It’s only recently in the decade-long boom in Chinese works of art that Far Eastern buyers have come to appreciate once again the merits of Export silver. Once a neglected area, academic interest has been piqued in the subject as the marketplace moves in leaps and bounds.
This is, of course, one of the largest silver categories and contains any number of sub-divisions.
Combining near Eastern shapes with Far Eastern decoration, Straits Chinese silver is essentially the product of two cultural traditions - made by immigrant Chinese silversmiths in small towns in Malaya and Singapore. Unlike Export silver, these articles were typically made for the nonyas; the ethnic Chinese populations of the British Straits Settlements of Malaya.
Chinese Export silver specialist Adrien von Ferscht, who now works as a consultant to Dreweatts & Bloomsbury (24% buyer's premium), identified this unmarked bowl and cover as a typical Straits production: a 9in (22cm) octagonal form with a ball finial finely engraved with scroll foliage and to the side panels with a rat amid fruiting vine, a bird amid bamboo, a dragon amid clouds and a flowering plant. It was offered for sale at Donnington Priory on July 9 with three other Straits pieces - two spherical betel nut boxes and covers (the finials now lacking) and a similar plain but heavy gauge bowl.
The lot had an estimate of £400-600 but did rather better, selling at £6500.
On July 17 Boningtons (20% buyer's premium) in Loughton, Essex, sold two pairs of silver vessels by Wang Hing, the firm of export silversmiths who operated in Canton well into the 20th century. Although undoubtedly prolific, relatively little is known about the firm (as with many makers of export silver the name, a portent to good luck and success, is purely fictitious) but some indication as to the quality of their output is a 20-year period when Wang Hing created silver for Tiffany.
Sold at £8800 (estimate £4000-6000) was a pair of bowls with six-sided lobed bodies decorated in relief with birds perching on blossoming branches, butterflies and flowers, leafy bamboo canes and three handles and feet in the shape of sea dragons. They measured 5½ high by 10½in wide (14 x 26cm).
A pair of similarly decorated comports by the same maker, each measuring 5½ high by 6in wide (14 x 15cm) upon pedestal sea dragon bases, sold at £3600 (estimate £1200-1800). These carried inscriptions to the rim of the base reading Presented to Even Ormiston Esq. with Wei Wing Lock's best wishes Hong Kong 7th October 1903.
Chinese silver with enamel decoration has proved something of a phenomenon in recent times, fetching double or treble the sums one might expect for pieces with more conventional decoration. A 10in (25cm) high baluster-form vase c.1900 decorated with an egret amid water foliage sold for £9700 (estimate £500-800) at John Nicholson's (20% buyer's premium) of Fernhurst on July 2-3.
The marks, below, appear to those of the retail silversmith Poh Sing who worked with a number of craftsmen in Beijing (the traditional centre of cloisonné enamel work) including an enamel master by the name of Huang Jiu Ji who probably decorated this vase. Huang Jiu Ji has attained cult status among Chinese collectors, with Halls of Shrewsbury selling a three-piece tea set bearing his mark for £13,000 in 2012.