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Everything you need to know about Chinese Export Silver
Chinese art has arguably the oldest continuous tradition in the world and Silver has always held an exalted position within the decorative arts. The fact that it is a precious metal distinguishes it from other media such as porcelain, wood, and glass, which do not have inherent value. We have been collecting Chinese Export Silver along with English Silver since 2000 and have seen many interesting pieces offered in the market. But many collectors, sellers and buyers still do not understand this new Silver category. It is only recently that collector starts to re-discover the beauty of Chinese Export Silver and decipher the mysterious Chinese Silver makers' marks.
But what is Chinese Export Silver?
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, through the Chinese Canton System (Canton Port) and also after that, the opium war, the Treaty of Nanking and Treaty of Tientsin, Chinese Qing Dynasty became a major exporter for fine Chinese goods such as tea, spices and porcelain etc to Europe, Germany, France, Russia and America. Treaty trading ports were further extended throughout the entire Qing Dynasty's land.
Just as the Chinese potters produced porcelain for Western consumers, Chinese silversmiths also created elaborately-decorated objects for international clients. Early works of Chinese Export Silver was intended to reproduce or copy functional objects in the European / Western style. The become the early works of Chinese Export Silver beginning in the 1700s.
However, in copying the European style or model objects, the Chinese artisans later managed to add to new decorations such Chinese motifs as the dragon, flowers, bamboo and scenes of life at the Chinese court. The result is that there was a charming fusion between the East and West. Blending Western forms with Asian decoration including dragons, bamboo, and Chinese landscapes, these fascinating pieces reflect the long-standing cultural and commercial exchange between East and West, and are as enchanting today as in the past.
Chinese Export Silver Research Till date
It was only in the 1970s -- thanks to the scholarly research of H. A. Crosby Forbes, John Devereux Kernan and Ruth S. Wilkins, who co-authored Chinese Export Silver 1785 to 1885 (Milton, Massachusetts: Museum of the American China Trade, 1975), that scholars, collectors and dealers got an in-depth look at the range of Chinese Export Silver production that had been identified and studied.
In 1985, another work, The Chait Collection of Chinese Export Silver by John Devereux Kernan, was published by Chait Gallery of New York City on the occasion of its 75th anniversary.
Despite these and other important works by Carl L. Crossman, Alan James Marlowe, and Neville John Irons, the fact that China produced such extraordinary silver for Westerners during the China Trade period has long been one of the best-kept secrets in silver collecting.
In 2016, we created www.ChineseArgent.com and hope to create a platform for exchanges, discussion, reading and understanding for this beautiful Chinese art category: Chinese Export Silver