Chinese Dragon Carved Walnut Shells, ca. 1910

Value (2007) | $2,000 Auction

GUEST:
I found these in a flea market in Beijing.

APPRAISER:
And you got some other things there too, didn't you?

GUEST:
Yes, that's right. And I told you about those.

APPRAISER:
Yes, you sure did. Didn't turn out too well with those pieces.

GUEST:
No, they didn't, but we enjoy them.

APPRAISER:
Quite frankly, I was a little dismissive when you showed me the things, until I saw these. Because this is one of the few examples where I've ever seen something coming out of China these days where it was actually old.

GUEST:
Ah, great.

APPRAISER:
Yeah, they're late 19th century, maybe as late as the 1920s. They're carved walnut shells. And the thing about these walnut shells that's so interesting is rather than carving them with steel, they actually carved them with stone tools.

GUEST:
Oh, wow.

APPRAISER:
Because the steel would dull so much on the edge of the nut, you'd have to sharpen the tool again and again and again.

GUEST:
I see.

APPRAISER:
But they're magnificently carved. Beautiful swirling dragons all over them. And then the other thing that's even tougher with that is to get the polish on them. Because basically you're using techniques that you would use in stone carving, because it's just... it's too difficult a material to work with.

GUEST:
Is the nut actually still inside?

APPRAISER:
They removed it from one side.

GUEST:
Oh, really?

APPRAISER:
Yeah, they removed it.

GUEST:
So they've been separated and put...

APPRAISER:
No, no, they just cut a slot in one side and then worked it out.

GUEST:
Oh, my gosh.

APPRAISER:
Yeah. Amazing.

GUEST:
So they're hollow, then.

APPRAISER:
Yep, yep. Wow. How much did you pay for them?

GUEST:
I think I paid about $40 for them.

APPRAISER:
That's really surprising, because it seems that when anything is real in Beijing, the price is just sky-high and bears little resemblance to reality. But when it comes to these, I think you got a real bargain.

GUEST:
Great.

APPRAISER:
I'd imagine these would sell at auction for probably $1,000 apiece.

GUEST:
Oh, my. I had no idea. $1,000 apiece?

APPRAISER:
Yep. They're the kind of thing that would have been a scholar's plaything.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
James D. Julia Auctioneers
Fairfield, Maine
Appraised value (2007)
$2,000 Auction
Event
San Antonio, TX (July 14, 2007)
Period
20th Century
Form
Carving
Material
Walnut

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