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A broken vase from old Cathay

Dear Sir:

I am, by no means, an antique collector of Chinese art, but back in the late 1960s I acquired what was supposed to be a very old vase from Old China.

When all the trouble started in Hong Kong, a very wealthy owner of a construction company moved his headquarters to the island of Okinawa, where I made the acquisition.

I was in the military at the time and this gentleman purchased a house next to me. When his shipment of personnel belongings arrived in Okinawa, he asked me and a couple of buddies to help him unload a big metal "connex" box loaded with his belongings. We were appalled at the many "priceless", as he called them, works of art from China.

Along with a couple of very large jewelery boxes stuffed with exquisite jewelry, a large six paneled jade screen with mother-of pearl inlays of Chinese scenery, a very heavy gold weaved blanket, and many other beautiful pieces of art, he also had six boxes of Chinese vases.

There were two bigger boxes, which contained two vases about three feet tall, two medium sized boxes, which contained two vases about two feet tall, and then two smaller boxes, which contained two vases about a foot tall. Upon opening the last of the two smaller boxes, we discovered that it had been hit directly in the side and had shattered into many pieces.

This was my first experience at actually seeing a grown man cry honest tears of sadness. I mean that literally....he cried real "drip down the cheek" tears. He instructed me to throw the whole box away and he never wanted to see it again.

I did as he requested, but later on that afternoon I got the broken vase, box and all, from the dumpster. I spent several hours epoxy glueing the parts back together and for being a total novice at this sort of thing, I thought a did a dang good job. All but one tiny white piece of porcelain with no painting on it, the vase was completely put back together.

My wife and I decided to surprise him at Christmas and give it to him. If you turned the vase a certain way, one could barely tell it had been busted. He told my wife and I that he really appreciated our thought, but that he had sold the other small vase to an art dealer friend of his for $25,000, so I was the proud owner of a very old broken vase from Old Cathe China.

I hope I am not boring you too much with the history of this vase, which I still possess. It is still intact, which I quess tells me that epoxy glue was of pretty good quality back in the 60s!

I showed my vase to an old Chinese couple who live in our community and they were amazed that I even had it because, as they said, it was against the law to bring artifacts out of Old China across the border into New China after a certain date.

I would like to describe it to you so that you might confirm its authenticity. I do realize that, as you said, the only sure way to tell is "hands-on" examination.

The scene depicted on the vase is of an old Chinese matriarch watching her son, or son-in-law leave on his "manhood" trip. The old matriarch, her daughter or daughter-in-law(the bride), and her son or son-in-law are each accompanied by what the old Chinese couple called handmaidens or in the case of the groom mounted on a horse, his man-servant. The bride,as would be expected, has a very sad expression on her face. The old matriarch watches from underneath a pagoda.

The colors and artwork are still very vivid and the Chinese friends of mine tell me it is hand painted and preserved by an old method of protective coating done on most all old Chinese porcelain.

The marks on the bottom of the vase contain six marks, but they are arranged in three columns of two instead of two columns of three as your symbol charts indicate. They are not bordered. The six marks match the six marks listed under Kangxi 1662-1722 chart, except, as I said, the marks are arranged from top right 1&2, middle column 3&4, and left column 5&6.

I would like your expert opinion as to whether or not what I have been told about this vase bears any truth. I do have many pieces of antique furniture and other antique articles, but this is the only piece of supposed Chinese art which I own. From reading your article, I do realize you are very busy, but if you can find the time to send a reply I would greatly apprerciate it!

A Kangxi period piece, or a good copy

Your story is most interesting.

What I can read out from your information about the vase, it is either a Kangxi period piece, which is quite possibly, or a 19th century copy, which is equally possibly.

During most of the Chinese history the real connoisseurs who could tell a genuine piece from a copy have been relatively few.

During the period before and under the "cultural revolution" huge amounts of personal treasures was destroyed, sold or hidden away. Among this some was real antiques, some was not.

If you search my site for "Kangxi" you will probably find several examples on later versions of the mark you describes.

The only way for me to help more would be if you found an opportunity to send me a picture of the vase and the mark.

Jan-Erik Nilsson