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12/23/2017
Antique Expert: Robert S., Antiques and Collectibles Researcher replied 6 months ago
Robert S.
Robert S., Antiques and Collectibles Researcher
Category: Antiques
Satisfied Customers: 6,486
Experience: Expert in decorative arts especially ceramics, silver, paintings, and furniture.
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Hi Ana,

My name is ***** ***** I would be glad to help with your interesting axe head.

It's a fantastically decorative piece and obviously of some age, but I'm sorry to say it is not Shang dynasty period and may or may not be jade (the only true jade is either jadeite or nephrite).

During the Shang period these ceremonial axes -and all these decorative hardstone axes were purely ceremonial, sacred objects, placed in graves as funerary objects- rather than functional, even though fitted with a blade. They almost all conformed to a particular shape and decoration, particularly the presence of an arrangement of six pegs and notches matching on either side, like this one.

None were parallel sided like yours, they always flared even ever so slightly toward the blade and none of the hardstone examples had script like yours, nor where they embellished with these figural additions (the bird-headed dragon-like form).

Even though written language appeared for the first time during this period, it was not quite in this form and, so far as I know, no examples of script on jade axes has been found, although I am sure a rare exception will be unearthed one day.

Also, ceremonial jadeite axes from this period were noticeably thin (less than half an inch thick at the thickest) and translucent in the thinner areas, and so relatively small and light, 5 inches by 3" would be the typical size.

What you have was probably made in the 19th century, possibly as late as the late 18th.

It may be jadeite/nephrite but the only way conclusively to know is to have to have it authenticated by a professional jeweler or lapidarist and the one I would recommend would be Mason Kay.

Having said that, most of this hardstone material turns out to be one of a number of very similar minerals, equally hard and dense, such as bowenite, aventurine and particularly serpentine. Jadeite and nephrite examples of this size (5.5 lbs) are extremely rare.

If it does turn out to be jade then it would sell at auction in the range of at least $7,500 - $10,000, but I say this with the caution that, in my opinion, I don't think it is.

If one of the less prized hardstones, then its value at auction would be $600 - $900. It would therefore have a full retail value of $1800 which is also the replacement value for insurance purposes.

I do hope this isn't too disappointing but you'd be doubly disappointed if I gave you false hope if you ever came to sell and I hope you won't shoot the messenger!

Please let me know if you'd like me to explain or expand on any of the above, I would be glad to.

Best wishes,
Robert.

PS. Just a footnote about these certificates of authenticity. Most of them are a huge distraction and can usually be ignored on the basis that if an item is authentic, it amply shows that authenticity in its physical details and doesn't need a certificate, and the mere presence of one automatically arouses suspicion.

Also the wording: "Old German Private Collection" is far too vague. If it were from such a collection the name of the museum or private collector, or whomever, would be proudly and boldly stated.

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Customer reply replied 6 months ago
Thank you so much! That was an amazing and complete answer, although I of course am disappointed! lol I do have another question, is that indeed Chinese writing at least?
Antique Expert: Robert S., Antiques and Collectibles Researcher replied 6 months ago

Thanks for being honest, but also understanding, I know how disappointing this must be, I have 'been there and done that', as they say, more times than even 'stupid' should, but for me 'blithe hope' has a clever way of always crushing facts and reality!

The script on the axe is an archaistic script that's a transition between what's called "bone script" and "bronze script". Some of the characters did eventually morph into today's Chinese, but there was so much variability in ancient times that even scholars of archaeological writing (palaeographers) struggle with making any sense of it. Added to which, since it's a reproduction, there's no telling what further variability has been included on a whim, so it's always a huge red herring to try to decipher any of it, even if it were possible. Besides, archaic Chinese bronze script is way above my pay grade to translate! Though I do have passable reading skills in current Chinese and Japanese.

Meanwhile, I'd be delighted to help with any of your other treasures in due course. Just start a new Question and put "For Robert S....." in the subject line and it will be sure to get to me.

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