I examined some of the pieces you have for sale from your private collection. Among these is a small Neolithic pot.
How common are pieces from this period? I am curious. In the United States it is still possible to find American Indian artifacts (e.g., arrowheads and pots) in the soil of some states.
They are ancient, but do not command an extremely high price. What distinguishes a desirable Neolithic or Han piece from a run-of-the-mill one?
Neolithic and for that matter all kinds of pre-Ming pottery have been quite common in some "burst" of finds being put on the market. A few years ago seemingly huge amounts of early pottery was sold at Christie's South Kensington in London, and some loads seems now to be reaching the market coming from Hong Kong.
The causes are unclear but the Chinese government is either in on it, or they will clamp down on it eventually, at least to raise the prices. This might seem cynical but is anyway what to be expected based on experience.
The prices on Neolithic and later pottery - let us say pre-Ming are low when buying "at the source" so to speak. The problem being authentication and quality.
For some reason, the genuine pieces are mixed at some proportion with fakes. At another proportion with semi- or heavily restored pieces. The prices asked by the final antiques trade - and paid by the collector who can pick and chose - are therefore another than those when buying from the first hand.
Regarding what distinguishes a desirable Neolithic or Han piece from a run-of-the-mill one are as I see it its rarity, its artistic appeal, the quality in potting and decoration and lack of restorations. Authenticity should maybe also be considered.
Finally there should also be considered if the trade is really ruining a cultural heritage by plundering? As far as I have been able to find out, this is normally not the case. This, actually to avoid taking part in it. But, industrial, roadbuilding and other projects are going on all over China right now. Formerly holy sites are being torn up in tens of thousands of places. If the pot pickers arrive a few hours before the bulldozers I can't feel other than that this is something we should be grateful for, and that collectors of these modest pots are preserving a cultural heritage rather than dispersing it. Some further information and some links could be found in my article on the Three Gorges project.
Opinions, information and link suggestions are most welcome.
I read with great interests your message regarding how rare the Neolithic pots are.
I travel to China about twenty times a year, and can tell that these are not easily to be found even in the bigger cities. Nor are they easily found in Singapore or in Malaysia either, although I must admit I do not know these places as well as I know China.
There are quite a lot of Neolithic pots - comparatively speaking - in Hong Kong now, and for the past eight years or so but in the 1980s, they were rare in HK too, and the prices would be at least 10 times as high in the shops as they are now
Ten more years before that - in the 1970's - the Neolithic pieces were not to be seen in Hong Kong at all. I was told that a smuggler caught then in China with two pieces or more would have a good chance looking straight at a firing squad.
If one have an interest in Neolithic pieces, may I suggest it is a good time to collect now.
What distinguishes a desirable Neolithic or Han piece leads perhaps to the bigger question that many of us asks, every time a piece of antique porcelain is placed in front of our eyes. How should we apprehend it? Please allow me to suggest a few directions:
- Purely from an aesthetic point of view as the artwork itself, is it artistic enough? How good is the shape, the glaze, the paste, the decoration, and the sound of it when tapped, the feel of its weight, its balance, its style. I feel a combination of these elements will lead to a judgement of the standard of the piece.
- From the Potter's view - What message does the potter conceal in his piece? What was in his mind, expressed through his design, and perhaps through the process of making it? How well and how far has he achieved this? What good example I can give here? Perhaps a popular Yuan design of a pair of Mandarin ducks swimming towards each other - The desire of love and freedom, at this time since long suppressed in China.
- As a political and cultural statement of the time when the piece was made. A collector might also want to consider if the piece is representative for its period. A Tang piece would certainly show the glamorous and mighty power of the era, a Sung piece would sing out her restrained and elegant tune. The reflections of the religion, the philosophy, the political influences can be seen in most of the Ming and Qing pieces especially the official porcelains.
I think it helps if we look at an antique porcelain or pottery piece with one or more of the above directions in mind. There are certainly more ways, but this is as least a beginning.
Thank you all for your comments so far, the complex subject indeed merits it to be dealt with at some length.