Lynn Pierce and husband Ray Andary with one of six panels from an Asian divider. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Everything in the world of antiques is not always what it seems. That’s a lesson that Lynne Pierce of Grosse Pointe Woods learned firsthand when she brought in a Chinese screen to be examined at DuMouchelle Art Gallery and auction house during a recent Trash or Treasure appraisal session downtown.
“My grandparents were world travelers,” she told appraiser Bob DuMouchelle, who took a look. “We think they probably bought this in China.”
She later inherited the six-panel screen — officially known as a Chinese Coromandel screen, said DuMouchelle — but has always wondered about it. “My brother-in-law brought it up from South Carolina in the back of a pickup truck,” Pierce told DuMouchelle. “We keep it in our living room but have always been careful to keep it out of sunlight.”
According to the website www.brittanica.com, most are ebony folding screens with applied decorations of stone, shell or porcelain. “These screens, having as many as 12 leaves, were of considerable size. Scenes of Chinese life or landscape were typical, but European hunting or nautical scenes were also popular. ... They received their name from India’s Coromandel coast, where they were transshipped to Europe in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by merchants of the English and French East India companies.”
DuMouchelle said Pierce’s example shows some evidence of smoke and dust damage, but unfortunately, not of great age. “This is made of a heavy lacquer with stenciling and hard stones,” he explained to Pierce. “Unfortunately, it’s not that old, at least by Chinese standards. I’ve never seen an antique one with stones and ivory mixed.”
While it’s possible it was brought back from China, DuMouchelle said it may also have been bought somewhere closer to home. “These were popular imported production items,” he said. “Places like Hudson’s Department Store sold them, and many other places.”
Another clue that it’s not particularly old: the hinges. “They just don’t have the age they should have,” he told Pierce. Despite that, the screen is still useful, of good quality, and in nice condition, he confirmed.
“Lacquer can be hard to keep in good condition,” he told her. “Sunlight and humidity changes are all enemies of these types of screens.” That’s one of the reasons so few examples from the 18th and 19th century survive, he said. “They’re made of a wood base, and as the wood expands and contracts, the stones loosen and fall out. The end panels take the brunt of the damage,” he said. Earlier examples can sell for in the thousands of dollars depending on quality and design.
Pierce’s newer version — which is hard to attribute to a particular year — would bring about $500 at auction. “They are classics with a wide appeal,” he told her. Unfortunately, the market even for classics has softened a bit.
She still loves it, even if it’s not as old as she might have liked. “It’s going back in the living room,” she said. “We’re not interested in selling anyway. … It’s from my grandparents.”
About this item
What: Chinese Coromandel screen
Owner: Lynne Pierce, Grosse Pointe Woods
Appraised by: Bob DuMouchelle, DuMouchelle Art Gallery
Estimated value: $500 at auction
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