Excerpt from The Emperor & the Motorcycle Mechanic “The Case of the Crystal Buddha” by Sam Bernstein



The Case of the Crystal Buddha


I am amazed at how great things find their way into my hands. During the 1980s a magnificent quartz crystal figure of the Buddha was sold at auction in London. At the time, it was catalogued as an Indian work of art of the eighteenth century. In actuality, it was a Burmese treasure standing almost 15 inches in height and rendered from a solid boulder of quartz crystal sometime during the twelfth century. After being sold by an American dealer, it was not seen again for many years.


Almost a decade later, my phone rang. The caller explained that he was living on an estate near Salinas, California, about a two-hour drive from San Francisco. His name was John, and he gave me directions to his home. As he was describing the crystal Buddha, I knew that a quartz work of art that size was significant, and the details confirmed in my mind that this was the fabulous Buddha I had seen a decade before. I told John that I would drive down the next morning and would be at his house by 9 am.

As I drove along Highway One, I could hardly contain my excitement. John’s directions were good, but I still managed to get lost twice in the Salinas hills. Finally I located the right direction and drove down the private road to a farmhouse. John came outside to greet me. I got the distinct impression that he did not receive many visitors and that he had the makings of a recluse. He showed me around the property that contained, among other things, a small zoo with wild boar (a large wild boar named Chester was allowed to roam freely) together with several mountain lions and a leopard. John showed me his collection of high performance motorcycles in a large storage shed on his property. Since Laguna Seca raceway is only two or three miles away, John told me he enjoyed riding his bikes on the racetrack for fun.


The name of the estate “Brigadoon” was a play on his name. John explained that he was one of the heirs to the Briggs and Stratton engine-manufacturing firm. To me he seemed a wonderfully unaffected man who lived life to the fullest. Inside the house, John introduced me to his lovely wife and two small children. The house was what I expected it to be after being shown his farm; neat, and unassuming. In the master bedroom, next to the bed was a large caliber anti-tank recoilless rifle and several other weapons were hanging from the walls.


At the foot of the bed there was a silver-colored metal case. John opened the case carefully and removed an object wrapped in large bath towels. As he unwrapped the towels, the almost perfectly clear quartz crystal Buddha appeared. It was even larger and more beautiful than I remembered it from ten years before. In the center of the forehead was a natural dark inclusion of a shiny blue-black coloration. John told me that this natural inclusion represented the awareness and level of enlightenment that the Buddha had attained. The object was breathtaking, and certainly a significant cultural object. There was a purity and serenity that emanated from the sculpture.

We agreed to a price, and I carefully wrapped the quartz Buddha and placed it back into the metal carrying case. Needless to say, the drive back home to San Francisco was exciting. I continually looked in the back seat of the car to make sure that the piece was still there and that I was not dreaming. I tried to focus on the clients whom I thought would like to own such an important piece. Several came to mind, and I resolved to place a price on the crystal Buddha and stick to it.


The quartz crystal Buddha appeared in my second exhibition and volume Chinese Art From Distant Centuries. During my participation in the 1994 San Francisco Fall Antique Show, the crystal Buddha was displayed proudly in a custom case at the entrance to the booth. It quickly became the talk of the show. Ultimately however, the time came to part with this amazing spiritual treasure, and it was sold to a dear friend and client living in the Midwest. The hunt and the chase of great works of art is what makes my career so exciting.



New Excerpt From The Emperor & the Motorcycle Mechanic-Memoir of an Art Dealer

Thanks for the positive feedback. Herewith, another Chapter from my Memoir for your edification. A true story…!


The Case of the Naked Man

The handsome blond-haired man with the rather large green parrot perched on his shoulder walked into my gallery and began to browse around. I noticed he was well tanned and his haircut was impeccably maintained. I also noticed he was completely naked, wearing only the green bird on his shoulder.

