Connoisseur Series: The Elegance and Practicality of Authentication and Collection

While visiting antique collectors and dealers, I will always be attracted by the elegant interior decoration, which shows the taste accumulated by time immersion. However, whether there is a sense of “life” is the key to distinguish between “commercial” or “residential” arrangement. I personally enamored with the latter’s functional and artistic compound style, since as long as the commercial decor is a deliberately created taste, it will make the antique dealing more utilitarian. Furthermore, whether buying or not, is more contaminated with the market.

As always, it is a blessing to enjoy tea and antiques in such an elegant environment as photo shown above.

There is no doubt that authenticity identification is the highest joy of the antique collection. Authentication is truly the assessment of the collection strength, although there is no victory or defeat, there must be good or bad differences. Senior collectors always call attention to that "no one can be careless and impetuous", the appreciation of antiques is all about elegance. Do very careful and calm, if anyone wants to enjoy the pleasure of appreciating and collecting antiques.

Gently grasping with both hands is the basic etiquette and protection to appreciate antiques, and always be sure to maintain stability and avoid collisions. The table used to appreciate the antiques should be covered with soft mat or cushions, otherwise, it should at least be a wooden table. While holding the curio, it is best to take off the ring, as it will scratch the antiques by every circumstance. Sometimes a collector or dealer will wear clean gloves to hold antiques, taking jade, bronze, jewelry for examples. However, porcelain is not the case, it has very smooth glaze surface, you might slip it from your hands just because of wearing gloves.

The performance of Munch’s work at the 2012 Sotheby’s auction. Retrieved from:
Chairman Qiu Guoshi of Sotheby’s Asia Regional displayed Chicken Cup of Chenghua reign, Ming dynasty in Hong Kong in 2014. Retrieved from:

When holding the antiques, do place them on the table, always straight up and down, and try not to hold them too high. One hand holding tight, and the other hand carrying the bottom from beneath. If you are holding a ring-shaped antique such as jade ring, jade bracelet, etc., the thumb and forefinger should be fastened in the center of the ring to pick up the ring-shaped jade. This method is safer than grasping the outer edge of a jade ring or bracelet. When appreciating or authenticating, it is advisable to have a single piece at a time. Otherwise, avoid placing too close, and the distance between two and three fists is the basic requirement.

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There are many details to be noticed when appreciating the antiques. The picture above is retrieved from the Worthpoint online antique seller site and shows that a hand grasps a modern rope-twist ring (which should be modern). The improper way of holding antiques and the unclean fingernails seen in the photo shows the neglect of treating antiques.

In fact, because many antiques are extremely expensive, each rare eye-to-eye appreciation is a review of the ability to discriminate. Antique collectors always spend a lot of time putting their collections on their hands or on the table to carefully appreciate them. They also remember and check many details that can be used as identification bases, such as styling, ornamentation, crafts, materials, and ideas. Inscriptions and sizes can be evidence.

I was deeply impressed by appreciating a rare item from the Sotheby’s auction, “A ‘GE’ Octagonal Vase (Ba Fanghu) Song Dynasty” (currently, the kiln porcelain has been designated as the Yuan Dynasty product). The first time I saw it was after the Sotheby’s Autumn Auction in Hong Kong in 1999. The reason why it was said after the auction was because this auction item was the cover boutique of the auction catalog, but because of it’s estimated price is too high, so it was sold out as expected. Coupled with the “97 Great Limits” in Hong Kong at the time, mainland collectors have not yet emerged. Therefore, a known elder at the time bought this item privately through Sotheby’s Auction Company, remember that the purchase price was under the estimated price, about 5 million Hong Kong dollars.

