My Chinese Brush Pot

Posted on December 5, 2011


My Grandmother purchased the above item during a trip to China ca 1910.  That and other “souvenirs” of the trip to India, China and Japan she made as a young girl were kept in a curio cabinet at my paternal Grandfather’s home.  She died the year before I was born so everything to do with her was of interest to me but none more than this collection.  It was a “study” collection – objects that traced the different media used by the artists of the countries she visited – bamboo, nuts, roots, ivory, jade, etc.  Because of my interest, my parents saw that the collection came to me as a young girl.  I studied art history and of course the arts of Asia.

But as an older woman with shakey hands, I was concerned with the care of these pieces. I had no idea of their true value but I knew they deserved to be with people who collected or preserved such things.  I also needed money to keep my house in this economy so on the advice of a friend in the antique’s business, I shipped all of the objects off to Skinner’s in Boston.  They are known for their auctions of Asian Art.

The brush pot was the one item with which I did not want to part.  I kept it well oiled so that the bamboo would not crack (it had two slight cracks) and it developed a beautiful patina. I loved it and appreciated the art of the carver.  It and all of the other objects had the original paper “price tags” on their bottom surfaces.  That and expertise told the auction  house these were  not copies but the original objects.

The day of the sale, I casually went to the Skinner website and checked results.  When I came to the brush pot, I was sure there had been a mistake: $539,500 [that is what the bidder paid; that is not what I cleared after the auction house fee, Uncle Sam and my state took their cuts].  The pot was sold to an agent for a  Chinese buyer and was on an invoice with other items.  It was the major item on that invoice.

Five months passed and full payment had not been made but just enough that it looked as if the buyer were sincere in wanting to complete the deal.  But many Chinese drag out payments and at the end of the day, try to renegotiate the price thus undercutting the auction system.  I prayed it was not the case here.  The CFO at Skinner’s is a very fine gentleman and he, his attorney and I were determined to stand firm on price or the deal would not go through.   The CFO handled the negotiations brilliantly with the end result that it turned the tide in our favor and convinced the buyer to release the balance of the payment sooner rather than later.  In fairness to the buyer,  I must also add that the Chinese government banks watch large transactions carefully and often hold them up until they are satisfied that nothing untoward is afoot.

A very large part of me hoped that the brush pot might come back to me and I would not have to lose it after all.  I also don’t like the Chinese idea that all Chinese art belongs in China.  Never again will an object this old ( 18th century) be allowed to leave the country.  In fairness many countries practice this policy to protect their heritage.  But in the end common sense told me that I did not want anything that valuable in my house (I would have a target on my door) and that I might have to lose my home if it were not paid for.  But the beauty of art is that it suspends common sense at times and gives flight to the imagination.  I still see that brush pot there.

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Posted in: ARTS, ASIA