Published: April 30, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy of Tremont Auctions
SUDBURY, MASS. – Tremont’s first sale in its new facility on April 14 was devoted to Asian arts and antiques. Jim Callahan, well-known expert on Asian material, assembled the sale, as he has done numerous times before, with assistance from Brett Downer, company president. Callahan, vice president of the company, has a good reputation in the trade and is well known to the millions of viewers of the Antiques Roadshow. The salesroom was full at the start of the sale, numerous absentee bids had been left, several phone lines were in use and internet bidding was available. Each produced successful bidders. The new facility is on the Boston Post Road in Sudbury, an upscale suburb of Boston, and before the sale, Callahan said several of the local residents had stopped in for a look.
It is notoriously difficult to accurately predict prices for Asian items and the level of market interest. This sale demonstrated that difficulty. The ten highest priced items in the sale grossed $102,000 (hammer price), or $121,380 with premium. The combined high estimate for these items totaled $43,900. Obviously, buyers know what they want, and much of the material was bought by bidders in Asia. The sale grossed about $475,000, with many items selling well over estimates.
Five of the top ten items, all from the same consignor, including the highest priced item in the sale, were jade. That highest priced item, selling for $30,940, was cataloged as a “Nineteenth Century pale celadon jade scepter, 15½ inches long. The ju-i carving represented a fish and raptor.” The ju-i style of carving in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries was symbolic of good wishes to the Chinese. Three other pieces of jade finishing in the top ten included a Nineteenth Century 8-inch-long ritual jade. It was a yellow and white stone with russet markings, pi kuei type and carved with chih lung and ling chih. It sold for $10,710. A Ming period (1368-1644) peach-shaped bowl, celadon jade, heavily carved with foliage and immortals, 5¼ by 4½ by 2½ inches, finished at $8,330, and a Nineteenth Century grey and russet stone carved as ling chih, 2¼ inches long, brought a little bit more, ending up at $8,925. A Ming dynasty bombe-form bronze censer with gold-splashed decoration was expected to do well and it did. It had a huan te mark on the base and realized $11,305. Included was a well-carved Nineteenth Century carved cover.
Two items tied for second place, each selling for $14,280, and they could not have been more different. A colorful watercolor of an elephant family in the jungle, circa 2000, by well-regarded Maqbool Fida (M.F.) Husain (1915-2011) of India was one of the two items. An exhibition of his works at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London was titled “M.F. Husain – Master of Modern Indian Painting.” Selling for the same price was a pair of Republic period (1912-1949) round jars decorated in the “Hundred Boys” pattern. Another early Republic period porcelain vase, 13½ inches tall, also did well. It had molded decoration of a branch of peaches, shou medallions, tasseled cash coins along with fan tsai reserves of scholars, women and children, all on a gilt ground. It had an earlier chien lung mark and brought $5,950. Many of the fine quality porcelain items came from a collection assembled in the 1970s by a collector who had bought many of his items from Gustave J.S. White Auctioneers in Newport, R.I.
Nineteenth Century Chinese furniture often slips by, but at this sale, buyers competed for the material. A Nineteenth Century rosewood pedestal desk with seven drawers and carved lotus scrolling earned $5,950. It had been estimated at $400/600. A three-piece hardwood set, two chairs and a tall stand, each with marble panels inset, estimated at $300/500, sold for $1,428, and a pair of rosewood side chairs earned $1,190.
Quality porcelains, regardless of age, did well, usually exceeding estimates. A Ming period wine jar with a silver mounted rim, decorated with underglaze dragons, pearls and clouds, reached $7,735. A large porcelain plate cataloged as “Wan Li mark (1573-1619) and probably of the period. Wu Tsai ware with decoration of children playing and dragon and phoenix borders. Underglaze blue with red, green and yellow enamels, 19¾ inches diameter” brought $4,284. In addition to the Republic period pair of jars mentioned above, other Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century porcelains drew stiff competition. A Nineteenth Century celadon ground porcelain vase with relief bamboo carved sides and elephant head handles achieved $3,808. It’s interesting when thinking about these early dates and prices to note that porcelain was not manufactured in the west (Meissen) until the early Eighteenth Century, at least 100 years after these pieces were made.
Josh Chamberlain, Chamberlain Antiques, Amherst, N.H., specializes in Asian antiques and was an active buyer at this sale. A few days later, he said, “It was good stuff. I really thought prices were higher than I had expected they would be. Good for Jim and Brett – not so good for me. Many of the new buyers who entered the market in 2010 and 2011 have dropped out. That means the active buyers today are more discriminating in what they want and they’re very competitive for the better pieces. As with any specialty today, quality is recognized and sought-after. And the Chinese market is changing. The Chinese government is rigidly enforcing import duties. This means that in addition to the price paid for an item in the United States, a Chinese buyer may also have to pay import duties. The government may also restrict the amount of money that Chinese citizens can spend overseas. These regulations affect prices, especially at the high end.”
A few days after the sale, Downer said that they were pleasantly surprised by some of the prices. “Jim and I knew the jade pieces were good, but we didn’t expect those prices, especially for the scepter that sold for $30,000. The four best jade pieces were bought by a phone bidder. Several of the pieces will be going back to China, as knowledgeable collectors there continue to restore items to their country of origin. That’s good. Other categories that did well were some of the early porcelains, and the Republic period pieces continue to do well.” Asked about the strong prices for Chinese furniture, Downer said that was also surprising. “The rosewood desk that brought over $5,000 was unexpected, and several other pieces also did well. We were glad to see that. Overall, it was a good sale. We passed less than 10 percent of the lots and those tended to be lower end things.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.tremontauctions.com or 617-795-1678.
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