Handle with care: how to be made in China

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Now and again, a collection comes up for sale that is interesting as much for its owner as its own merits. The 300 monocrome (single-colour) Chinese ceramics that belonged to the late Professor Edward "Teddy" Hall are in this category.

Now and again, a collection comes up for sale that is interesting as much for its owner as its own merits. The 300 monocrome (single-colour) Chinese ceramics that belonged to the late Professor Edward "Teddy" Hall are in this category.

The ceramics, due to be auctioned at Christie's in London on 7 June, are fascinating on several levels. As individual works of art they have a simple, timeless beauty. As a collection they are a visual feast: a kind of ceramic firework display of deep colours and elegant shapes. From a manufacturing perspective, the creation of the various pots, bowls and vases, and especially the sophisticated glazes, is also impressive.

"Chinese glazes are quite different to European ones," says Desmond Healey, head of the Chinese department at Chris- tie's. "They were far more advanced than us. Quality porcelain was being produced during the Tang dynasty between the 7th and 10th centuries. Europe didn't start producing it until the 18th century. Chinese glazes and colour control are particularly impressive. Their red glaze, for example, a very difficult colour to control, is really vibrant and clear."

The story of Professor Hall is just as interesting. In 1953, 40 years after the "discovery" in Sussex of fossils acclaimed as the missing link between apes and humans, he used X-ray fluorescence, a non-destructive technique of chemical analysis, to show that the bones of Piltdown Man had been stained to make them appear fossilised.

In 1988, he also debunked the myth that the Turin Shroud had wrapped the body of Christ after the Crucifixion. Using pioneering scientific methods he dated the material to between 1260 and 1390.

Professor Hall was a collector by nature. At Eton he gathered over a million cigarette cards, and he went on to amass an equally impressive hoard of clocks and scientific instruments, which was auctioned last year. He built up his collection of Chinese porcelain largely through specialist dealers in Mayfair. Receipts from shops like Bluett & Sons reveal how the value of these pieces has increased over the past 50 years. In 1954, for example, he bought a purple saucer dish with an engraved dragon design for £30. The Christie's catalogue estimates that this is now worth between £8,000 and £10,000.

Chinese antiques have risen steeply in value over the past few years as Chinese citizens have become wealthier and started investing themselves.

"The most expensive pieces in the collection will be of most interest to Asian buyers," says Mr Healey. "Many are very active in buying and acquiring now that they have a booming economy. Some serious collectors will be looking to fill gaps in their collections, so we're expecting certain pieces to go for high prices."

The most expensive item in the Christie's catalogue is a powder blue "Ru-type Tripod Censer" (a receptacle in which incense is burned), which is estimated to be worth between £30,000 and £40,000. It is shaped like a fish basket and has a special, finely crackled glaze.

However, many of the lots come in at under £500 and would be interesting to new collectors or people decorating their home who require beautiful pots or vases to display.

A lemon-yellow enamel cup, which wouldn't look out of place in a home full of Habitat furnishings, is estimated at £300 to £500.

Similarly, a pair of turquoise enamel cups (estimated price £6,000 to £8,000) and a matching pair of turquoise enamel bowls (also £6,000 to £8,000) look ready to be used on the dining table.

As an investment, Chinese antiques are an excellent bet while the country's economy goes from strength to strength. If you think that rise in wealth will continue, as many economists do, then collecting Chinese porcelain will be more than an attractive and timeless way of decorating your home; it is will also be a fun way of investing in the Far East without having to leave the comfort of your own sitting room.


Prices: items in the Christie's sale range from £300 to £40,000.

More Information: www.gotheborg.com - a comprehensive site for Chinese and Japanese porcelain; www.christies.com - with pictures of the lots.

2004 events: 7 June, Christie's, King Street, London SW7 - Chinese Monochrome Porcelains from the Collection of the Late Professor ET Hall.

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