25 January 2010

You have permission - buy it based on its looks

Many tea lovers also appreciate beautiful teaware and antiques.  At many tea stores, you'll find a selection of unique and/or antique teawares for collectors.

Sophie of Wistaria in Taipei is a collector and admirer of the arts.  She also has quite an eye for antique pieces.  There are many such teaware pieces at the teahouse.

"How do you know a piece is real?  What are the signs, say, for this cup that tell you its an antique?"

I was holding in my hand a thick celadon cup that was likely from the late 1800s, one of the many types of tea cups that are sold in the shop.

"I don't know for sure.  I tell customers to buy what they like.  No one can guarantee the age of an antique.  The prices are based upon our belief of the age of the piece, the beauty and the rarity.  If a customer ever buys an antique item from us and decides later that they think it's not really old, they are free to return it."  Sophie's answer is direct and honest.  You can't know with absolute certainty, and the fakes are getting so good.  The factories can take bits of authentic antiques, mash them up, and put them in commonly-checked spots of a replica piece - such as the bottom of the cup.

"Many of the big auction houses have sold many, many fake items without knowing it.  They only continue to do so because so many people don't know better."  Zhou Yu agreed that antiques should be viewed as an object of personal desire.  Whether new or old, its biggest value is in personal enjoyment.

They opened up their antique cabinet and pulled out a stack of cups, eggshell Dehua porcelain that are likely from the early 1900s.  Mr. Zhou put one on the table, rinsed it with hot water, and then filled it with tea.  He pushed the cup in front of me for a sip.

"This is thin and beautiful.  I know such a piece takes the work of a skilled artist."  My ceramics classes were helping me to better understand and appreciate teaware.  To be able to shape clay into such a level of thinness is a master-level skill.  I admired the beauty of the piece, but it didn't make the tea taste better.  For me, the greatest value of antique pieces is neither its beauty nor its rarity, but its ability to improve the taste of my brews.

"So you don't like it more than the other cups you have?"  Mr. Zhou and Sophie watched as I took another sip from the cup.  It was Dehua pottery from way back when Dehua still had lots of good clay.  Nowadays, there are more fakes and the industrialized process can produce lower-quality pieces.  I still prefer my oval-shaped Dehua cup to any other piece I own, and that was made in 2008.

Drink good tea and enrich your life.

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