Hong Kong Sotheby’s auction item, 2010, “A ‘GE’ Octagonal Vase (Ba Fanghu) Song Dynasty”. Retrieved from:
Hong Kong Sotheby’s auction item, 2010, “A ‘GE’ Octagonal Vase (Ba Fanghu) Song Dynasty”. Retrieved from:

The craftsmanship of the Yuan Dynasty Ge Kiln Porcelain is "Golden thread" and "Iron Foot wire". “Golden thread” refers to the crack on the glaze of the body. The cracks overlap and stagger like ice cracks, and the cracks also have different shades. The black crack (iron wire) is coarser, the yellow-red fine grain (golden thread) is slightly tight, and the grain is very charming, so it is decorated as a single color. "Iron Wire" refers to the color of the mouth and foot rim of the object because Ge Ware's fetal soil is mostly dark brown. Moreover, because the glaze will flow downward due to gravity during firing, the place where the glaze layer is relatively thin will reveal the dark-brown color of the faint, generally called "purple mouth"; and on the foot rim, the lap directly exposes the dark-brown earth color, because it is unglazed, is called "iron foot". Overall, this elegant item is applied with a lustrous opaque creamy-gray glaze, suffused with black and gray craquelure among finer golden-orange crackles.

Seeing again “A ‘GE’ Octagonal Vase (Ba Fanghu) Song Dynasty” was on the autumn auction site of Sotheby’s in New York in 2010. It was for the related auction materials of Ge kiln. The estimated price on the website is between $400,000 and $600,000, but the closing hammer price is nearly three times the US$1,762,500 (about NT$52 million). It turned out that the porcelain I used to appreciate in my hand was equivalent to the boutique of a mansion.

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When reading the online catalogof this boutique, there are two materials that have caused memories:

The first is "Collection of an old Chinese-American family". The elders have a successful career. His daughter later became a professional antique dealer because of the participation in the sale of the collection. In addition to reading professional materials and preparing for the collection of antiques, it is necessary to make money and have a certain level of wealth.

Secondly, the height of the ‘GE’ Octagonal Vase is 21.6 cm, which is really not big. From the perspective of shape, ‘GE’ Octagonal Vase is the so-called "Vase with tubular lug handles." Originally belonging to the bronze type, it was in the Shang and Zhou dynasties, but it was popular in the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period. After the Song Dynasty, because of the preference for the ancient culture, the porcelain shape also mimicked the design of the bronze. Like the picture of the bronze Vase with tubular lug handles in the National Palace Museum,Taipei, it also has quite close dimensions. According to the data of the digital collection database, its height is 22.1 cm.

Bronze Vase with Tubular Lug Handles, the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Retrieved from:

In fact, after reading the catalogs or materials, and then going to the museum to appreciate, I will occasionally be surprised that the real thing is such a size, which is blame for not paying attention at the size information, and may also blame some of the catalog editors are not careful.

Size is the basic data of the collection. It not only indicates the shape of the data but also the basis for understanding the relationship between the image and the real thing. When the museum makes a replica, it will not only be numbered but also change the size ratio of the replica, in order to distinguish it from the real one. Archaeologists are required to record and quote correct size data when measuring site sites and writing archaeological reports. After these practical collections are digitized, if you do not pay attention to their size information, it is easy to lose the true scale and size in the virtual environment where the digital information and application is applied.

For example, according to the metadata of the digital collection database, the size of the An Elegant Party, Emperor Huizong of Song collected by the National Palace Museum, Taipe is 184.4 cm high and 123.9 cm wide. However, as demonstrated in the article "Museum Technology Series: ‘Digital Appreciation’ and ‘Digital AR Curation’ ", even when the AR image is used to display the digital image of the painting in the laboratory, and it had paid close attention to the size must be correct. However, after being presented by ARKit 2.0, the height of the painting reached 250 cm, which is obviously higher than the original. However, it is not easy to find the difference in size at the scene. This is must be aware in the future when using digital collections to interpret for functioning digital guide services.

From the perspective of historical materials, we review the ancient artifacts recorded in the past. “ The Archaeological Catalog (Kao Gu Tu)” written by Lu Dalin in the Northern Song Dynasty created the model of such catalogs and was the earliest and very systematic work. In this book, 224 bronzes and jades are classified according to their use and function. Each item is also depicted with images and marks, and also records the size and weight. Each item has a related discussion or testimony. The later "Imperial Encyclopaedia~The Study of Characters (Xuanhe Bogutu) ", "Ancient Jade Catalog (Guyutu)", "Genealogy of Xuande Bronzes (Xuande Dingyi Pu)", etc., mostly follow this format. In addition, there are also “ Catalog and research of Ancient Jades (Gu Yu Tu Kao)" specifies “In accordance with the original size”, “Less than the original size” and “The picture is less than one-tenth of the original”, etc. below the name of the item next to the drawing. The image ratio is indicated, so these descriptions are important materials for scholars' research.

