The Present Asian Art Market as of Spring 2020

It is perhaps ironic that great collections of Asian art were formed in America and Europe during the world wide depression years of the 1930’s. For example, Maude Vettlesen, a wealthy collector who bought from Stanley Charles Nott formed a great collection of white and spinach green jades. Nott was prolific and wrote many of his catalogs during this period which today bring thousands of dollars paid by collectors. The Vettlesen Collection itself was in the Smithsonian Institution for decades. Today it resides in the Birmingham Museum of Art.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has resulted in major auction houses and Asian art Fairs to be cancelled or postponed. Galleries are shuttered. However interest in Asian art continues through the internet. My firm has been busy appraising major collections of Asian art during this period. Our On Line Auction format is off to a good start. I suggest that collectors take a deep breath. Continue with your study and asking questions. The beauty of the internet is that anyone can deep dive and continue to have contact from all over the world.

I suspect that prices may be off by 40% of their pre-Covid levels. However significant cultural objects will continue to bring substantial prices. The lower end of the market will remain unchanged in price level. It is the broad middle range of Asian art that will experience the most downward pressure in prices. If you are a collector and are concerned what your collection is worth in terms of Fair Market Value, I recommend you have a competent specialist appraiser advise you, especially if you are considering to sell. If not, hold on and wait for the world economy to correct itself. Remember, there is no loss realized until and if you sell. I predict there will be some bargains for the astute collector in the mix. My firm is open for business and ready to advise collectors and museums. Take care and be safe!

Past Tense

The world is in a state of flux. Those of us of a certain age are hard pressed to remember a similar experience. But we as Americans will persevere.

The exciting news is that amongst turmoil comes opportunity! This month after 22 years in our Gallery location we transitioned from galley  to Private Dealer by Appointment. Some clients may recall that from 1991 to 1997 my firm handled works of art by Appointment. At this juncture in a period of uncertainty, I believe that this change in our business model will allow us to operate more efficiently and therefore offer our clients better prices for our Museum quality works of art. Our Appraisal and Valuation business, On line Web Site and our exciting On Line Auction format will continue unchanged. We will continue to offer our services to our world wide clientele. Be safe and take care! And most importantly, continue to follow our web site as we constantly update it with exciting treasures.


Inaugural S. Bernstein On Line Auction Begins A new Era in our 28 Year history!

Think globally, not locally! On April 1, 2020, S. Bernstein will invite Collectors from around the world to bid on selected works of art in our collection. Our auction format will be a no reserve, no buyer’s premium for successful bids. (This is not an April Fools joke!).


Buyers from around the world will be able to bid anytime of the day during the 7 day inaugural auction. We are sure to encounter some “bugs” in the initial auction format which is custom designed for us, so bear with us. Enjoy!


Sam Bernstein

Update from S. Bernstein & Co.

To arrange a private viewing of our works of art,
we invite you to email us at
or call us at 415 299-1600.

Our web site, is open for business as usual
and we are available to conveniently appraise and valuate
your works of art from photography sent to our email address.

We are keenly interested in buying, selling and appraising
works of art in our field that you may have to offer.
Please send us photos to our email address,


Happy Lunar New Year of the Rat

All of us at S. Bernstein & Co., Jade & Oriental Art, Inc. extend our best wishes to you and your family in the Year of the Rat. May you be healthy and happy in the coming year.

Follow our web site as we constantly seek and acquire outstanding Oriental works of art for our discerning clientele. If you find the need to seek appraisal & valuation of your works of art, we stand ready to provide our knowledge & expertise and work hard for you.

The Love of Imperfection

Among the many visitors to the Fairmont Hotel for the Christmas Holidays, one guest asked me about the Ko-Bizen water Pot from the Muromachi Period of Japan.

“What is that pot? Why is it defective?” the Guest asked me.

I was taken aback by the question and the ignorance of the person asking the question. The Ko-Bizen pottery water pot is the very essence of the philosophy of Daoist imperfection and the finding of beauty therein. This concept of Wabi is central to the appeal of objects which get admirers adrenalin going! I patiently tried to explain this concept to the guest as best I could in my own manner. Later I came upon the following short video which succinctly explains in elegant language the history of this love of natural objects and their meaning on a wider scale. Here is the link for those of you who want to avail yourself ofviewing it:

One person’s “defectiveness is another person’s masterpiece!


