I’m working on finding the value of a Chinese cloisonné charger inherited by two sisters in 1983 at the time of death of their mother.  The mother’s sister was an antique dealer in the 1920’s – 50’s, and she gifted to her sister items from time to time, this typical of one of them.  To the surprise of the two sisters, although the estimate was $3,000-$4,000 at the auction house, the item sold for six figures.  So what was the value at time of inheritance?  This was not an easy job, and took ten hours.  I had identified the value characteristics as Imperial, large size, dragon design, quality work and condition.

I found some answers with the help of John Stucky, librarian at The Asian Art Museum, who took me into storage to check Bonhams, Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction catalogues from 1983.  I went through all the auctions, zooming into cloisonné sales in particular.  I found sales of similar property, but none with a Wanli imperial seal like the client property.

My first email inquiry was to ‘general info’ at the major auction houses including Skinner Auction, Boston, where the property sold by telephone during Asia Week NY of the year, 2019.   The result was a polite ‘No, we can’t provide that service’, so I wrote to the individuals in the particular auction houses that had helped me in the past.  This yielded few results, but certainly stirred conversation as the head of the Chinese Department in Sotheby’s wrote me she had the opportunity to hold the property after it was sold and the head of Asian art at Skinner had the opportunity to discuss our mutual friend Jeffrey Montgomery and his amazing Japanese Folk Art collection now on view in Lugano, Switzerland.  I enjoy this work and the continuation of my interest in Asian art.

I wrote to a well known dealer and often quoted in the news, Mr. Jim Lally of NYC to ask his opinion of value.  Mr. Lally was selling cloisonné at that time period, 1983, and continues to this day. He wrote that the size was unusual, and the design of dragon the most desirable. His value opined was more than five times the auction sales achieved in 1983, given to the imperial mark.   He felt the six character Wanli imperial seal added to an already quality property.

The assignment was right out of one of my American Society of Appraisers class assignments. Each step took time, writing and responding, trying to think out of the box.  That sale was 43 years ago, Japanese art was quite popular over Chinese art with many Japanese antique only stores in San Francisco and Chinese antique stores usually advertising as ‘Asian antique store’.

I could have pursued what percentage of value, looking at porcelain sales with and without imperial mark, I should adjust.  But rather than a percentage figure, I chose to speak with someone in the market, the Chinese art market.  His opinion of value was $20, -$30,000. And then I asked another dealer of similar property who quoted $25,000.  I felt I had done my due diligence.  The cloisonné charger was valued at $25,000 in October of 1983.