“May I help you?” I asked.
“No, thank you. I just would like to browse,” he replied cordially.
I dialed the building security and asked for some assistance. Two minutes later the

head of security, George Stiles, stood in my doorway. George was six feet, four inches tall and had bright red hair. He weighed a conservative 280 pounds. George had what might be called an intimidating old school Irish cop’s presence.

“Hey! Youse with the bird, come here. I want to talk with you,” he said to the naked man.

“Is there a problem?” the naked man replied.

“Yeah, we don’t allow any birds in the building. You’ll have to take it outside,” George told the man. And with that, the naked man was escorted off the property. I never saw the man or his bright green parrot again.

Bonus: Excerpt from Sam Bernstein’s The Emperor & the Motorcycle Mechanic-Memoir of an Art Dealer




I hope you will enjoy reading this Chapter from my newest publication, the Emperor & the Motorcycle Mechanic-Memoir of an Art Dealer, available in Kindle from Amazon.com $9.99 The volume has 85 Chapters, 67 Color Photos, 260 Pages.

The Case of the Missing Lock Box


A lawyer representing a major East Coast bank called me to retain my services in performing a forensic appraisal. A customer was suing the bank for $2,000,000 for the loss of the contents of his lockbox. Not only had the contents of the lockbox mysteriously disappeared, but also the lockbox itself had gone missing! The client alleged that the contents of the box were priceless jadeite jewelry smuggled out of China during the communist revolution of 1949. The story provided that the jadeite jewelry was given by a Nationalist general in exchange for a boat with which to escape to Taiwan. The customer’s father brought the jewelry and a small sculpture along when he immigrated to the United States. The bank’s lawyer was skeptical about an appraisal the customer had obtained from a well-known East Coast Oriental art dealer.

“How can someone appraise something that they have never seen and of which there are no photographs?” he asked.

“Send me a copy of the customer’s appraisal and let me look it over,” I replied.

The next day the paperwork arrived. It was apparent that the appraiser had extrapolated fair market values from the verbal description of the plaintiff by finding comparable jewelry sold at auction. I explained to the lawyer that any appraisal using a solely verbal description could not be relied upon—especially when it came to jadeite jewelry.

“If you can’t see it, you can’t appraise it, especially when it comes to jadeite jewelry. A slight nuance in color will increase the value of a jadeite piece many times.” I told him. “There are other issues here. How did the pieces enter the United States? Were the goods declared and duties paid? Are there any appraisals previously in writing by a competent appraiser who has actually seen the goods?”

Then I mapped out a scenario of what probably happened. The customer was known to be a gambler and loan shark in the East Coast Chinese community. He had lost heavily and owed out IOUs to the kind of people who can shorten your life span considerably. The customer’s father had hidden the jewelry under his bed for decades. When the old man was preparing to visit Mainland China, the son urged his father to hand over the jewelry to him to lock up in the bank safe. The customer entered the safe box room with a bank teller who inserted her key into the lock box. Then she left for a moment to assist another customer. Seeing his opportunity, the customer put the jewelry into the lock box, and put the box into his backpack. He then closed the door to his box and turned his key to lock it and removed the key. The bank teller came back into the room and turned her key to lock the box and then they both left.

Six months later, the customer returned, inserted his key and opened the door to find the box and its contents missing. In the meantime he had sold the jewelry to pay off his gambling debts and keep his head intact. To save face with the old man, the young man blamed the bank and filed a lawsuit seeking reimbursement for his “loss.” The bank offered to settle, but the young man was adamant. The judge ruled in favor of the bank. Then, since the father had given the jewelry to the son, there was a taxable gift created. The judge announced that he was obliged to report that fact to the Internal Revenue Service. The son would owe taxes on the $2,000,000 value he had claimed under sworn oath that the jewelry was worth.


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 sbernsteinjade@aol.com
or call us at 415 299-1600.

Our web site, www.bernsteinjadeart.com 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, sbernsteinjade@aol.com.


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!