Chinese antique desks, and other oriental furniture, have become fashionable again. The astounding sale of an Imperial Chinese vase for £53.1 million at auction recently opened people’s eyes to the beauty of Chinese antiques – with the good news that wooden furniture is of considerably less value to Chinese collectors than porcelain.
The elaborate rosewood dragon desks sometimes seen in specialist showrooms look very palatial, with intricate hand-carved embellishments that conjure up images of the Forbidden City and the famed Dragon Throne. However, only the most outrageously expensive ones will have royal provenance. Most were made for export in the late 1890s and early 1900s (Liberty made Chinese exports highly fashionable). Although this does not detract from the desks’ value in our eyes, to Chinese collectors striving to recapture their imperial heritage, they are not worth bidding for.
The more elaborate the piece, the harder it is to clean, though a mini-vac and a set of paintbrushes will go a long way to keeping the worst of the dust at bay. However, it’s essential you know what the finish is, which may be lacquer, shellac, oil, wax or even painted. These basically come down to two types: hard finishes such as lacquer, and oil finishes. A lot of waxed or oiled furniture can be maintained with beeswax. Don’t be too generous – a tiny pellet worked into a cloth is all you need, or you will clog up the fine detailing.
The finish on Asian antique desks can be determined by applying a drop of Linseed oil – it will bead on a hard finish, and soak into an oil one. Antique dealers in Cumbria will always be happy to advise on the care of oriental furniture.
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