Welcome to Cynthia Shaver Asian Art Appraiser Newsletter August 2022,

Last month, most of my time was devoted to an insurance claim appraisal for 96 contemporary Chinese Peking Opera Costumes.  They were stored in the basement of a building and were damaged from the water of the firefighting effort of the building.  They could not be repaired, were owned by an opera singer herself and family, for the particular roles represented.  They are 100% ownership.

I was a novice to this genre.  I had seen still photos only and thought the costumes garish with long wavy sleeves.  My first step was to contact a scholar of Qing dynasty, 1836-1912, textiles for any reference.  Through his reference to colleague at the University of Oregon I was sent to University of Hawaii, Textile and Theatre Department, Manao.  They had over 100 costumes, purchased within last twenty years, and with great detail, discussed the differences in the quality characteristics between the clients and my found comparable.  These costumes new, hand sewn in Shanghai, cost between $5,000-$10,000 each.  This included shoes and scarves and headdress too.  

As I continued my research for the specific costumes such as pink qipao with clouds, red qipao, and Meipai style palace princess costume the site I choose for comparable had a large diversity of costumes although of inferior quality to the clients and thus to their listed values.  Even after examining over 30 costumes, I had no feeling for the characters.  Then I decided to watch some Chinese opera on YouTube.  Brilliant idea.  Seeing the characters move, noting what large supportive casts, all with long flowing sleeves that displayed emotions effectively, helped me appreciate the costumes and accessories.  The performers beards fit over the mouth, just below the nose.  One cannot see the mouth of the singer.  The headdresses don’t seem particularly heavy but balance is needed.  Through my correspondence with two experts, I determined the claim was actually low for the replacement value of the 96 costumes.  This is not a common occurrence, and the claim is not settled.  

Enjoy August,


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