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by Linda Heaphy May 22, 2017

anglo indian turquoise bronze photo frame
Once common in India during the Raj period, pieces like this, an early 20th century Aglo Indian photo frame in bronze and turquoise, have appreciated considerably in value over the last 20 years as genuine Anglo Indian antiques become rare. Photo credit: Kashgar

By definition, an antique must be over 100 years old.  Vintage is the term most commonly used to describe items that are younger than 100 years but are not new.   Many of the items in Kashgar's collections fall into this latter category, but may still be regarded as "antique" in the sense of their comparative value. 

Consider for example the life of a French 18th century ormolu occasional table and that of a Central Asian Tekke Turkoman sideboard. The French antique has likely spent its life being coddled and maintained in optimum environmental conditions, loving repaired by master craftsmen when necessary and used only in the most sparing of senses, perhaps to support a clock or ornament.   Its pedigree is known as is its history of ownership.   In comparison the Tekke piece cannot easily be aged.  It has lived a hard life with a family of nomads, exposed to a harsh savanna environment during the family's annual migration and housed within a smoke-filled yurt at other times.  It has been handed down from generation to generation within the family because wood is rare in this part of the world; repairs are always carried out locally or in the home.  Decoration in the form of carving and paint may be added at various times according to the prevailing taste and modifications carried out as the family grows in size and their needs change.  Eventually the family gives up it's nomadic lifestyle and settles in a town and the sideboard is sold to a dealer to help pay for the construction of a permanent house.  From that point onwards its history is generally lost.  It's described to future buyers only as "very old" and sometimes its specific geographic origins are forgotten.  To the collector it is as valuable as the French table.  However, without provenance the piece may not necessarily be considered an antique in the Western world.  The upside of this is that tribal antiques are often much more affordable than their European counterparts.  The downside is that they tend not to appreciate as quickly in value.

The same principal applies to textiles. Because of the wear and tear textiles naturally undergo, a cloth may be considered quite old at an age of twenty or thirty years.  A textile in perfect condition is ideal, but old pieces that have been well loved and used may bring a deeper pleasure to the collector.

When buying ethnographic and tribal pieces for yourself, the first rule is to buy items that you love, that speak to you, that you will enjoy looking at (or wearing) every day.  But if you are buying for a collection or to make a profit, prepare by learning and verifying as much information as you can.  Visit museums and exhibitions, read relevant publications, articles and documents, and examine in person as many pieces as possible via dealers and private collectors. This will help you to develop your own knowledge base and range of experience.  Don't be afraid to ask questions - dealers, curators and collectors are usually happy to share their hard-won information and knowledge.  Watch the Antique Roadshow for a fascinating overview of antique collecting, and visit auction houses on viewing days when they are auctioning relevant collections (but do not bid for items until you feel you have the expertise to make an informed purchase).  In terms of curating a collection that will increase in value, todays vintage pieces are tomorrow's antiques. Dogon pieces from west Africa, to give a classic example, were once tourist tat but are now values in the hundreds of thousands of dollars price range.

If you do your homework, collecting antiques and tribal artifacts can be an extremely rewarding experience.   A piece is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it, whether it is an exquisitely carved 17th century Italian statue or a crudely fashioned Tharu ancestral figure.  Each has been equally cherished by their former makers and owners and each has a place in our modern world.

makonde body mask 
Makonde body mask, west Africa. West African tribal art has increased in value 100-fold since the 1960's. Photo credit: Kashgar

Collecting and Collections

A collection consists of a group of objects sharing a particular theme or basis of form, and may include such diverse examples as art, cars, Barbie dolls, headhunter curios, baseball cards, movie posters, coins, porcelain figures, jewellery or travel souvenirs.  Often the rationale behind a collection is clear, however sometimes a collector will have no idea why they resonate with a particular kind of object.   Here at Kashgar we once met a 7 year old boy who is a collector and maker of walking sticks; King Louis XVI of France collected and made iron locks (completely out of keeping with the perceived character of a king).  Owning and augmenting a collection can give a deep sense of personal satisfaction and fulfil the need for order, acquisition and accomplishment at a very primal level.

Regarding the collectability of specific kinds of objects and the creation of a collection, the first thing to remember is that not every piece in your collection need be old.   By the very act of "collecting", you are removing pieces from the cycle of creation, use and destruction, and preserving them for future generations to enjoy and admire.  The age of the piece is often immaterial unless you are collecting within a specific period or time frame. Keep notes on where and when you bought an item and from whom, as well as any information about the piece available at the time of purchase.  This information is known as the "provenance" of an item and will greatly increase your enjoyment of the collection and its future value.

When collecting, choose something that you like.   There is no point in collecting teaspoons if you have no particular feeling for them.   If your grandmother leaves you her prized assortment of post-industrial ceramic pigs that leaves you feeling cold, it's better to sell it off to someone who does want it and use the money to start up a collection of something you really like.

Finally, any collection is worth more as a collection. This may sound simplistic, however it is a basic tenant of collecting.   Do not be tempted to sell off individual pieces, or at least consider selling in sets if you do.

The best place for purchasing, collecting and learning about ethnographic and tribal art and artifacts is through a gallery or store that specialises in such objects.   With experience, real finds can be made at auctions and from garage and boot sales or privately sold items through newspapers or classified ads, but these are pleasures better left to the experienced.   Museums are excellent resources for learning about art and increasing your appreciation and experience levels, as are books of al kinds.  Destination traveling is another potentially rewarding source of original antiques, but remember that the world is full of fake artifacts and dishonest rug salesmen, and you also have to get the piece home and through Customs at the end of the day.  Be prepared to make mistakes and remember if you love something, then its worth whatever you paid for it.

santal musical figure
A Santal musical instrument doubles as a work of art. Late 19th century, hardwood, Himalayas. These items were common and inexpensive to buy as little as 10 years ago - since then they have become scarce and are appreciating rapidly in value.
Photo credit: Kashgar.

Linda Heaphy
Linda Heaphy


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