SamHenry Caught Up in Red Hot Asian Art Antiquities Market

Posted on January 6, 2011


SamHenry has been living in a wonderful little house restored with care but alas, at too great a cost.  The enterprise was the beginning of the end for Sam’s financial viability since job loss also  happened at this time.  The possibility of losing the house was and is very real.  Sam being on in years so-to-speak, it was not a good time to be in such a spot.  Sam looked at the objects in the house that might be sold.  A consultation with a friend who was an antique dealer and appraiser broke the sad news:  Nothing of value in the house but the inherited Asian art and artifacts collection.

Go back 4.5 decades and after a Sunday dinner at grandfather’s house, you could find Sam either playing the grand piano for the family or standing in front of an old curio cabinet talking about its contents.  Enshrined was a collection of objects grandmother has brought back from India, China and Japan at the turn of the penultimate century.  It was typical fare for an American or European tourist of the time: ivory, jade, bamboo, fruit pit and root carvings. Sam listened intently as grandfather related stories and facts abut some of the objects such as the little peach pit carvings of two Chinese junks.

At grandfather’s death, Sam pleaded for the items in the curio cabinet to come live with the family. Father gave in.  When father died, mother gave Sam the collection in deference to the Sam’s love for it and because Sam was the reason it came to the family.

When Sam became an undergraduate art history major, it was exciting to take a course in Asian art not only to better appreciate grandmother’s collection but to be able to talk with a cousin who had made his life’s work Asian art.

Fast forward to December, 2010.  A local antique dealer told SamHenry that Skinner’s auction house in Boston was a hub of Asian Art Auctions  these days focused on Chinese art and antiquities.  Sam fired off a letter with pictures.  Within days, a phone call from the auction house by a curator found Sam the recipient of high praise for the objects in the pictures and enthusiasm to have them shipped to Boston for auction.

Sam packed them off carefully with great sadness.  But the goal to keep the house had to remain paramount.  Sam didn’t want valuable things to to remain in the house since age made one a “target” for robberies if one were frail with valuable objects.  Renting rooms in the house to college students is not the best enterprise to enter into when one has a fine collection of Asian antiquities.

The hottest of the hot Chinese art and artifacts are pieces from the last Chinese Dynasty and older (Dynasty ended in 1911).  During China’s cultural revolution in the 1970s, many fine examples of art, architecture and antiquities were destroyed.  Essentially, the Chinese are coming to our shores to buy back their culture.  These days it is against the law to remove anything from China that dates 1911 or before. Sam’s collection would not be here if grandmother had tried to purchase it today.

While out on errands today, Sam received a phone call from one James Callahan at Skinner’s.  He said the collection would bring a price that “would be very pleasing” – that a contract to sell it all was on its way.    Stars exploded in Sam’s head. Researching prices on the web, Sam went to Youtube to see if there were any videos on the current hot market for Chinese antiquities and art.  Sam weas shocked at one of the viewed items.  It was of  that familiar James Callahan, the Skinners and a regular appraiser on Antiques Road Show. Callahan had  appraised the most valuable objecst they had had in the show’s history – Chinese jade.  Watch:

Sam is very hopeful.  Sam can’t wait to call Callahan later this morning to see what the final figure will be. Skinner schedules major auctions of Chinese art artifacts twice yearly.   Following the June, 2011 auction, Sam hopes to be able to put up a sign”Saved, one happy little home and its precious contents, Imp, Whitney and SamHenry.

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