In recent years the material culture of the Peranakanese or Baba-Nyonya – the descendants of the first waves of Chinese settlers into the ports of the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian Archipelago – has become a lively market. As a once distinct lifestyle fades into history, the collecting base has broadened in both Malaysia and Singapore.
Straits Settlement porcelain, popularly known as Nyonya ware, was exported to the region from Jingdezhen between 1856 (the beginning of the Tongzhi era) and 1945 (the end of the Second World War).
Ostensibly similar to much ‘late’ Chinese porcelain, it assumes distinct colour combinations, motifs and shapes that define the collecting hierarchy. Popular local forms such as the covered bowl and stand (kamcheng in the Hokkien dialect) and the covered jar (kat may or chupus) decorated in enamel against strong background colours are particularly desirable. While blue and white wares were reserved for everyday food storage and pickling, polychrome ‘festive’ pieces were reserved for auspicious occasions. Often, they were bought as wedding sets, used to bring various types of food and sweetmeats to the bridal room throughout 12 days of celebrations.
A large cache of Peranakan decorative arts was offered at Hotlotz as part of a timed online sale that closed on January 16.
They came from two colonial-era properties; one on Redwood Avenue in Singapore, the other Jalan Melor in Malacca. The vendor’s grandparent s, medical professionals who moved to Malacca in the 1930s, had furnished their new home with pieces offloaded at the time by local Peranakan families.
Peranakan ceramic collecting
After their son returned from postgraduate studies in Canada to live in Singapore in the 1970s, he too shopped for Peranakan ceramics at the Sungei Road flea market and the antiques shops of old Singapore. When he and his wife bought the family home Redwood House in 1978, his collection was packed into a trunk where it remained largely untouched for several decades.
The gem of this cache of market-fresh material was a pink ground ‘in and out’ kamcheng. It is a typical shape and form at just under 10in (24cm) high with a standing lion-dog finial and two pairs of opposing turquoise lion-dog masks for the iron ring handles.
However, it is of particular note for its decoration - enamelled to both the exterior and the interior of the jar and the cover with butterflies among pink and white peony blossoms and foliage. It has a red printed Guangxu (1874-1908) reign mark to the base and was in good condition apart from small rim chips.
Estimated at Sin$10,000-15,0000, it sold to a Singapore collector for Sin$74,000 (£46,000) plus 30% buyer’s premium.
Further items from the same source, including a significant numismatic collection, will feature in Hotlotz sales during 2023.