Market in antiques booms in Shanghai

Updated: 2013-10-01 23:53

By ZHANG KUN in Shanghai (China Daily)

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"Chinese people lived in smaller houses than Westerners, and they had smaller pieces made, and we always favored fine wood, such as various kinds of red woods."

Xia Fei Ge, a shop at 1808 Huaihai Road M, showcases a complete set of 17 pieces of fine furniture in red wood, including a bed, armchairs, and coffee and dressing tables.

Lined with camphor wood inside, the wardrobe emits a fragrant smell when opened.

"I bought them from an elderly lady in the Shan Nan Cun community," said Wang Wenjuan, who has been in the antique business for more than 20 years. The whole set is for sale for 800,000 yuan, she said, though she declined to reveal the price she paid for them six years ago.

Xia Fei Ge is a new shop and a joint initiative of Wang and Pan Li, a musical actress who married an estate developer.

Pan and her husband became interested in antique furniture only two years ago. "He was really passionate about it and bought one piece after another," Pan said about her husband. Gradually, the couple began collecting antique pieces for their home.

"I would sit in a corner and turn on a small light, feeling as if I was in a different time," she said. "I can't help but wonder about the person who sat on these chairs before me, and how the craftsmen put their hearts into the work."

Soon her house was packed with old furniture, and the less-favored pieces were stored in a warehouse.

"Then we decided to open the shop and share the beauty with more people."

"One or two pieces of old furniture at home can change the atmosphere. It's like bringing a page of history into your life," Pan said. "It enriches your life and brings great enjoyment."

Preserving history

Expensive as these antiques are, Hu believes the money is by no means wasted. "In a few years if you need cash, you can easily sell it again for a much higher price. It's a good investment," he said. "Time has passed, and there can only be fewer of these pieces showing up on the market. The surviving items will only be more and more precious."

About 10 years ago, he bought an apartment in an old building and was determined to restore as much of its original beauty as possible. It was his first step into the world of Shanghai's antique market.

"I started by searching for a fireplace mantel," Hu said.

Shanghai tore down lots of old buildings in the 1990s, especially during the construction of Yan'an Road, an elevated highway that became a lifeline for city traffic.

"You could buy a mantel in very good condition for no more than 2,000 yuan at that time," he recalled. As urban development pushed on, people became more interested in preserving the city's history. Regulations were issued protecting many antique buildings from destruction and vandalism.

Recyclers travel on tricycles through residential communities, ringing a bell now and then. When they find valuable pieces priced higher than they can afford, they inform antique dealers like Hu. "We pay them 10 percent of the price for commission," he said.

Antique furniture is often covered in dirt and grease when it reaches dealers like Hu. "We'll wipe them with a soapy cloth and then set them aside for a few days to dry." Then they will wax a piece repeatedly, until the original luster of the wood reappears. Sometimes they take apart the tables and chairs to perform a deeper clean so when the pieces are reassembled, they will hold together for a long time.

Like professional antique restorers, these guys do their own research to find the right cleaners that won't damage a piece.But rather than tell the public, they keep the secrets of the trade to themselves.


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