The Case of the Tomb Jades


Dear Reader: The following is an excerpt from my memoir, The Emperor and the Motorcycle Mechanic published in Kindle format and available from Unfortunately through my appraisal activities, what follows is not unusual. Unscrupulous people sometimes can make jade collecting difficult. I am reminded of the old saying, “If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.” Caveat Emptor!


The Tomb

The American couple were living and doing business in Hong Kong in the late 1990’s.

They signed up for my seminar and flew to San Francisco, bringing along a number of jades they had purchased from local Hong Kong dealers. Now they were in my gallery asking for an appraisal of their collection. As I methodically looked through their pieces and photographs of others, I realized they had bought fakes. Each and every piece had the same material, man made discoloration and workmanship techniques. Seldom, if ever, does this happen in nature. In my opinion, none of the over 100 pieces was older than my son who was a teenager at the time.

Giving an adverse opinion is always a delicate task for an appraiser. The couple had been told by their dealer that a tomb had been dug up and pieces were slowly trickling out. As they bought pieces, more great things would be offered. I had heard this scam before and I knew the couple were being defrauded. There was no tomb, but only a jade factory working overtime to produce copies of Han dynasty treasures published in archaeological publications. There was about a six month lag time between publication and the appearance of copies in the market place.

I reflected upon the situation and decided that since they were paying me good money for my opinion, I was obligated to give them my straight opinion. No sense sugar coating a sour situation. They took the news stoically and thanked me for my time.

Six months later on a trip to Hong Kong, the couple invited my wife and I to be their guest for dinner at a prestigious Hong Kong restaurant. I thought this was going to be a treat. Little did I know the couple had arranged for their dealer to also join us at the table.

I suddenly became clear to me their dealer was there with photographs of more “Han tomb jades” to offer the couple. They in turn were determined to have me kosher the pieces on offer. I politely told the couple that I preferred not to do any appraisal business at the dinner table. As I looked at the photos, I suspected that these were more elaborate pieces from the same factory and the slimy dealer seated across from me was hoping I would endorse the pieces with a favorable appraisal. The next day I called the couple and told them the items in the photographs were not convincing. That was the last I heard from the couple. My wife summed up the evening when she said to me, “Well at least we got to eat a good meal!”.



Happy Ox Year!

Welcome the Lunar New Year of the Ox! We hope for prosperity in the coming Year. This 15 inch Ox and Child is rendered from a massive boulder of bright blue Lapis Lazuli circa 1980. It is rare to find examples of this size and quality of Lapis material. We know of only two other examples by the artist, Mr. C. Chin, a master lapidary artist and jade designer trained in the old guild system in Beijing in the 1940’s.

Our Web Site has a New Look!

Our thanks to Carolyn for spiffing up our web site! We call the color melon and it has a long history with our company going back thirty years. In 1991 when I designed our first brochure, we chose the melon color for the interior. Our first gallery location at Daniel Burnham Court in San Francisco continued this tradition and was painted this color. It was chosen for the warmth and the fact it allows the colors of the jades to stand out. Pop!

In 1997 when we moved to the Fairmont Hotel, we chose this color for the interior. Now that this web site is our new gallery location, the tradition continues. We hope you will enjoy it!

Sam Bernstein

We offer Non Contact Appraisals in 2021

Effective January 1, 2021, our hourly rate for providing appraisals and consultations is $250. Our minimum charge is one hour of time. We now offer Zoom appraisals over the internet.

The process is simple. Contact us by email or telephone at 415 299 1600 during business hours 10 am to 5 pm Pacific time to arrange for an estimate. You may email us jpeg images of the objects to

Every appraisal assignment is different and we tailor our service to match your needs. We try to make the appraisal/ consultation as efficient and economically affordable as possible.


We specialize in appraising Chinese Jade, gold, silver and bronze and ancient Chinese glass objects. We also can appraise other Oriental works of art on a case by case basis.

We look forward to being of service to our world wide clientele in 2021. Be safe and take care!

Happy Holidays and New Year Greetings to All Our Friends!

This has been quite a year for everyone! I want to wish all our friends around the world a Happy Holiday and New Years! As the ancient Chinese saying goes, “May you live in interesting times!”

