Ancient Chinese inkstone to be auctioned in Honiton
PUBLISHED: 06:30 27 February 2016
A mystery item brought to Devon from China in the 1950s has been identified by a Honiton auctioneer as an inkstone bearing Han Dynasty markings.
The Chinese artefact, which may date as early as 200BC, will be sold at Silver Street-based Chilcott’s March sale.
The item was consigned to the firm after it was discovered in an attic. It had originally been transported to the UK in 1958 by a Devon man who had been interned in China during the war. He was given the item for safekeeping by a Chinese friend when the Japanese invaded China, but after his internment he could not ascertain the whereabouts of the owner.
Some years later, the great nephew of the internee rediscovered the item in the attic.
Intrigued, his family approached Chilcotts to help identify the item, and the valuation team began pursuing various lines of enquiry.
Liz Chilcott, who runs Chilcotts with her husband Duncan, said: “No-one was quite sure what the item was to start with – at one stage we thought it might be a type of grave stone.
“There were character marks clearly visible but none of our Chinese contacts was able to identify them, telling us they were in a very old script.”
Determined not to give up, Liz and her team travelled to SOAS at the University of London. SOAS is the world’s leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East and one of its specialists was able to translate the character marks and confirm that the item was an inkstone.
This particular inkstone could be said to be an early example of recycling, as it was created from an antique clay roof tile.
The roof tile has some interesting character marks from the Han Dynasty (206BC to 220AD) on the underside, and scholarly figures and other marks engraved on the upper side. A well had been carved into the tile at a later date, to be used either by artists or calligraphers to mix a solid ink stick with water.
Liz said: “In spite of these early character marks, we have to treat Chinese antiques with a high degree of caution, as it was common for reproductions to have been produced as early as 900AD.”
On either side of the characters there are two rows of paper, each with handwritten notes. These include the signature of a calligrapher, Dong Qichang.
Research revealed that Dong Qichang had been an important and influential young calligrapher and artist of the Ming Dynasty who had a strong influence on the direction of Chinese art.
Also on the tile is reference to a date, ‘The Year of the Rooster, 1573’ and location, ‘Changshang’, in the Hunan Province.
This might be a written record of when and where Dong Quichang started using this particular inkstone.
The inkstone has been given an estimate of £1,000 to £1,500 and will be sold at the next Chilcotts ‘Fine Art, Antiques & Collectors Items’ sale.
This is being held on Saturday, March 5, at the Silver Street sale room next to Honiton Community College.
Viewing is Thursday, March 3, from 9am to 5pm, Friday, March 4, between 9am and 7pm, and on the sale day from 8.30am. The sale starts at 10.30am.
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