June 24, 2018
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Oldest, most ornate dragon chairs sit best with collectors

Image courtesy of www.bonhams.com
Image courtesy of www.bonhams.com
The "Marilyn" sofa from the 1970s brought $1,830 in a recent sale of 20th C. decorative arts at Bonhams and Butterfields in Los Angeles.
By Danielle Arnet, Special to the BDN

Q: I inherited an antique Chinese dragon chair. Is it a true period piece or a reproduction? Value? I know that my uncle had owned it since at least the 1960s, possibly longer.

A: Let’s clue readers that dragon chairs feature a serpentine high-relief carved dragon across the back. On ornate chairs, the beast design extends beyond the back and onto the arms and legs. The fanciest chairs are carved on all surfaces and are very intricate.

The theme dates back to B.C. eras when dragons were the symbol of imperial power and only the emperor was allowed to sit in a chair embellished with a dragon.

The chairs generally have rounded armrests and backs and usually are seen in dark hardwoods, often stained mahogany.

Fast-forward to the late 1800s, when China was the mysterious Far East and beginning to open to a few Westerners. From that time through the age of the Grand Tour of travel, all things Oriental fascinated a rising bourgeoisie.

And what could be more exotic than a dragon chair? There, in one decorative object, was the exotic Far East. To feed consumer clamor for Oriental design, boatloads of the chairs were produced for export to Europe and especially America.

The chairs are made to this day, so technically there are no repros, only older to newer and new chairs. The truly antique are another story.

Thinking about value in Chinese antiques, it’s important to remember that China is an ancient culture.

Today’s market reality is that serious collectors — many are from mainland China — want only the best of their culture, and that means old, authentic pieces made for the domestic market, not export.

A new economic powerhouse, China has a new class of serious collectors with deep pockets who call the shots on prices for artifacts of their past. And at this point, they seek only the purest and the best.

Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago just finished an Asian sale estimated to bring about $1 million. The final tally was $4.5 million, including a pair of rare Chinese imperial bronze vases sold to a Chinese buyer for $660,000. Most in attendance or bidding by phone and Internet were Chinese.

The result is a tiered market. Selective buyers hunt and pay astounding amounts for significant goods.

A second market is for decorative goods made specifically for export, such as porcelains and 19th century dragon chairs. Even that market is stratified. For chairs, the oldest and most ornamental bring more at retail and auction.

Honeychurch Antiques in Seattle (www.honeychurch.com) specializes in fine Asian antique art from B.C. to the early 20th century. The firm also is in Hong Kong.

Gallery manager Patrick Campbell looked at an image of the reader’s chair and dated it from the 1930s or 1940s. The fact that the seat is notably pristine points to its purpose as a decorative object. Ditto for the chair’s ornate, over-the-top Asian look. Classical old dragon chairs are far plainer.

We found sale results for similar chairs on www.liveauctioneers.com for $75 to $1,100. Top dollar was for a very ornate version in 2006. Average auction result was $250-$300.

Q: How can I find the value of my collection of Fostoria glassware? I have plates, water and wine glasses, plus serving pieces, bud vases and more.

A: Distinctive for a raised swirl pattern, Fostoria’s Colony pressed glass was introduced in the late 1930s-early 1940s. Exclusively crystal except for a few pieces in milk glass, Colony was one of the most popular patterns ever made by the Fostoria Glass Co. of Moundsville, W.Va.

Colony was made as a huge variety of tableware from plates to candlesticks, pitchers, ashtrays and more. Collectors favor early pieces with a plain surface and swirl trim.

I suggest you start investigating value at your library. Look for Fostoria titles by Milbra Long and Emily Seate, a Texas mother-daughter team. They’ve written several price books on the glass. Remember, book prices are only a guide.

Online, possibly at the library, try www.replacements.com for an instructive page on Fostoria. Review their retail prices for individual pieces. Search www.fostoriaglass.org for a list of area collecting groups where members can advise you. All that should provide a general idea.

For current market value, look over completed Colony sales on eBay. Also Google the pattern to see pieces for sale and prices asked.

If selling, you must decide whether to sell piecemeal or as a whole. With an overview of prices, you can make an informed choice.

Auction action: The “Marilyn” sofa shaped like a giant pair of lush, brilliant red lips and modeled on the mouth of Marilyn Monroe was made in the early 1970s by Studio 65. Only 32 inches high and 29 inches deep, the polyurethane sofas with red covers were built for looks, not comfort. One sold for $1,830 recently at Bonhams and Butterfields Los Angeles.

Collector quiz

Q: What was Fostoria’s all-time most popular pattern?

a. Jamestown

b. Colony

c. American

d. Coin

e. Navarre

A: American, a pattern of raised diamonds, is the most-sold glass pattern, period. Fostoria closed in 1986, but the pattern is still made worldwide.

Danielle Arnet will answer questions of general interest in her column. Send emails to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

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