This lack of awareness is apparent when exhibited by Chinese visitors to my gallery who are looking at our jades on offer. “This has a crack”, or I wish the piece was whiter, or I wish it had dragons carved on it, blah blah blah…

This kind of quantitative aesthetic approach shows a lack of understanding of the jade art form, and of the material itself. It is the use of the natural mineral by the artist that gives the object it’s value. I must confess that as I begin my 68th. year, I tire easily when confronted with such ignorance, and more importantly, lack of patience in the process by which knowledge is gained. To the serious collector and those who seek knowledge, I’ll take all day to explain it. Knowledge is power!



New, improved easier to use S. Bernstein & Co. Website

The new improved S. Bernstein & Co. web site is up and running like a dream! My sincere thanks to my staff, Natalie, my Gallery Director and to Carolyn, staff assistant. Photography has been improved and videos of important objects added. The look has been streamlined and categories combined to make it easier to use. Also, more importantly, our mobile app to view our web site on your cell phone has been vastly improved.  My thanks to Alexander Bernstein, my son who vociferously recommended doing this project. We even added a “hamburger” to the mobile app. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry about it.


My business remains the buying, selling and appraisal of museum quality Oriental Art. More selections from our large inventory have been added for viewing and my blog has articles relevant to collectors regarding the dating of jades, scientific testing and Imperial taste in collecting jades. Collectors will find this interesting.


In the coming year, I will work on adding Mandarin Chinese text to the web site to enable my Mainland Chinese clients to enjoy visits to the virtual S. Bernstein & Co.


It’s a brave new world, bubby!



Let’s take a moment to remember…

During this Holiday season when there are colorful lights, children excited to meet Santa and festivities planned I pause for a moment. This past year saw several of my longest and dearest friends depart this earth. Memories of Irene and of John remain vivid in my mind’s eye. Together we formed two great collections of Oriental Art. The dealer-collector relationship was mutually beneficial. Besides that, we had a hell of a blast doing it together and sharing the excitement of discovering treasures to add to their collections.


After 40 years of art dealing, I realize that these long time relationships are irreplaceable. Irene and John were like members of my close family. Their passing has created a void which can never be filled. Join with me in a celebration of their lives. Their Collections remain a testament to their love of Oriental Art. Godspeed to Irene & John. I will miss you.

Can Jade be scientifically dated?

“Is Scientific Testing of Jade the Answer?” – Article by Sam Bernstein

Published in Orientations Magazine, February 2000


The issue of scientific testing of jade to determine the age of the working of art objects is a central issue among jade collectors, academics and interested parties. Janet Douglas correctly points out in her well-argued essay “On the Authentication of Ancient Chinese Jades Using Scientific Methods” some of the limitations and pitfalls of applying scientific methods alone.

Recently a European auction house has mounted a sale in which it is claimed that “…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 on the object and the analysis of the evidence of weathering. Weathering refers to the natural process of alteration to the surface of jade.

However, despite the claims of a new method to authenticate the date of manufacture of jade, the consensus of art historians and scientists that this 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. I agree with Ms. Douglas that scientific analysis must go hand in hand with art historianship. The seeming verisimilitude of results from the testing procedures occurs when scientific testing alone is applied to the dating of jade. It is my 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 this discrepancy. In the auction catalogue mentioned, this key element of art historianship in setting the age parameters is missing. As Professor James Cahill remarked during the symposium Issues of Authenticity in Chinese Painting held at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in December, 1999, that in addition to scientific measurement we should “ not forget to look at the painting itself ”.

Indeed, what is a scientist to test for if the object before him sits with no reference points in a historical context or archaeological 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 Pond” published in Orientations magazine, September 1995].

There are other concerns which Ms. Douglas’ essay does not address. For example, will collectors be convinced to rely upon scientific testing alone to attempt to authenticate their jades? Will unscrupulous individuals in Asia and the West make use of “scientific testing” to pass off their confections in a market place overwhelmed with fakes? Who speaks for the collector, the individual who propels the jade market forward?

Without the input of the art historian and archaeologist, it is far too easy for scientific testing results to be misinterpreted and abused. 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. As in all areas of collecting, the collector must rely upon his or her common sense in such matters. Collecting jade can and should be a pleasant and rewarding activity. As lovers of jade, we must resist attempts to take this pleasure away from us.