The year 2020 has been a year of transition for our almost 30 year old company. In April, we made the transition from bricks and mortar gallery to On Line web site and became a Private dealer and Appraiser in our our field of Chinese Jade & Oriental Art. We began offering non contact remote Zoom appraisals to our clients in Asia, Europe and across North America. It has been a successful transition. The demand for professional appraisal of Jades is very high.

By lowering our overhead costs with the closure of our gallery location, we are able to offer our works of art at lower prices to our loyal clientele. We continue to handle outstanding jades, Chinese bronze gold and silver and ancient Chinese glass. We even have inaugurated an On Line auction on our web site!

As 2021 approaches, we look forward to more big changes for our company!

To all our friends, current clients and future clients, we want to sincerely thank you for your continued support. Be rest assured, S. Bernstein & Co. will continue our tradition of excellence and providing service.

Take care, be safe and we hope to hear from you in the coming Year!

Sam Bernstein & Staff


Collecting Guide: 8 Things You Need to Know About Chinese Jade

1. Learn to Observe, not just to see.

Most people look at a piece of jade, but they don’t really see what it is, how it’s made. Learning to observe is an art and has to be practiced and exercised, like a muscle.

Some things about jade are obvious, others not so much. Teach yourself to learn what to look for.

2. Handle as Many Pieces as Possible.

Other collectors, dealers, the internet and Museum collections are valuable resources for looking at Chinese Jades. Most collectors enjoy sharing and showing off pieces in their collections and possess hard won knowledge.

3. Familiarize yourself with the literature about Chinese Jade.

Most successful collectors have reference libraries they have assembled over the years.

4. Ask Questions.

There are no dumb questions when looking at jades. If you can’t get a straight answer, you are asking the wrong person.

5. Familiarize yourself with the Style and Working of Jade in Each period.

Jade can be cut, pierced, drilled and polished. Nothing else. Each historical period has it’s own distinctive style of working jade.

6. Deal only with recognized dealers and legitimate auction houses.

Do not buy from sketchy sources. Buy the steak, not the sizzle. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. You get what you pay for! Sometimes!

7. Pay the Tuition.

Every buyer makes mistakes at some point. When you write the check, you start to learn.

Learn from your mistakes. Insist that the seller gives you a bill of sale stating what the Jade is and the Period and age. An honest dealer will be pleased to put his opinion in writing.

8. Have fun! Buy what you love!

Collecting Chinese Jade should be a fun pastime. Do not collect art as an investment.

No one can predict what the art market will be like in the future. Art is not a liquid commodity. Buy what you love and what speaks to you with eloquence. If you deal with honest sources, choose carefully and buy what you love, you will do just fine.



Appraisals with Less Stress!

This year has been stressful. I think everyone would agree with that statement! My company has done more appraisals this year than in any other year. During the Covid-19 Virus, we are offering Virtual non contact appraisal service to our clients. We will appraise your Oriental Works of art by cell phone picture, email and by Zoom virtual conferencing.

This is especially helpful for our overseas clients in Asia and in Europe. This year we have performed appraisals for clients in Taiwan, China, Japan, France, England, Germany and Canada as well a dozen states here in the U.S.


I daresay that we can appraise, valuate and consult with you at any place on earth that has Internet access. Of course, we are available to do physical on site appraising when feasible.

Our hourly rate of $200 flat rate per hour has remained the same for the past 12  years. So, if you need first class appraisal service, contact us and we will provide an estimate of the amount of time involved to complete the task. We want to lower your stress by making it easy and fun to get your art appraised at a reasonable cost.


We now offer Remote Appraisals on Zoom!

We are pleased to announce that S. Bernstein & Co. is offering Appraisals, Consultations and Evaluations of your works of art by using online Zoom meetings. This is a cost effective and social distancing safe way that allows review of your works of art. Our basic hourly rate of $200 per hour will remain in effect until January 1, 2021 when our hourly rate will increase to $250 per hour. This is the first rate increase since 2008, more than twelve years. Please view our Appraisals page for more details. Now no matter where you are located on the globe, expert appraisal service is a click away!

Meet our Latest On Line Auction Ming Things!: Jades of the Glorious Ming Dynasty!

