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DESIRABLES: ANTIQUE AND CURIO COLLECTING
Translated by Vanessa Wu
Taiwan residents, there has perhaps never been a better
time to begin collecting antiques and other curios.
island's continuing economic woes mean many items are cheaper
now than they were a decade ago. And because mainland China
has opened to the world, there has been a huge increase
in the availablity of Chinese antiques.
growing "Taiwanese consciousness" has prompted
many to investigate and collect utensils and decorative
items made and used by Taiwanese people long ago.
in the 1980s, most of the Chinese antiques being sold
in Taiwan were from the Ming (1368-1644 A.D.) and
Qing (1644-1911 A.D.) dynasties. In recent years,
however, much older items have started to appear in
Taiwan: figurines from the Tang Dynasty, and ¡§ding¡¨--bronze
vessels made for ritual use during the Shang Dynasty
how can a newcomer to the world of antiques best prepare
for a hobby which can be immensely rewarding, but--from
an investment point of view--could easily be a financial
dealers and experienced collectors advise novices to focus
on a narrow category at first, and recommend touring museums
as a good way to become familiar with antiques. Purchasing
and reading comprehensive (and oftentimes expensive) books
is an investment that will soon pay for itself.
Internet is useful for both gathering information and making
purchases. Ebay's Taiwan site (www.ebay.com.tw) is a fraction
of the size of its US parent, but it usually lists hundreds
of antiques--including many china and jade items--most of
which are priced at less than NT$5,000. Of course, judging
the authenticity of a particular piece is much harder via
the Internet than it is in person.
experience is priceless in cultivating one's senses.
If dealers are willing, handle antiques and scrutinize
every detail,¡¨ one collector advises.
of the furniture available from Taiwan dealers dates
from the Qing Dynasty. Items made of red sandalwood
or golden rosewood (both rare hardwoods) are greatly
sandalwood and golden rosewood furniture is, in fact,
more expensive now than a decade ago, because of scarcity.
A red sandalwood table can cost NT$500,000. Items
made of elm, often intricately carved, are usually
a fraction of the price.
course, furniture with a history--that is to say, formerly
owned by a person of historical importance--attracts a premium.
antique furniture is still popular, in recent years collectors
have been devoting more and more attention to other treasures.
which early 20th-century Japanese settlers in Taiwan sent
to relatives back on the Home Islands can sometimes be had
for a few hundred NT dollars. Depicting Taiwanese aborigines,
landmarks, and customs, they provide an interesting glimpse
of old Formosa.
relatively recently, Taiwan was terra incognita to
both Chinese and Westerners. It is not surprising,
perhaps, that early maps of the island--however inaccurate
or fanciful--have attracted the attention of collectors.
of Taiwan's better-known map collectors is Wei Te-wen,
head of the Southern Materials Center, a Taipei-based
publishing company. Wei has acquired more than 1,000
maps--some of them worth over NT$100,000--including
a number of Dutch and Spanish maps dating from the
Qing Dynasty. Many were drawn by hand, or printed
from carved wood or stone blocks.
Lovdal, a Norwegian working in Taipei, has collected 500
deco posters produced in China between the 1920s and the
1940s. Many are advertisements made by Western companies
doing business in China, and some are valued at the better
part of NT$1 million. Part of Lovdal¡¦s collection can be
seen on his website, www.decoorient.com. He also sells posters
through this website for between US$150 and US$500.
course, there are collectors whom some might regard as eccentrics.
A retired school teacher who has amassed 4,000 different
betel nut boxes, and a man in Tainan County who collects
dead examples of various cockroach species, have both attracted
local media interest this year.
which used to thrown out with the trash are now in
vogue. Old-style rotary telephones can fetch well
over NT$1,000; decades-old electric fans go for not
much less. Large earthen jars in which rice wine was
matured are now appearing in markets and stores around
baskets from the Japanese era, formerly used by commercial
travelers or families on the move, can sometimes be
had for less than NT$1,000. These woven baskets often
have a special pouch for the owner¡¦s namecard, and
in East Asia were once as commonplace as suitcases
you take a shine to mainstream antiques, or something esoteric
like traditional farm implements, you're helping preserve
history. And you could be laying the foundations, if not
of a museum, at least of a collection that your descendants
will remember you for.