1938 Chinese Export Silver Cutlery Canteen

Value (2012) | $6,000 Auction$8,000 Auction

In 1936, my father joined the Marine Corps. And from boot camp they sent him to Beijing, China. And while he was there, his sister was getting married. So he commissioned this set of silver to be made as her wedding present and lugged it home in his footlocker, brought it back to her, and she had it in a closet most of her life. Never had children, and about 25 years ago, passed it on to me. Now, I use it because it's fun at dinner parties because it's got interesting dragons on it and there's always a story behind it. And when I got it from my aunt, I tried to get an appraisal for insurance purposes, but all I could find was if I melted it down, what would it be worth? And I thought, "Oh, these dragons are so cute on it." I didn't want to melt it down.

What were you offered as the sort of scrap value for it?

They said maybe about $4,000.

$4,000. Well, obviously, it is Chinese. It was manufactured by Teh Ling Company in Peking, now Beijing. And I see that we have the original purchase receipt there too. So it's dated 21st of December, 1938. And it cost quite a lot of money at the time, I'm sure. For a private in the military, that was probably a lot of money.


But before we go on to give you the figure, let's just discuss your father here in the photograph.

He's on the left, yes.

And this is him outside the Imperial Palace, is it?

It is, yes.

It's great to be able to tie in the man who purchased it, the purchase receipt, and the object itself. The box is very, very large, isn't it?

It is very large and heavy.

It's the first thing you notice. Usually with European canteens, they're a little bit smaller, and the pieces of cutlery are a little bit closer together. This one's huge. And each piece is spaced out very carefully. There are two other aspects of this box which I enjoy, which kind of really separate it out as being of Chinese origin. And those are the Chinese lock and the lock plate, and of course just on the side here, the very Chinese style handles.

Handles, yes.

Much talk has been had in 2010, 2011 of the strength of the Chinese market-- porcelains and whatnot making fantastic sums of money. The same is now starting to happen with silver. Of course, this is for export. Chinese don't use knives, forks and spoons in the same way as we do. But the Chinese are still wanting to purchase these sort of things back and take them back to their homeland. At auction, I think that this would have no problem in selling for between $6,000 and $8,000. So it's quite a big increase.

Thank you.

No problem at all.

Appraisal Details

Freeman's Auctioneers
Philadelphia, PA
Appraised value (2012)
$6,000 Auction$8,000 Auction
Myrtle Beach, SC (June 23, 2012)
20th Century
Case, Cutlery

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