Our new On Line Auction format is gaining interest! The theme of the new on line auction is Ming Things: jades of the Glorious Ming Dynasty. Superlative examples from our collection have been carefully selected. Objects exemplifying the Ming period love and admiration for scholar related objects are on offer.

The large reddish brown Bi Disc with Dragons is a classic and beloved subject representing the Ming dynasty admiration of ancient forms (Fanggu, emulating the ancient forms). This example is powerfully rendered and well displayed on a fitted stand. It would have the place of honor on the scholar’s desk and was a direct connection to the most ancient of forms in Chinese art.

The grey-black Bi Tong brush holder is another object useful for holding calligraphy brushes on the scholar’s desk. The grey black material is characteristic of the nephrite jade coming from Khotan in the far western region of China.
The material in the form of heavy boulders was carried by camel from Khotan to the jade working centers through the country. This piece represents the refinement and eclecticism of Ming Dynasty taste.

The scholars brush washer with original wooden case inlaid with mother of pearl is an essential part of the scholar’s desk. It was used to mix ink and water and served to load the calligraphy brush with ink. This example is a rich grey black coloration and shows the well worn use over centuries of use. This fine piece was once part of the Gump Family Collection of san Francisco. The Gump Family began the first emporium in America dealing in Jade in 1861.

The last piece in our auction is a well formed gilt gold on bronze seated figure of the Buddha resting on a fitted wooden stand. This piece would have been placed on the scholar’s desk along with other objects intended to inspire the calligrapher during his studies.

The Glorious Ming Dynasty is cherished for its love of refinement, economic success and respect for the best of ancient China. Be inspired and bid on one or more of these remarkable objects which have endured Five Centuries of collecting!

Sir Francis Drake & the Wanli Emperor

Recently I was asked to appraise a cylindrical cloisonne inlaid handle approximately 4.5 inches long. The owner found the piece near a site believed to the landing point in northern California where Sir Francis Drake landed for repairs to his ship the Golden Hind in 1579. I admit I was skeptical, but a competent appraiser never approaches an object with a preconceived opinion. The successful appraiser and dealer will always approach an object with an open mind and apply a methodology while examining the piece. I call this process “having a conversation with the work of art”.

The owner arrived at my office and handed me a plastic baggy which contained the object. As I took the piece out and placed on the examination pad I immediately observed a number of things which were obvious to the trained eye.

The piece was found entwined among the roots of a tree. The shaft of the handle of the calligraphy brush was somewhat crushed, revealing that the body was made from a rolled strip of metal with a seam. It was not cast from a solid piece of metal.

Second, the enamels inlaid were clay based, not glass based. The colors were of the Late Ming period palette of colors and most importantly, there were several colors contained in a single cell. This is a defining characteristic of Late Ming (1573-1620 Wanli Period cloisonne. The subject matter depicts a five clawed dragon chasing a flaming Pearl of Knowledge. This is one of the most popular subjects for ming period cloisonne. The condition of the piece is consistent with that of an object which has been exposed for a prolonged period of time to natural elements. There is no observed evidence of human manipulation of the condition of the handle.


I was pleased to tell the owner that for all of these reasons it was my opinion that the handle is Late Ming period transitional cloisonne consistent with a Wanli period date. The owner was very pleased to hear this since that dating falls within the range of Sir Francis Drake’s landing in Northern California. While I have no observable evidence of the Drake connection to this specific piece, there is no ambiguity in my opinion that the piece is of the period. It is intellectually pleasing to consider how a Late Ming Dynasty object might come into the possession of Sir Francis. One theory is that the object was taken as booty from one of the Spanish galleons plying the China trade which Sir Francis captured. The trade from Peru where Spain minted silver Pieces of Eight to be used as payment for Chinese trade goods was the Amazon Prime of the Sixteenth Century. Sir Francis was a privateer whose mission was to capture as much loot as possible for his Queen, himself and his crew. It was a grand time to be alive! If only this handsome brush handle could speak! What a story it might tell!

Providing appraisals to people and viewing interesting works of art is pleasant detective work which keeps me in the trade. If you have an interesting piece and seek expert opinion, feel free to contact me. My hourly rate for providing appraisal service is reasonable and I can provide non contact appraisals by emailing photos taken with a cell phone camera in most instances. I am available to travel to inspect works of art on site, if required.