Chinese Ivory Brush Pot, ca. 1875
I'm told that my great-grandfather bought this at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876. Right after they got married, they went to Philadelphia for their honeymoon, and this was one of the things they brought home to Hoboken, New Jersey.
It was probably done within ten years before the 1875 period. It was probably some display piece. As you can see, the workmanship is incredible. Really high relief, deep carving, and a fantastically lively scene of, like, all sorts of mythological figures in an almost theatrical performance of incredible exuberance. And good quality ivory. I wouldn't be surprised if it was really kind of a showpiece, because I've seen some of the material was less than average in quality for that show, and then some of it was like this, really wonderful. And you know what it was used for?
Well, I was told that my great-grandfather used it to keep cigars in it, but I thought it was a brushpot.
And you were right. In Chinese it's called bitong.
Bitong. So is this Chinese?
Yes, it is Chinese.
Any particular area of China?
Probably in Canton, in southern China. You can just see these scenes that are going on, these palace scenes with people sitting inside. There are other scenes of dragons in the bottom with little children on them, various figures from Taoist mythology and figures from Buddhist mythology. It's just an incredible piece of work. This piece was not made for the Chinese market. This was made for export. When you talk about the value on these items, if this was being sold ten, 15 years ago, this would have sold probably for between $600 to $800 at auction. And $800 would have been a very, very high price. But one of the things that's happened is, the Chinese market has heated up so incredibly that an ivory like this, I would expect to be sold, at auction, for around $30,000 now.
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