is! One of the my main sources of tangent research often comes from people sharing images of items with me. This has so often led to my discovering hitherto unknown silversmiths operating in China in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The flow of image-sharing has actually increased considerably since I began writing for Worthpoint, making it not only an incredibly good information source, but the contraflow in my direction helps my ongoing research no end.

A New York based Worthpoint reader contacted me with images of a silver snuff box. I was instantly excited when I saw the images; I knew this was going to be a gem in the making!

Kwan Quan Snuff

When I first saw the box, it screamed “Georgian” to me in almost every way other than the obvious decorative motifs employed. The silver colour the hinge mechanism and the general feel of the box is pure late 18th century.

Kwan Quan Image 2

Here [above] we can see the decoration of the lid and the base, while below we can see the maker’s mark which has been placed inside the box.

Kwam Quan makers mark

Kwan Quan snuff side view

Above, we see the detailing of the side decoration of this superb box.

The maker’s mark reads “Quan Quan” [全泉 ]; a maker that hitherto was unknown to me. The general style of the box gives a clue. There are obvious Western Georgian influences, yet the box has obviously been made in China. Canton seemed the natural assumption, it being the port in the late 18th century where foreign trading posts were operating in conjunction with the Canton Cohongs – a period we now know as The China Trade. After some degree of research, I was able to establish that Quan Quan operated a small workshop in Canton circa 1790-1835, making him one of the earliest recorded Chinese Export Silver makers using a maker’s mark!

Given the whole nature of Canton at this period, I would hazard a guess this piece was commissioned by either one of the Massachusetts Bay merchants operating in Canton at the time. The box, I feel, has a more American Georgian feel to it than English or Scottish. The presence of Chinese-style motifs indicates the box is for someone who was used to or had a close relationship with China and its culture.

This snuff box is therefore a very rare piece of museum quality. Worthpoint was the catalyst that brought it to light.

Back in 2011, a Chinese Export Silver snuff box [below] achieved a stupendous hammer price of $8740 at Christie’s, South Kensington in London.

Canton Christies Snuff

Unlike the Quan Quan snuff box, this box was unmarked but it contains and engraved inscription that dates it at 1818 and mentions Canton. The box weighs a mere 93gm, making this box worth, in silver weight terms, almost $94 a gram!

Chinese Export Silver snuff boxes are generally of high quality. This is probably due to the fact that many of them were commissioned by the foreign sea merchants operating in Canton, making them more personal objects to treasure and use, rather than speculative items to sell in the West.

TKC snuff

Here [above] we have a Chinese Export Silver snuff box made by a Hong Kong maker known only as T.K.C. It is rare to find items from this maker and this box, superbly decorated in the high Chinese style was sold in London for $2000. The box weighs 75gm.

Lee Ching snuff

The Chinese Export Silver snuff box [above] is also in the high Chinese style, using  figures standing within a foliate motif on the lid and scrolling peony and foliage motif around the edge of the box. It was made by Lee Ching, a Chinese Export Silver maker who operated in Canton, Shanghai and Hong Kong. My research has shown the maker’s true name was actually Ching Li. He operated between 1840-1880. The box was sold at a prominent London dealer.

Bonhams snuff

 While this Chinese Export Silver snuff box [above] was sold at Bonhams, London for $1000 this year. The box is unmarked

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This article was written for WorthPoint and can be seen on this link: 

http://www.worthpoint.com/blog-entry/tale-hidden-chinese-export-silver-gem

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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/

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 Acknowledgments to Danny Cheng in Hong Kong for his translation skills

To Rob Atkinson for images

To Daniel Bexfield, London and Michael Backman, London

Bonhams, London and Christie’s South Kensington, London

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