Appraisal Video: (3:56)
Lark Mason & Associates
GUEST: I purchased it about 1995 in Milwaukee. We were living there at the time, and I bought it in a consignment shop. And I had done some museum work before, and I kind of thought it was an older piece. And this consignment shop kept any information they had on it, and they had an appraisal of it in 1985, and, um... I, upon looking at the price, decided to go ahead and purchase it, and I've had it in my home ever since.
APPRAISER: And what did you pay?
GUEST: I paid $175 for it.
APPRAISER: And what was it appraised for?
GUEST: It was appraised in '85 for $5,800.
APPRAISER: $5,800 in 1985. And so it was a pretty complete appraisal-- you showed it to me. So you want to know from me is it real?
APPRAISER: Is it worth $175 or is it worth $5,800, right?
APPRAISER: Okay. First, stylistically, it is exactly what you would want to see essentially for a Tang horse-- the Tang dynasty, seventh, eighth century in China. It is made of a type of high-fired earthenware. And as you look at it... actually, you see the white?
APPRAISER: That is what's called a slip, and a slip is a very refined white clay that was put over the buff, terra-cotta pottery body, so when you painted it, the paint would stand out in contrast, it wouldn't just blend into the background. So that's something that's good to see. It's a lively pose. It's got a lot of action with the raised figure. And when you lift it up... on the inside, you'll see there's a lot of dirt. These were buried. These were kept in tombs, and so a lot of the dirt would have adhered to the surface if it had come out of a tomb. So I'm sure you thought... you saw that and you were thinking, "Gee, this looks great." The other thing that one sees is here on the front leg, you can see that it's broken, so it's got some condition issues.
APPRAISER: The key to this really is... the break. It's got all these features that make it look authentic. It isn't authentic.
GUEST: It isn't? Oh...
APPRAISER: It's a $175 horse, which is fine. It's what you paid. You didn't do anything bad. But the reason the person appraised it so highly before is that they did not do the research and they weren't experts.
APPRAISER: They looked at the surface appearance, they saw the dirt, they saw the slip, they read a book and they thought, "Gee, this is right."
APPRAISER: But when you look at this break... and this had been bought in the 1920s from the woman that owned it, I believe you told me.
GUEST: Yeah, that's what they said.
APPRAISER: There's a metal armature in this.
GUEST: Well, I saw that, yeah.
APPRAISER: Which doesn't make sense at all.
GUEST: It couldn't be a repair?
APPRAISER: No, it wouldn't have been repaired. In addition to that, you wouldn't find this kind of high-fired pottery. So what this is was a purposefully made fake in the 1920s. That why they put the dirt on it, that's why they put the slip on it and they wore the slip off, because you don't see the slip on the rest of the surface.
APPRAISER: It's just where it's gone into these little spots. They've made it appear as realistic as they can because they wanted to fool people. So it wasn't made as a replica to take home as a museum copy; it was made to fool people, and we hope that the other owner wasn't fooled.
GUEST: Yeah, I hope not.
APPRAISER: So it's a good lesson. Don't rely strictly on documentation. Go to an expert, somebody who really knows the subject.
GUEST: Right. Well, I love him regardless of what he's worth. I think he's got a lot of energy in him.
APPRAISER: It's perfectly great-- you paid the right price. It's a good lesson for a lot of people, and I'm delighted you shared it with everybody. It's really helpful.
GUEST: Thank you-- I appreciate it. Disappointed, but I don't have to be as careful with it. (chuckles)