Friday, June 29, 2012

Vintage and antique bonsai pots in Singapore

During my recent stay in Singapore, I was privileged to view a private collection of vintage and antique bonsai pots. It was probably the most interesting experience of the entire trip. The collector specialises in purple sand ware from Yixing, Shiwan ware from Foshan and porcelain. The oldest pots in the collection date from Ming Dynasty, while the most recent pots date from Cultural Revolution. A sample of purple sand pots is shown in the images below. This ware is usually fired to 1100°C with the clay remaining a little porous.

Purple sand is a generic term which is divided into three clay types based on their colour. They are: purple clay, orange clay and yellow clay. Examples of pots made of purple and orange clay are in the images above, while images below show pots made of yellow clay or pots decorated with it.

Seals on Yixing pots are important. The information they carry influences the value of the pot. Both seals in the images below are from Cultural Revolution period. The one on the left tells us that the pot is made in Yixing, China and give us the name of the craftsman. The one on the right is in Chinese and English. Apparently, bonsai pot makers working in Yixing weren’t allowed to sign their pots between 1965 and 1975. 

The next part of the collection was Shiwan ware. Typically, these pots had patterns created by application of lighter clay with translucent green glaze. They are fired to stoneware temperature (1300°C) and the clay is fully vitrified. See a sample of Shiwan bonsai pots in the images below.

The collection also featured Shiwan storage jars and large planters, which can be seen in the images below. They make exquisite stands for displaying bonsai too.

There was also a number of exquisitely decorated porcelain pots. I wasn’t sure about their age, but some of the oldest bonsai pots are made of porcelain. In fact, I recently came across a mention of such pots in Kakuzo Okakura’s ‘The Book of Tea’ published in 1906. He writes: “With the development of ceramics during T’ang and Sung dynasties we hear of wonderful receptacles made to hold plants, not pots, but jewelled palaces.” I can’t imagine this passage implying anything other than porcelain pots. Anyway, some of the “jewelled palaces” are shown below.

Bonsai pot, however, is not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear porcelain and there was plenty of that other stuff. Images below show imperial porcelain bowl, calligraphy water pourer, porcelain pillow, vases and urns. I was even introduced to the wonderful and weird world of vintage porcelain bird feeders (quite collectable they are).

Small pots form a special part of this collection and there was a multitude of them. Despite their small size they can fetch high prices. They are very collectable and some of them are shown below.

Finally, I want bring up something used for displaying bonsai, but rarely mentioned in Australia - Chinese ceramic stands for flower pots. Below you can see a couple of them. The one on the left is leached and rustic and could be used for displaying Japanese bonsai, while the one on the right is more ornate and would be more suitable for Chinese penjing. 
I spoke with the owner of this amazing collection about many things that day. He told me that twenty years ago when he started collecting, he was perceived in main land China as a ‘wealthy’ Singaporean. With the help of a local scout he could obtain antique and vintage pots at reasonable prices. Now, the times have changed and he almost reversed the roles with his scout in China. His contact in China is willing to buy back many of his pots for good money, because now they will fetch substantial prices in China itself. These days, he said, wealthy Chinese buy a lot of old Chinese pots from Japan as well. I also asked the collector how many friends does he have with whom he could have a meaningful conversation about ceramics in his collection. His reply was: “Not that many, probably four.” Well, he is much better off than me in this regard.


Unknown said...
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Diane said...

I liked your blog and I personally invite you to join - The World's Free Collectors Zone.
We will also be happy to cooperate with your blog such as adding its link to our site.
All the best,

Fagelbacken said...

Nice pots - nice photos! After 20 years of experimenting and creating bonsai, I now regard finding a pot to compliment a bonsai tree almost second in importance to creating bonsai or potensai that compliment a stunning bonsai pot!

Anonymous said...

Hi Author may i know where is the shop with porcelain pillows vases urns and weird porcelain bird feeders at?

Kigawa said...

It is not a shop, but a private collection. Sorry, I can't tell you where it is because this information is private.