Sam Bernstein

How to Spot a Fake

“Fishing in the Jade Pond” Article by Sam Bernstein

Published in Orientations, September 1995, page 110


One of the precise indicators of an upwardly mobile art market is an increase in spurious works of art. Fakers, above all, are denizens of the market place. It may truthfully be said that fakes delineate the evolution of taste and fads in collecting with surprising precision. Their creation is a response to demand which is an ever-changing reflection of human desires. Further, fakes provide an understanding of the people who make them and those for whom the fakes are made.

Chinese jade is at the present time experiencing an increase in demand and the attention of both beginning collectors and connoisseurs alike. Following each wave of archaeological discovery, spurious copies have entered the market place. A subtle difference however, has emerged which separates the present from past trends in fakery. An increase in technological sophistication has been brought to bear on the efforts of the fakers. Scholars in other disciplines, such as Chinese metalwork and porcelain, have bemoaned the fact that fakers are often one step ahead of the academics and dealers who catch on to them. It is a dubious tribute to the ingenuity of the human mind that enables the faker to simulate both the obvious and more subtle tell-tale signs of authenticity.

Sadly, each society and generation fakes the art it covets most. Roman copies of Greek sculpture kept generations of sculptors basically producing both imitations and copies. In our own lifetime, the works of Picasso, Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh, Manet, and Dali have been copied and imitated. Indeed, many paintings which Lord Joseph Duveen sold to American millionaires early in this century were copied so that the seller would have a replica to hang on the mantle. Fakers move quickly to take advantage of the high prices produced by a new collecting trend before their activities undermine the market altogether. Witness the strong auction record prices of white eighteenth century jades. This writer has begun to encounter an increasing number of spurious copies executed with amazing sophistication.

Consider for a moment what constitutes a fake. Aside from a question of interest on the part of the faker, there are copies, imitations, and replicas. Copies are executed based on an original work of art. Many fake jades in the market place today are copied from published examples of excavated artifacts. The copy at first appears enticing, but under close scrutiny is less than convincing. Once the spell is broken, the ugly and unsatisfying truth emerges. Imitations are simulations which mimic the attributes of the original. Again, the imitation is less than satisfying if viewed in the bright light of day. Replicas of art objects attempt with varying degrees of success to reproduce a work of art. The replica is a place holder, not meant to imitate or copy.

It is important to understand that a jade piece emulating a Han (206 BC-AD 220) jade done in the Song period (960-1279) is not the same thing as a fake. In Chinese art, the dominant mode of activity is a desire to maintain and rework traditional forms and subjects. Nostalgia for the past and emulation of its achievements is desirable. Emulation is good since it allows each period to interpret and modify traditional forms. Misrepresentation of an imitation as “the real thing,” however, is fakery.

Unfortunately, when a fake is discovered, it severs a direct link with the hand that made it. Even though the work remains the same, the aesthetic response to it is profoundly changed. If we are smart, we will learn from the experience and avoid making the same mistake twice. From experience, most buyers know that the price paid for a seeming bargain cannot be for the real thing. They are buying an illusion and delude themselves. This is the faker’s main weapon in perpetrating his fraud on the collector. If the work is too good to be true, then it usually is.

The buyer of the fake keeps the faker in business. The real loss resulting from the discovery of a fake is not only monetary. For the person cheated, it loosens the hold on our perception and understanding of the past. One of the strongest tools a collector possesses for uncovering fakes is the most obvious. This is simply the fact that a faker, whether he copies, imitates, or replicates, can never assume the mind-set of the artist of an original work and period. Fakers add flourishes and details without really understanding the symbolism and purpose behind the original concept. Familiarity with jades of a particular period enables the collector to understand why an artist used certain motifs as well as the stylistic and physical approach to the jade.

Finally, our concept of authenticity depends on the relationship between the work of art itself and the period to which it is attributed. Determination of authenticity requires a methodology counting on a consistency of both stylistic and physical analysis of the object. Looking at the work of art with a critical eye is the number one defense for detecting fakery. It is misleading to think that scientific advances and scholarly expertise alone can solve all problems. However, an open, questioning mind can eliminate many of the more obvious pitfalls. Ask yourself, is this work of art convincing? Is it stylistically and physically consistent? What is the artist trying to convey? Does the object exhibit logicality? Does it make sense? Be cautious, selective, and assume the work of art is guilty until proven correct. The thrill and passion of collecting outweighs its negative side. Never for a moment let the faker deny you the pleasure of collecting. We are all seekers of truth about works of art and the direct link with those who made them.

Sam Bernstein is director of S. Bernstein & Co., a gallery specializing in Chinese jade works of art in San Francisco
© 1995 S. Bernstein & Co.