Ceramics collector seeks information
'I'm a collector of contemporary ceramics and gave my 800-piece collection to a museum some time ago," Sidney Swidler of Bloomfield Hills told appraiser Brian Thomczek recently at an appraisal session held at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy.
Despite his obvious history and knowledge of ceramics, Swidler had questions about a few pieces in his collection had that he had difficulty identifying. He was hoping that Thomczek would be able to shed some light on them.
"The first is a celadon crackle vase. Its dimensions are 83/8 inches in diameter and 9 3/16 inches tall," Swidler wrote in his letter to the column giving details and requesting more information. "It was purchased in February 1988 at Azuma Gallery (now defunct) in Soho, New York. It was sold as an 18th-century Chinese Chin Dynasty Chien Lung piece but is probably a 19th-century Japanese piece. I would like to know, if possible, but what is. The other is a dark brown jar. Its dimensions are 11 inches in diameter by 17¼ inches high. It was purchased in March 1988 from Art Asia on Madison. It was sold as a Tamba, 19th-century Japanese piece. There are no markings. The final piece is a black jar. Its dimensions are 9½ inches diameter by 12 inches high. It was also purchased in March of 1988 from Art Asia. It was sold as a Tamba-style piece made in the period from 1900 to 1930. There are no markings. I am particularly interested in finding out about the celadon piece."
The celadon piece featured a crackle glaze in a green and bore no identifying marks on the bottom or elsewhere. "I took this to a major Asian art specialist and still had trouble getting solid information," Swidler told the appraiser. "This is definitely not Chinese," Thomczek told him as he looked at it more closely. "I definitely agree that it may be Japanese, possibly 19th-century. Do you remember how much you paid for it?" Swidler said he couldn't remember, but thought that he still had the receipt somewhere at home.
Thomczek told him that the cracking in the glaze is natural and deliberate, not an indication of damage. He also told him that, in general, Japanese pieces are not as desirable as 18th and 19th-century Chinese pieces, which are more in demand and currently being sought by Chinese interested in bringing important pieces back to their homeland. Even without marks, Thomczek said the piece was nicely done and a good example of Japanese ceramics. He valued it at $600-$800 at auction; $800-$900 in a ceramics gallery or antique shop.
Swidler also brought in an unmarked smaller black piece that Thomczek agreed was a piece of "Tamba" style work. Sometimes known as Tanba, the pottery made near Kyoto originated in the medieval period and was typically used for storage jars and vases and is one of Japan's six old kilns, according to the informative Japanese pottery information site e-yakimono.net. "I'd say this is probably 20th century, possibly 1930s or 1940s," he told Swidler. "It's definitely before World War II, but also definitely after about 1900." Unfortunately, like the earlier piece, the current market for Tamba-style pieces is not as strong as it once was. Swidler said the piece was sold to him as a Japanese piece. Thomczek agreed that it was probably Japanese and said the piece had nice lines and glazing. He estimated its value at $250-$350 at auction.
Thomczek agreed that the larger piece was an example of authentic Tamba even if the other piece was "Tamba-style." "Given the size and condition, I definitely think this piece is the real thing," he told the collector. "I'd date it to the 19th century. It has nice work and is very well done." He valued it at $800-$1,200, maybe higher.
Swidler said anyone interested in learning more about contemporary ceramics can access his collection through the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento (crockerartmuseum.org), which rotates pieces and keeps at least a third on public display.
"You obviously have a very good eye," said Thomczek. "It's great that you want to share your collection with others."
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About this object
Item: Japanese ceramics
Owner: Sidney Swidler, Bloomfield Hills
Appraised by: Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser
Estimated value: $1,650-$2,350 at auction