Another buying trip and a beautiful Chinese apothecary cabinet
I will be flying out to China again in just over a week to visit the workshop in Shanghai and then to select more antiques for our next container to be shipped from Beijing. I will have just a few days in Shanghai but it will be good to see everybody there again. I have timed things so that I can inspect all of the furniture that will be going on our container leaving Shanghai at the end of the month – made up of our ‘Classical‘ and ‘Contemporary‘ ranges, as well as around 20 pieces that have been made to order for customers. These are mostly variations on our standard designs but there are also a few more unusual pieces, including a new bed for my 5-year-old son who is very much looking forward to seeing it arrive. We meant to ship this some time ago but never managed to squeeze it onto earlier containers, so at last the endless questions about its arrival will be over!
Being able to see these pieces is always a treat. Normally they arrive into the UK and go straight out to our customers, so we never get to see the finished result of our designs other than photos that our assistant at the workshop takes before they are packed up. There is often quite a lengthy process in making sure that the design and finish are exactly what the customer wants, so it is often with a certain sense of frustration that I see these go straight out for delivery before I have a chance to see the final piece myself.
We have been also been working on one or two new pieces to add to our standard ‘Classical’ furniture range, which I will check when I am over there. Look out for these over the coming months.
After a few days in Shanghai I will then fly on to Beijing to catch up with the guys who produce our ‘Chinese Country‘ furniture and to source more antique furniture and accessories. Each time I go it seems to be a little more difficult to find the real gems amongst the array of less interesting pieces – it usually means widening the search to several workshops and warehouses rather than being able to find a good selection from just one or two suppliers. Some pieces in particular are becoming more difficult to source, at least in an original and well preserved condition. The beautiful painted armoires from Shanxi province that were quite common ten or so years ago are now much more difficult to come by, while furniture from Mongolia is becoming almost as rare as original Tibetan pieces – with prices to match.
Another type of piece that is becoming rarer and therefore more expensive is the old Chinese apothecary cabinet, such as the one shown here from Shanxi. Used by practitioners of Chinese medicine all over the country, these come in many different sizes – I’ve seen some over two metres tall. They are made up of dozens of small drawers, each divided usually into 3 sections. Each section would hold a particular herb or remedy and on the front of the drawer would be written the contents, starting at the top for the first section and going round in a clockwise direction. In a modern western home I admit that they are not necessarily the most practical of pieces (unless you are a serious hypochondriac or have a large collection of bugs), but they look beautiful and have a real charm and a sense of history. We have had a few pass through over the years and have a couple in stock at the moment including a beautiful example from Beijing. The one shown here is another that we have just snapped up ready to go on our next shipment. It is not yet up on our website but details will be available very soon.
As a result of the dwindling supply of good quality antiques, just about all of the workshops in both Shanghai and Beijing are now concentrating more on reproduction pieces. Another interesting development is that an increasing number of them are starting to ship the other way – sourcing western antiques in Europe to sell on to Chinese customers! This seems set to be a growing trend with the expansion of the middle classes in China’s cities.
I aim to update the blog when I am over in China with more details of my trip and of any interesting finds during my visit, so check back soon.