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Untarnished appeal of old silver (2)

By Wang Jie (Shanghai Daily)

14:23, January 21, 2013

"Old silver represented decadence of the old society," Hu says. "An old craftsman told me that buckets and buckets of old silver ornaments were smelted into silver ingots during that period because the old silverware represented a feudal period.

"All that superb carving technique, creative design and the intricate patterns were gone with the fire."

Many Chinese were unaware of the significance of the loss of old silver art, compared with the loss of other antiques and antiquities during that period.

Beginning in the 1980s, it was common for urban Chinese families to exchange the old silver that remained, sometimes valuable heirlooms, for gold jewelry, representing "a new lifestyle in a new epoch," Hu says.

Hu has collected nearly 600 pieces of old silver work, purchasing them from antiques markets or private art dealers. They include jewel boxes, clasps, rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, charms and various ornament.

Each dynasty had its distinctive patterns, skills and favored objects. For example, a "longevity lock" talisman during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties was often used to bless a newborn. They typically bore patterns of bats, lotus and clouds.

"Look at the design of some silver made in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Even today they appear very modern. I am amazed at the aesthetic taste of our predecessors."

Hu holds out a silver fish charm about the size of two fingers, which contains a folded mini-comb that can be used by both women and men. Men would comb their beard or mustache.

"Due to the rarity of old Chinese silver pieces in the market, the price has rocketed in recent years," Hu says, adding that some people collect for investment, rather than appreciation.

Hu has written a book titled "Flying Bird and Fish" (2012), which introduces silver art and includes many photographs.

Silver art aficionados can visit (Chinese only) to find other fans and view collections.

Tips for old silver:

There's some fake silver on the market. Buyers should inform themselves before purchasing. Photos of a prospective purchase can be sent to for authentication. Old silver has a soft luster and patina; it's smooth with age and has no sharp ridges. It looks and feels old. But it's best to be sure.

There's a trend to combine pieces of old jewelry to create striking pieces with a new look, but this is not something you do at home.

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