This is an article originally written for WorthPoint. It was prompted by the many questions I am posed by people from all over the world and the fact I am constantly amazed how Chinese Export Silver slips under most people’s radar……

It’s not uncommon that I get torn off a strip by antique silver experts for the fact I’m forever extolling the virtues of Chinese Export Silver, but the more I research this silver, the more proof I unearth that this is not only a highly significant silver category, but it is also a vast one.

It is true, not all Chinese Export Silver is amazing, but then not all Georgian English and American silver is amazing either. Georgian silver has a high level of master silversmithing, so does Chinese Export Silver and often the latter display techniques and a constancy of masterful artistry that can outshine their European and American contemporaries.

Until quite recently, the awareness that did exist of Chinese Export Silver was largely due to the works of Crosby Forbes and Kernan. These works were all based mainly on specific collections and didn’t really acknowledge the existence of a whole world of Chinese Export Silver being out there, not to mention the number of silversmiths that were actively producing and the number of manufacturing centres. Crosby Forbes and Kernan only really acknowledged the existence of Canton, Shanghai and Hong Kong; Jiujang, Peking and Tientsin were equally important and the work of the Shanghai makers known collectively as “The 9 Factories” were not acknowledged at all.

To put into context how information has moved on since Crosby Forbes, Wang Hing Chinese Export Tygat the original time of writing his 1960’s work, he assessed there were some 200 pieces only in existence. He later revised the figure to be 2000. The reality is probably in the tens of thousands, if not more

It must be some 17 years ago now that I first acquired a piece of Chinese Export Silver. Bizarrely I discovered it in an antique shop in Israel and the only reason I did so was because the store owner wanted to get rid of it! I remember distinctly I bought it reluctantly, believing that something made in Shanghai was inferior; it was the eventual $40 price tag that clinched the deal! The Art Nouveau silver tyg [pictured right] was my initiation into the world of the Chinese silversmiths and the $40 investment was actually sold in auction last year for £3000 [$4650].

Since half the remaining Chinese Export Silver is probably in the USA, it never ceases to amaze me how many American appraisers seem to be oblivious to its very existence, let alone it’s relevance as a significant silver category and its relatively high values. There are probably more appraisers in the US than anywhere else in the world, just as there’s more Chinese Export Silver in the US than anywhere else in the world! Which leaves us in a somewhat ludicrous situation since if awareness of Chinese Export Silver was at a level the category should be due, then I am positive we would begin to see some really astounding silver come to light. So many people own it and are oblivious to what it is; I encounter this situation all the time. Given that Chinese Export Silver is probably the only antique silver category that escapes the scrap furnaces because of its particular buoyancy in the marketplace due to current affluent Chinese interest, it is all the more ludicrous so much of this silver has been confined to attics and store closets to lie in obscurity. I was actually told recently by one leading US auction house they didn’t consider that there was a “significant market” for Chinese Export Silver! I am continually astounded at this lack of awareness that in turn fuels this dismissal of an important silver category.

Kan Mao Hsing Chinese Export Silver Teaset

This teaset [pictured above] was discovered in an attic in London almost completely black and totally unloved and forgotten. Made circa 1895 by Kan Mao Hsing of Jiujang, it achieved £4600 [$7150] Kan Mao Hsing Chinese Export Silver Tea Caddyin auction last year. It’s a particularly fine example of the high Chinese style and was executed, like much of Chinese Export Silver, in a far heavier gauge silver than an 1890’s European or American teaset would have been made.

Its matching tea caddy [picture right], found in the same attic, achieved £1800 in the same auction. Both lots were only brought to auction because my constant “blethering” about Chinese Export Silver made the owner suddenly remember there might actually be buried treasures in her attic! Similar situations must be duplicated in thousands of attics around the USA and the UK.

Earlier Chinese Export Silver was often faithful copies of fine Georgian silver. This 6-piece baluster form tea and coffee set [pictured below] was made by Hung Chong & Co of Canton and Shanghai circa 1870. The set weighed in excess of 4500gm [144.70 Troy Ounces]. It was discovered in a home in Perthshire, Scotland and was acquired for £1000 [$1550] just two years ago. It was sold at auction last year for a staggeringHung Chong Chinese Export Silver Tea and Coffee Set £17,500 [$27,200]. It is, to all intents and purposes, pure Georgian in style apart from a slight nod to its Chinese maker in the lotus blossom shaped rim to each piece and the coromandel handles instead of ebonised.

Chinese Export Silver Pepperettes

I previously gave reference to the fact that Chinese Export Silver manages to avoid the scrap furnaces due to its value buoyancy. This collection of four late 19th century Chinese Export Silver pepperettes [above] by Wang Hing, Zee Wo and Sing Fat and a total combined weight of just 140gm [4.5 Troy Ounces] were sold at auction recently for £2200 [$3418]. In weight terms, that is equivalent to almost £499 an ounce [$775]!

Wang Hing Chinese Export Silver Rickshaw Cadiment Set

This rather delicious fully articulated Chinese Export Silver rickshaw three-piece condiment set by Wang Hing was also found in pieces and so tarnished one could easily have mistaken it for any base metal. It achieved £1260 [$1955] in auction quite recently, equivalent to $260 an ounce. The successful bidder was from mainland China.

In general, the current interest in Chinese Export Silver comes from two distinct category of buyer – the affluent Chinese and the serious silver or Asian arts collector. This, in turn, fuels the buoyancy in values. Chinese buyers generally are seeking items that are overtly decorated with Chinese motifs, while collectors are keen on the earlier pre Georgian items that often carry what have become known as “pseudo-hallmarks”; a misnomer, because there was never any assay control in China or any compulsory registration of makers’ marks.

Until quite recently I have never encountered any fake Chinese Export Silver, but with the huge growth in interest from mainland China, I have begun to notice the occasional “dubious” items appearing thatScreen Shot 2013-05-21 at 17.43.53 attempt to clone known makers’ marks. This seems to be emanating from Malaysia and bowls seem to be the favourite item to pass off as being “the real thing”. Because these makers are probably Straits Chinese silversmiths, these items tend to have a Straits Chinese Silver feel to the motifs employed. The gauge of silver is often thinner than would be expected and the repoussé work is not of the quality that true Chinese Export Silver makers employed. The mark [right] is an example of “questionable” provenance – it’s attempting to be a Tientsin maker, but I’m highly suspicious of it.

Chinese Export Silver, therefore, is not for the faint-hearted; one needs to understand this silver as a category as a whole. But then the same goes for any major antique silver category. What makes Chinese Export Silver particularly special is that no other silver category comes with such a rich, diverse and complex history attached to it. It’s a history that few are aware of and this applies to Chinese people as well. I am currently actively involved with several organisations and institutes in South East Asia and am constantly surprising people of Chinese heritage of history they simply had never heard about!

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This article was written by Adrien von Ferscht exclusively for WorthPoint as part of a collaboration agreement

 Adrien von Ferscht is an Honorary Research Fellow at University of Glasgow’s Scottish Centre for China Research

Adrien von Ferscht’s website is the largest online information resource for Chinese Export Silver:


Catalogue small image



The Catalogue of Makers’ Marks is available on

The result of the only academic research ever to have been carried out for this unique silver category

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