Saturday, May 26, 2012

Selling an Asian Art Collection on Boston's North Shore

Asian Art and the Estate Process; Hamilton, Manchester-By-The-Sea, Beverly Farms and Gloucester

The changing Asian Art market and how it might affect you could be good and maybe bad. Perhaps this might help you reach a great result.

The Task of the Estate Executor


The most difficult task facing a family member or executor when settling an estate is how to maximize the returns on the sale of personal property. Its even more difficult when facing the disposition of Antiques and fine art from China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia.

Over the last 20 years the demand for antiques and art from China, Taiwan, Thailand and Cambodia
has jumped exponentially. Despite the near collapse of the American furniture market, with the exception of ONLY the very rarest pieces,  Asian art has done the exact opposite.

Prices for authentic "mark and period" porcelain, bronzes, jade carvings and other objects from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasty's have reached nearly stratospheric levels compared to prices just a few decades ago. The 18th C.  vase that in 1985 was worth $4,500 today can command $40,000 to $100,000, a pair of white jade boxes worth $12,000 a couple decades ago today can command over $300,000.

Manchester Massachusetts collection Chinese porcelain
F. Gordon Morrill Collection, 2003 Estate Auction
Sold for $5.8 Million, Doyles NY
A few years ago in 2003 the estate of  F. Gordon Morrill of Manchester-By-The Sea, Massachusetts was being settled.  Mr. Morrill had begun collecting Chinese art back in the 1950's, he had a good eye and bought what he liked. What he liked was pretty amazing.

When he passed away the family smartly went to an advisor, who got them every dime the collection was worth. It wasn't a good lawyer or family accountant, but a specialist in Asian art.

It was an important decision then and an even more important one today. Calling a local auctioneer, getting some rates, establishing time tables isn't nearly enough any more. The reason is a bit surprising.

Up until a few years ago, placing these objects with good quality photos and accurate descriptions in advertisement, mailers and on the web for a local estate auction was all it took to reel in buyers feeding China and Asia's near insatiable appetite. Then came the fakes


The Pollution of the Asian Antiques Market Cometh

Over the last 10 years the inevitable happened, the American market became flooded with high quality fakes being produced all over Asia, (primarily) China. Much of it funded by the Chinese
Asian-Chinese Antiques, Bought-Sold-Appraised
plcombs, Asian-Chinese Antiques, Bought-Sold-Appraised
Government themselves. These pieces quickly found and continue to find their way into the American and European Auction market and then into antiques shops..The trap is set.

Soon, unwitting Chinese buyers were pouring into the USA to scoop up all of these superb fakes by the boat load, thinking they must be authentic because they are in estate auctions here in the USA. Despite what many people think, most Chinese porcelain buyers from China know less than most western buyers. This is certainly the case with the "pickers" they send here.

These buyers started buying back the very fakes sold abroad thinking they have found a gold mine in Asian art. This activity has seriously muddied waters, yes the fakes ARE just that good. The old Thermoluminescence tests, once looked upon for ancient pottery has long since been faked with X-ray machines. The new copies of more recent Imperial periods  are very hard to test with the exception of a glaze composition test, which they (the fakers) are working to overcome as well.

From what you see in the auction market today you would think they made Imperial pieces by the trailer load and shipped them into Kansas, Indiana and the deep woods of Maine. A few auction houses have been, for the last 5 to 10 years, buying them in China directly and bringing them back.

As a result proving authenticity is a real issue. Simply saying it belonged to my grandfather or my parents bought it Hong Kong in the 1950's isn't enough, it used to be, but not any more. Having an advisor with a history in the market will go a long way to helping, its the trust issue.
rare Chinese bowl Ru ware collection Boston
Song (960-1127) Ru Ware saucer 2012,
27 Million Dollars US

How a collection is brought into the market with a complete as possibly provenance is as crucial as the pieces themselves.

This past spring just such a piece Song Dynasty Ru Ware saucer sold and for a record $27,000,000 (yes million). It had a perfect history, unbroken chain of ownership and exhibition history..Ohh yes and the last known complete example in private hands. Without this history, finding confident buyers at this price level would be near impossible.

Who you pick to settle an estate with good quality Asian art in it may be the most important decision financially you ever make. Not all auctioneers are created equally and raw size is often irrelevant. Having a smart professional help you, like all things is the smart way to do it. You'll sleep better, you'll get more in the long run and have many fewer headaches. 

If you find yourself in this dilemma or have any questions, 
Call or email me at 978-283-3524 or plcombs@plcombs.com for a free consultation.