Discovery of a ‘Hidden Christian’ Mid-16th Century Japanese Lantern

I admit it! I really enjoy my clients bringing me unusual and challenging works of art to appraise. Recently, my dear friend and client ‘Bob’ brought me a thirty-inch tall open work pagoda lantern to appraise. Rare unusual things are attracted to Bob like a magnet, and his passionate enthusiasm for collecting is refreshing.

I examined the Pagoda lantern on a bright sunny day and the natural light revealed a well-worn copper object that had passed through a very long passage of time. Like people, works of art age over time and suffer the vicissitudes of their life. I observed that the finial knob on the cover have a five petal flower with a circle in the center. This suggested it was a Japanese family crest or mon. A quick online check revealed it to be the Omura Family mon. But even more exciting, the open work cylindrical body had a repeating pattern of Chinese endless knots and a European style cross.

Again, the online search revealed the cross to be a Jerusalem cross used by Jesuits in the Crusades. Indeed, the Jesuit flag bore the same identical cross. Further checking revealed the During the Sixteenth century, Christian worship was often persecuted in Japan. Christian themes were subtly incorporated into traditional designs and “hidden”. The Omura Clan was among the first to embrace Christianity.

Omura Sumitada (1533-June 23, 1587) was a Japanese Daimyo lord of the Sengoku period. He achieved fame throughout the country for being the first Daimyo to convert to Christianity following the arrival of Jesuit missionaries. Following his baptism, he became known as “Dom Bartolomeu”. Sumitada is known as the lord who opened the port of Nagasaki to foreign trade.

The fact that the Jerusalem Cross was cleverly worked into the design suggests it may have been a ‘Hidden Christian’ object and has interesting historical appeal.



A Look at Scientific Testing of Jade

 Perhaps it is symptomatic of the age in which we live that we look to science and the technology that it propels to find answers to our questions about art. Recently, there have been attempts to apply scientifically derived techniques to the dating and evaluation of ancient Chinese jade. A European auction house has mounted a sale of jade objects in which it is claimed that “two years of research were invested into confirming the authenticity of this important collection. As a result a new scientific method to establish the authenticity of ancient jades has been developed.”

The basis of this “new scientific method” consists of an examination of the tool markings present and analysis of the evidence of weathering. Weathering is defined as the natural process of the alteration of the surface of jade. The sale catalogue states that sometimes in archaeological finds where no weathering may be traced the question is raised of how to establish the age of the object. The sale catalogue continues, “Essentially, if a jade object has no evidence of weathering- something which cannot be determined with the naked eye- it must date from within a time bracket of 1000 years. In such a case, appraisal of the working techniques and stylistic assessment must be relied upon.” The catalogue continues with the admonition that “every collector should make use of a microscope… this is the first stage in the scientific analysis.”

 In reviewing the various scientific testing techniques developed over the past twenty years, several procedures have evolved into common use. Thermal luminescence (TL) is the emission of light from an insulator or semi-conductor when it is heated. TL dating is limited by the response of the samples that are available. The response is checked by irradiating the sample with a standard or known source of radiation prior to measurement of its TL. This calibration procedure enables the TL sensitivity of the material to be determined. Such a calibration, along with the measured natural TL of the sample, enables a determination of age. This testing procedure, however, maybe defeated by fakers who mix older materials with new. Also, it does not have applicability to jade works of art. Another technique used is x-ray fluorescence which yields information about the constituent elements, but does not yield age data. Electron spectroscopy (ESCA) is another way of analyzing the surface of an object and of its elemental makeup. This has been used successfully by Dr. Wen Guang in testing excavated jades from archeological sites throughout China [See the article, “Mineralogical Inquiries into Chinese Neolithic Jades” published in The Journal of Chinese Jade. 1996. S. Bernstein, editor]. However, despite these claims of a new method to authenticate the date of manufacture of jade, the consensus of art historians and scientists that the author canvassed is that there is not, at the present time, a reliable scientific basis alone for the dating of a worked, or prehended jade object.

The verisimilitude of results from the testing procedures may result when scientific testing alone is applied to the dating of jade. It is the author’s opinion that while it is admirable to apply scientific testing techniques to jade, the observer must understand its’ limitations and place these procedures into an overall methodology of stylistic as well as physical review. Science must go hand in hand with art historianship. The art historian has the visual ability to understand an object within its cultural and historical context. Scientific applications within this framework support the conclusions of the art historian, not vice versa. If the results of such testing do not support these assumptions, then further enquiry must be made to explain the discrepancy. In the auction catalogue mentioned, this key element of art historianship in setting the age parameters is missing. Professor James Cahill remarked during the recent symposium Issues of Authenticity in Chinese Painting held at the Metropolitan Museum, New York in December, 1999 that in addition to scientific measurement we should “ not forget to look at the painting.” What is a scientist to test for if the object before him sits with no reference points in a historical context or archeological background? Those individuals who produce fakes are amazingly proficient at adapting to the nuances of scientific testing [See the author’s essay “Fishing in the Jade Pondpublished in Orientations magazine, September 1995].

It is correct thinking that the art historian who has the benefit of supporting scientific analysis of the art object may produce a clearly reasoned and published description which adds to the body of research. Based on visual analysis alone one can see almost anything without some archeologically derived point of reference. Herein lies the flaw in this latest attempt to date jade works of art scientifically. There is a popular misconception that scientific testing is somehow “ objective” while art history is “subjective”. Clearly this is not the case. It is the interpretation of the results which requires expertise. Reliable results depend on a comparison with a control group. In the case of jade, this consists of comparative analysis of the results to similar testing procedures on scientifically excavated jades. A significant example of analysis of scientifically excavated jades are those from the tomb of the Western King of Nanyue discovered in Guangzhou in Guandong Province in 1984. Results of scientific testing suggest that the jade used to work the jades have a similar consistency of chemical makeup; i.e., the material originated from the same source. Nowhere within the results is there a claim of precise dating of the weathering of these objects recovered by Chinese archeologists. More importantly, there is no basis for the arbitrary parameter of 1000 years for surface alteration to take place on a jade stone. A laboratory test conducted by scientists at the University of Antwerp in 1995 successfully induced surface effect on jade over a period of several months exposure to a tomb like environment. The results demonstrated that surface alteration could be induced in a relatively short time duration of several months. To quote the published paper of the experiment, “ This means that the process takes place over a relatively short period of time ( i.e., during the months that the buried bodies decompose). This explains why there is no correlation between the degree of alteration and the age of the object or the length of time it has been buried. It is, rather, a function of the extent and duration of contact between the object and the alkaline solution and the microstructure of the mineral.” [Results published in Chinese Jade and Scroll Paintings from the Dongxi collection, Nicole De Bisscop. Kredietbank, N.V. 1995 Brussels. Pp.22-24].

Without the input of the art historian or archaeologist, it is far too easy for scientific testing results to be misinterpreted. This does a disservice to both art historianship and scientific enquiry and adversely affects the jade market worldwide by creating the impression of scientific infallibility. Comparison with archaeologically derived examples remains our strongest and most potent analytical tool. Science alone does not provide a panacea for answering our questions about the absolute dating of jade works of art.


Sam Bernstein is a private dealer and appraiser and owner of S. Bernstein & Co., a specialist dealer in Chinese jade located in the Bay Area, and has written and lectured extensively on the subject of Chinese jade both in the United States and the Peoples’ Republic of China.

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!