Rare and exquisitely crafted examples of Chinese Export Silverware set to dazzle in the upcoming auction of Silver & Plated Ware in June.
The Silver & Plated Ware auction will begin at 10am on Monday 17th June. You can view the full catalougue here.
Chinese Export Silver has a rather curious history, occupying a unique place in the world of silverware. It is a sort of liminal antique; its form dictated by Western needs and tastes but with a craftsmanship and design that is unmistakably Chinese. Handcrafted with great care and skill for the Western aristocracy, Chinese Export Silver is often of exceptional quality and exquisite detail.
The upcoming auction of Silver & Plated Ware on Monday 17th June, features a stunning example of Chinese Export Silverware as lot 328. A beautifully crafted, three piece tea service with ornate scenes of birds, amongst bamboo and realistically modeled bamboo handles, spout and finial. The set is topped off with a bamboo engraved sugar tong and is marked CHONGWOO HONGKONG 90, alongside a Chinese character mark (such ‘fusion markings’ are typical of the period).
The bulk of expert pieces were made between 1785 and 1910, with early pieces created as exact copies of English-style cutlery and tea sets of the period. Chinese craftsman would copy the items in the finest of detail, hallmarks and all. When trade expanded through China beyond the 1840s, the silver pieces became much more Chinese in design to keep up with the Western tastes for the orient. Favourite motifs among Westerners included dragons, lotus flowers, bamboo and exotic animals. Always a bespoke trade, Chinese silversmiths created exceptional pieces for royal households throughout Europe and India and occasionally for wealthy American families.
With the First World War, the days for the Chinese Export Silver were over, and traditional trading patterns ended. China was in an uproar and the craftsmanship of silver disappeared. Until recently, very little was known about this mysterious antique silver category. Chinese Export Silverware expert Adrien von Ferscht remembers how he ‘bizarrely’ found his first piece in an antique shop in Israel for $40 – “I distinctly remember I bought it reluctantly, believing that something made in Shanghai must be inferior”. How pleased he must have been when he sold it at auction last year for £3000 ($4650).