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Chinese collectors viewed this classic furniture only from a functional point of view favouring more elaborately carved, ornate works. Consequently, relatively little was known about Ming furniture until the publication in 1985 of Wang Shixiang’s seminal book, Classic Chinese Furniture, and it was at this time that Hong Kong-based collector Dr S.Y. Yip, started to develop a serious interest in the field.

Widely acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent collectors of Chinese furniture, he bought from all the major dealers including Grace Wu Bruce in Hong Kong, and London-based Eskenazi and Nicholas Grindley. Many of his pieces were bought in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

At this time, it was still possible to buy quality, relatively affordable Ming furniture as the market did not seriously take off in the West until Christie’s, New York, December 1996, single owner sale from California’s Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture.

This landmark auction attracted many new western collectors who were drawn to the furniture’s contemporary look and understated aesthetic. However, Christie’s Americas deputy chairman, Theow Huang-Tow, feels that mainland Chinese collectors have now begun to take a greater interest in this furniture and it has started to make good money at auction in China.

Although there was little mainland Chinese participation at Christie’s 68-lot auction of The Dr S.Y. Yip Collection on September 20, the furniture drew American and European private and trade interest, although dealers probably bidding on behalf of clients secured most of the top ten works. The sale comprised mainly duplicates from Dr Yip’s large comprehensive collection with the foremost entry a huanghuali luohan bed, late 16th/early 17th century, 2ft 61/2in by 6ft 91/2in by 3ft 6in (77cm x 2.07m x 1.07m), illustrated here.

Like most of the furniture, it had been published and widely exhibited in Hong Kong, London and Singapore.
Although these three-sided beds do not usually have carved sides, this example was adorned with a pair of confronting dragons either side of a flaming pearl. It brought a $310,000 (£206,665) trade bid.

The bed may have brought the biggest money but the most contested entry was a late 16th/early 17th century huanghuali clothes rack with a trellis pattern panel, published and exhibited at a host of US, Hong Kong and Singapore museums including Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Institute, and the Freer Gallery of Art. “Every time a clothes rack comes on to the market it makes a lot of money,” said Theow Huang-Tow. This was secured by the trade for $260,000 (£173,335).