antique teaware: use and appraisal

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Vintage teaware invites the imagination.  A Song Dynasty tea bowl or a Qing Dynasty
gaiwan (as above) brings history to the tea table and invites the sharing of legend and lore.

So too does the incorporation of teaware previously owned by those we love or admire. 
When writing my book on San Francisco tea culture, for example, I met with famed Zen priest and cookbook author Ed Brown, who shared tea with me using the special tea cups given to him by Zen Master Suzuki Roshi. This gave me an opportunity to ask questions about Suzuki Roshi and the personal relationship he and Ed shared for so many years. It also gave me goose bumps to drink tea from the same cup that touched the lips of such a great man.

Aaron Fisher (Wu De) serving tea

When visiting Taiwan, The Way of Tea author Aaron Fisher (aka Wu De), created some fascinating tea gatherings with his very nice collection of antique teaware. Watching him pour hot water water from his silver Japanese tea kettle into Song Dynasty tea bowls created an amazing ambiance.  This rare and special privilege inspired an even deeper interest in teaware for me and encouraged me to seek out more experience of how teaware effects the taste and feeling of drinking teas.

Sipping tea from such old and rare pieces made me feel as though I were somehow absorbing something of the past and bringing it to the present.  This feeling of timelessness is one of the greatest attributes of any tea gathering.

Old tea ware can be challenging to find, particularly at reasonable prices, but it is out there. Sometimes it is of benefit to seek out information from experts as to the authenticity of a piece before purchasing.  Here are some suggestions passed to me as I sought out information on the vintage gaiwans I recently bought in San Francisco:

First, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum offers a Contributors Consultation Day the third Friday of every month, inviting contributor level members an opportunity to consult with curators about asian art works (each member is allowed one consultation per year). If you bring several pieces, the $150 membership pays for itself in the consultation alone, and provides other special benefits to the museum as well. You may want to check Asian art museums or Asian departments of museums in your area for consultations.

I also learned of Jan-Erik Nilsson, an expert in porcelain who offers an online forum for those interested in Chinese and Japanese porcelain.  For $25, you can become a member, or for $20, you can send photos of your piece to Nilsson for an assessment. 

At Bonham and Butterfield auction house, there are three locations in the United States where  complimentary appraisal clinics intended for those who wish to consign their pieces are offered. The San Francisco branch hosts such a clinic the first Wednesday of each month; Los Angeles offers one the last Wednesday of each month, and New York offers one every Wednesday. Consultations are free, and you may bring up to five pieces. You can also find an area of their online site that offers consultations by uploading photos of your items.

Finally, you might be lucky to know tea people who are adept at appraising the age and value of vintage tea ware.

Fakes and frauds are rampant, however, and you are best off finding a skilled professional to evaluate whatever you might want to purchase.  Bon Teavant is having recently acquired pieces evaluated for our collection and for sale, and we look forward to sharing our special finds with you. Stay tuned!
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