One of my many mantras is “had it not been for The China Trade, Chinese Export Silver would not have existed”.

I have equally believed that for the entire time I have carried out my research, had it not been for Dr Crosby Forbes, there would probably be no awareness of Chinese Export Silver today. As such, I have always viewed Crosby Forbes’ body of work as the foundation for my own work. That foundation was obviously bolstered by the subsequent later work that Kernan carried out in tandem with The Chait Collection. Kernan acted a true historian scholar when he acknowledged that his work would be built upon and superseded – he even acknowledged looking forward to it.

Dr H A Crosby Forbes

While my own work creates a knowledge base and an understanding of Chinese Export Silver that has moved on, for want of a better expression, I don’t consider it the ultimate body of work. As with all scholarly work, it is a stepping stone that others will at some point in time take forward into realms hitherto unknown.


This is my 3rd Edition work that reflects my ongoing research. “Ongoing” is the operative word, since I regard my own work as having a momentum that demands of me to continue delving. What is important to me is to share my findings and that is what this body of work is all about.

In the two years I have focused my energies on the study of Chinese Export Silver, I have become very conscious of the growing awareness of this unique silver category. While Crosby Forbes’ work was probably the first stepping stone that initially ignited my curiosity and that stone always remains my default foundation, I am equally blessed by a growing number of people around the world who share their own findings and images of objects with me. I learnt from Crosby Forbes and Kernan; I also learn so much from this global sharing – in fact it so often provides my inspiration.

This is exactly what I intend my work to be – inspiration.

I am sometimes criticised for appearing to be irreverent towards the works of Crosby Forbes and Kernan. Nothing could be further from the reality; scholarly study is not a static phenomenon. If study and theories stood still, we would never make progress; most study is built upon the completed study of others. Even Einstein knew he would probably be challenged.

One of the most interesting [and surprising] results of my research so far is the realisation that the perception, understanding and appreciation of Chinese Export Silver in the West is  noticeably different from that in China and the rest of South East Asia. It also somewhat surprises me that Western aficionados generally fail to consider that people from the country the silver originally was created in might have a different take on it. Although this can, to some extent, be put down to cultural differences, I fervently hope that my work will gradually lessen the distance and that soon a common middle ground will be found. When that happens, then I believe the real understanding and the real learning will occur.

There are other middle grounds yet to be discovered, in particular to a true understanding of The China Trade itself; Americans have a very America-centric viewpoint, the British a very British-centric viewpoint, while many Chinese either do not know that much about this period of their history or they might have somewhat resentful feelings. While I do obviously have a slightly biased mindset, I can say that my research findings clearly demonstrate this was such a culturally rich and diverse period of Chinese history. Nobody really came out particularly victorious, but the fact Chinese Export Silver exists is a living and tangible  testament and legacy of over 150 very special years of history – but those years were founded upon a culture of thousands of years that in so many ways outshone Western cultures.

  1. Peter Combs says:


    I was very pleased to read you article about Crosby. I had the pleasure of knowing him rather well over the years through both the Forbes Museum in Milton and the PEM. Our then company Landry Antiques had done the annual appraisals of the Forbes Museum as well as having sent time with him “picking” around the area, he was an inveterate searcher. He also introduced me ti Bill Sargent whom I got to know well over his tenure to at the PEM. (another terrific guy)

    After his passing I attended the auction of his things and was delighted to buy a number of items for our own collection. In one of the two auctions done of his worldly possessions was an EXCELLENT enamel and silver teapot.

    Anyway, it was good to read about my friend, he is very missed by many, as you know.

    PS I would like to add a link and some of your material for reference to our blog, if you have any preferences on how we do it, let me know…
    Sincerely yours…

    Peter Combs

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