Today, the dimensioning data in the catalog is a general rule. The digital collection project currently being carried out by the Palace Museum and the History Museum has also completed the completion of the database (Metadata, or translated interpretation). This digital collection database allows the data to have a directory function for easy query and management, and the size data is, of course, important data. Therefore, the "size" item is divided into "basic size" and "detail size" (such as ear, seat, foot, flow, handle, etc.). Moreover, the three-dimensional cultural relics will also add "total height" (ie "general height" in the Complete Works of Chinese Art); for flat cultural relics, there are more "longitudinal length", "lateral length" and "diameter". The size unit of the catalog is unified as "cm"; the number after the decimal point is also rounded off.

For example, in the "Digital Archive Metadata System" of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, you can find 66 "Vase with tubular lug handles" including the porcelain, bronze, and the collection of the National Palace Museum in the Qing Dynasty. In particular, choose a collection that can be compared with the "GE Ware" introduced earlier, that is, "Vase with tubular lug handles in celadon glaze, Yuan dynasty".

From the search screen of “Digital Archive Metadata System”, we can understand that the National Palace Museum, Taipei not only provides a complete research description but also introduces the data of the basic size and detail size, seen in the following photo, as "14 cm high, 5 x 4.2 cm mouth, 5.2 x 4.3 cm foot ".

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According to personal experience, there are several observations that can be introduced through text. That is: the auction catalog contains the basic dimensions because it is not for research purposes, so only the necessary information is marked according to its form. In the marking of three-dimensional objects, the most common image is the height, or the diameter of cups, bowls, plates, boxes, etc.; and the flat paintings are mostly marked by length and width. The most complete size record ever seen is the size of antique furniture.

For example, the height, width, and depth of the Sotheby’s Auction item ~ “17/18th century huanghuali Horseshoe-back Armchair” are marked as Height 38 1/2 in. 97.8 cm; Width 24 1/2 in., 62.2 cm; Depth 19 in., 48.3 cm.

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Even private collectors and antique dealers in unofficial units need to build basic size data, even detailed size information, for their collections. After all, the study of cultural relics and the antique collection itself is an instrumental science, and the various physical features on the objects are important clues to integrate the staging and chronology. In particular, the current digital collection data, even 3D image data will become more and more convenient and easy to obtain. How to display the relative proportion according to the original size in the actual space will be the focus of the future. And whether it is artifacts, paintings, or three-dimensional objects, planes.

Take the following picture as an example. This is a screenshot of the mobile phone using the Google Expeditions App to view the 3D files of the Han Dynasty Tongbo Mountain Furnace. When using the App, we pay special attention to the correct height of this artifact ~ 32.5 cm and adjust before viewing. Because even Google Expedition is an educational app, after the detection plane, the 3D AR image of the Han Dynasty Tongbo Mountain Furnace is larger than the original size. I believe this is the trade-off method adopted by Google Expedition after considering the difference in size between different objects (small as a cell, as big as a planet), but since it is necessary to appreciate and recognize historical artifacts, basic information and professional knowledge and equipment are equally important. Therefore, you must pay special attention to whether the digital image you see is the original size.

Screenshot of Google Expeditions App

Next time, I will remind myself from time to time to record the size of the object, or at least provide a reference ratio through the reference, so that the tasting activity is more professional and reference value. Otherwise, as shown in the picture below, "Han Dynasty straight-necked bronze garlic-mouthed vessel", which was taken a year ago, forgot to record the size, and now even looking at the photo can not recall its size. I went back to the digital collection database to find out the " Garlic-mouthed Hu wine vessel” collected by the National Palace Museum, Taipei, and I can recall that it should be about 30 cm high based on the reference.

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以數位轉譯為文法,以展示科技做論述,以專業職人角度,從學術、技術、研究、研發入手,分享博物館科技的觀看之道。此由施登騰教授主筆的專業分享專欄是以【數位轉譯系列】(學術、論述、實務)、【博物館科技系列】(論述與案例分析)、【Connoisseur系列】(Google Arts and Culture數位典藏策展與賞析實踐),兼以【數位科技系列】與【閒情偶寄系列】進行相關補充。目前總篇數快達300篇左右。

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施 登騰

施 登騰