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Trash or Treasure: Jade carving an ancient art

By Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News
Jade pieces belonging to Anthony Timbers of Farmington are seen during the Trash or Treasure event, Monday, Apr., 22,, 2019 at the Michigan Design Center in Troy, Mich.  (Jose Juarez/Special to Detroit News)

“I have attached one photograph of four jade pieces that I purchased between 1972 and 1974 in Hong Kong” wrote Anthony Timbers of Farmington to the column looking for both appraisal and advice. “I was in the US Navy serving aboard the USS Wichita.”

Timbers recently brought the pieces along with other items to an appraisal session held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy, where expert Brian Thomczek examined them in hopes of giving him more information and a value.

“These are classic subjects,” he explained, adding that one depicted a seated Buddha, another a Foo dog and another a Buddhist monk with a dragon staff. All have standard rosewood bases, which is a commonly used material.

“The Foo dogs, which actually depict Chinese lions, may have originally been part of a pair,” Thomczek told Timbers. “It’s possible that they were bookends but one was lost somewhere along the way.”

He added that jade has long been a popular material and that it comes in many forms from lighter to much deeper colorations.

Supporting information was found in an article on the website  “No one material may better epitomize the Chinese arts than jade—a stone that comes in a wide variety of majestic colors, from yellows to greens to purples. Chinese jade mines are long depleted so today the stone is mined in Burma, Central America, Brazil, Canada, and India. Still, Chinese culture has mastered the art of jade carving in a way no other region can match. According to Chinese mythology, jade is a magical stone, a link between the physical and spiritual realms, as it possesses qualities both yin and yang, day and night, good and evil. Carved jade ornaments of all shapes and sizes have been part of Chinese culture since at least the Neolithic Period, 9500-9000 BC. Through the millennia, jade has been shaped into tools, weapons, and belt loops, but it is primarily carved into figurines and jewelry. Common jade figures are symbols of good fortune such as bats and gourds, as well as peaches (longevity), magpies (happiness), lotus plants (harmony), and lotus seeds (fertility). Officials wore jade representations of roosters and cockscomb flowers to assert their power, while artists carved jade into realistic images of other flowers, trees, mountains, animals, stars, and even legendary figures. For collectors, it's important to beware of fakes, as it's easy to make ordinary glass that looks like genuine jade. The market is flooded with these cheap imitations made from molds and having a rough edge you can feel. They lack the density of jade, as well as the high relief and rounded sculpture of true jade carvings. Also, any pieces with air bubbles are not true jade. Real antique jade is difficult to date, and appraisers rely on details like the shape of a dragon's eyes, horns, feet, claws, scales, and tail.”

Thomczek said Timbers’ pieces were not, unfortunately, examples of ancient jade, but were indeed made of the material. “Obviously antique pieces are worth more. These are relatively recent.”  He estimated the three jade pieces would be worth about $150.

He added that the darkest of the pieces was not jade, but soapstone and probably of Inuit origin. A newer piece, he estimated its value at $30-$40.

While the pieces aren’t worth a fortune, he said there may be some value in keeping them – or at least the jade dog – around. “Foo dogs are said to being good luck,” he said.

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Item: Jade and soapstone pieces

Owned by: Anthony Timbers

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: approximately $180