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Robert S.
Robert S., Antiques and Collectibles Researcher
Category: Antiques
Satisfied Customers: 5830
Experience:  Expert in decorative arts especially ceramics, silver, paintings, and furniture.
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I have a Chinese bronze sculpture/bowl of a boat. I believe

Customer Question

I have a Chinese bronze sculpture/bowl of a boat. I believe it's bronze. It is very unique piece. The feet (for lack of a better word) of the sculpture are made of sculpted waves. The piece is signed underneath.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Antiques
Expert:  Robert S. replied 1 year ago.

Hi Seamus,

My name is ***** ***** I'd be happy to help with your interesting bronze boat.

Could you very kindly attach a photo of the piece itself from a couple of angles. At present only one photo came through showing that the piece has a seal mark underneath.

If you can get me a really sharp photo of that, I may be able to read it for you. Use the strongest angled light you can find (not flash) and send at least two from different angles of light. These characters are written in an ancient seal script known as zhuanshu which is notoriously hard to read, even the Chinese struggle with it. It doesn't mean the piece is equally ancient, it's probably not as these zhuanshu seals have been used throughout the 20th century, but I won't know until I see the rest of it.

Many thanks,


Also, can you give me the dimensions. Thanks.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
The Sculpture is 5 1/2" tall x 9 1/2" long x 5 1/4" wide and weighs approx 3.5 lbs.
Expert:  Robert S. replied 1 year ago.

Thanks for the dimensions and all the photos, those will work!

Is this a family heirloom? Or did you acquire it? In other words, do you have any history for it as to who owned it before?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I acquired it on eBay. No history before me.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I can give you the user name of the person I got it from on eBay. Or I can contact them wit questions.
Expert:  Robert S. replied 1 year ago.

Okay, I understand.

Did the seller ship it to you from China/Hong Kong etc?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
From the United States.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Here's a link to the ad. I bought it a few years back (may 2014), so the pictures were removed.
Expert:  Robert S. replied 1 year ago.

Okay, great. Thanks for the link, that helps, and the good news is that it's worth a fair bit more than you paid for it. The other good news is that the seller isn't based in China. That's because there are no antiques in China, or weren't until about ten years ago when the Chinese started buying them back from the West as they're all so wealthy there now.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s Chairman Mao decreed that all antiques should all be destroyed or handed over to the state and these were sold off during the Cultural Revolution for precious foreign currency during the economic collapse and famine that killed forty million people in the late 1950s.

So all the good stuff is in the West.

Anything you buy on eBay that's shipped from China is cheap new junk. You have to ask yourself, if it were indeed antique, why would they be selling it outside China when they would get a thousand times more for it from their own domestic market.

Anyhow, I digress. This bronze boat-on-the waves censer (that's what this is) has been made in this form since the late Qing period (1800s).

Yours may not be as old as that, considering the lack of crispness in the casting, particularly in the seal mark where the characters are indistinctly molded. That's because years of successive use of the same mold gradually degrades the definition of the detail. However, it certainly has some age to it and the patina and color are great.

Leave this with me while I figure out roughly how old yours is and I'll have an answer and a value for you as soon as I can.

Best wishes,

Expert:  Robert S. replied 1 year ago.

Hi Seamus,

Looking at all the evidence, I do think your piece has some good age to it and could well be late 1800s, and certainly early 1900s, no newer than 1930.

Having looked hard and long at the mark, it's going to be impossible for me to read all four characters, it's just too degraded and indistinct. Two of the characters read 品乗 meaning "special goods" which is typical of these seals which, even when fully translated, tend to create more questions than answers. There's no formal registry of makers' seals in the West for bronze censers, and virtually none is a recognized or collected 'name' so knowing what they say is of curiosity value only, though some are helpful confirmation of the date. Collectors understand this and look for other features such as patina, rarity of form, artistic merit and so on.

As such, this would be quite a desirable piece if sold at a good antique auction house, especially one having a specialist sale of Asian bronzes.

This example, for instance, very similar to yours, sold at auction for $300 which is probably about right.

I would give yours an auction estimate in the range of $250 - $400. It therefore has a full retail value (if you saw it for sale in an antique store, say) of $750. This is also the replacement value for insurance purposes.

I do hope this helps!

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance with this, I would be glad to.

Best wishes,