In the past 18 months, when antique Chinese Export Silver pieces have appeared in general silver sales in UK and US auction houses the hammer prices have, in general, been up to 5 times that of a comparable piece of English or Scottish silver – some pieces achieving even more! No other commodity has the capacity to deliver such return on investment in a short timeframe.

Who’s buying? Chinese middle class and affluent buyers. To understand more, we need to understand the context of the burgeoning Chinese economy. The facts are staggering:

  • There currently are a 150 million middle class and affluent people in China today. In 10 year’s time this will have risen to an even more staggering 415 million. The spending power of the Chinese middle class in just 2 years time will be in the region of a trillion dollars.
  • Today, there are believed to be 7000 dollar billionaires and 125,000 multi millionaires in Shanghai alone. In Beijing there are 9000 billionaires. In the whole of the UK there are 73 billionaires. There are fewer than 300 billionaires in the whole of the European Union.
  • The number of people in the UK with annual liquid assets of more than £60,000 is 2.9 million – there are 280,000 millionaires in the UK.
  • In just one generation, China will have approximately 1.4 billion middle class compared to an estimated 360 million in the USA and 414 million in the whole of Europe

The vast majority of these export pieces were created between 1785 and 1920. Fine quality silver, however, was being created in China from the early 18th. century. Early pieces strove to be exact copies of English flatware, armorial ware and tea sets of the time, yet they also included some truly exceptional, unique and important pieces that one can assume were either specially commissioned or made for a specific high quality clientele. . Much of it was to find its way to England, some was destined for America and India – even Portugal was known to be a final destination of some pieces.

Much of the silver that was manufactured in China over the 200 or so years was produced of the highest quality, quite a high proportion of it deemed to be museum quality and equalling the very finest English and European silversmiths such as Paul Storr, Paul de Lamerie, the Batemans and Matthew Boulton. Much of the earliest pieces were highly elaborate and specially commissioned items that were owned by Catherine the Great, Queen Charlotte and many other European royals and aristocracy. Today, these pieces are to be found in places such as The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and the Royal Collection here.

Where does this place Chinese Export Silver as a commodity?

Well, we do not know how much silver is out there but the signs are it’s a significant amount based on the amount of silversmiths we know operated and the vast quantities of raw silver that was available to them. In the UK and the US it is still possible to acquire Chinese Export Silver items at prices not dissimilar to comparable British antique silver pieces. This makes the acquiring of Chinese Export Silver potentially a very good investment prospect given the hammer prices being achieved.

ImageA magnificent museum quality circa 1895 Chinese Export Silver tea set by Wang Hing, discovered in a Perthshire attic, valued in excess of £4500.00

But this shouldn’t be a gold rush to buy Chinese export Silver because you really must know what your doing – prices can vary according to the maker, there is a lot of unmarked silver out there and there are also some fakes. Good advice is vital.


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