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Finding The Best Bargains of All, Can Be So Surprising!

A personal view by John Neville Cohen

As a collector of antique Japanese netsuke, inro, lacquer boxes, as well as Chinese snuff bottles and Jade carvings (particularly pendants) like all other collectors I have always been looking out for the chance to buy a bargain! 

One has to be able to evaluate the value to be able to recognise a bargain.  A comparative value as applied to skills of craftsmanship is something I use when considering buying.  There are some limitations to this however.  For example one could not value paintings this way, otherwise a few lines by Picasso would never justify being worth so much more than pictures with more intricate applications of paint.  So artistic merit has to be another important factor. 

It is necessary to appreciate that all prices are dictated only by the market place.  If demand is great prices go up, if not, they go down.  This applies to antiques in just the same way as to all other commodities.  However having had many years' experience as a collector I have never seen prices fall in our particular fields of interest as long as one bought good quality. 

What has happened on the few occasions when I thought that prices had reached the highest point possible (in other words ridiculously high!) was that the following year such records were broken!  Only the larger Jade carvings have not proved quite so successful, this is the only area of our collecting that has been affected by less demand, and really what seems to have happened is that prices have remained static for a long time.

Craftsmanship and Fashion
There is an element of fashion in collecting, and at the moment, as has been the case for quite a long time now, small is beautiful!  So the smaller items, like most of the antiques we collect, are in very big demand.  There is more to it than that however; all the antiques we collect represent such amazing craftsmanship, the like of which is certainly never likely to be produced again.  With so many keen collectors, now established all over the world, searching for the very limited supply of these fine pieces, I am convinced that this is unlikely to be subject to any change of fashion for a very long time.  

Although the larger Jade pieces do not sell so easily, there are certain exceptions: very valuable pieces that appeal to the Chinese taste do sell well in the Hong Kong sales, but the European market is rather poor.  This is something that could suddenly change, and I believe it will, particularly as these larger carvings appear better and better value for money.

Bargain Hunting
So many collectors begin with the view that they will only buy if they are satisfied that they have found a 'bargain'.  Whilst this was possible many years ago, when believe it or not, netsuke and snuff bottles were sold in lots, which consisted of six or more at a time, but those days have long gone by and today it is far more difficult.

However looking back, with the advantage of hindsight, over so many years of collecting I have come to realise that surprisingly, our very best bargains (we had a few) were not the ones we had thought of as good bargains � the real bargains have turned out to be more often than not, our most expensive purchases.  These were the outstanding pieces, that we just had to have, even though at the time the prices often seemed quite outrageous.

I remember being worried about having paid too much, on several occasions, for quite a long time afterwards.  But although I reminded myself that these were exceptional, very rare, superb examples, I confess I still worried!  I would certainly never have thought of these as being bargains, or even potential bargains, at the time! 

I am not sure if there is any lesson to be learned from all this. Yet I can now report that it is these that are now the treasures that have proved to be the most amazing bargains of all!


John Neville Cohen: An International award winning photographer who also became a well known Asian antiques collector and an enthusiast of Jensen British classic cars.  Other interests are skiing and Salsa dancing.  The author has been a very keen collector for many years in helping to create 'The Cohen collection'.    Please have a look at: -  

To see other articles, with photographs, please use the following link:

Keywords: Finding the best bargains of all can be so surprising by John Neville Cohen, Bargains, Asian antiques, Netsuke, Chinese Snuff Bottles, Snuff Bottle, Chinese Pendants, pendant, Jade, Carvings, jade carvings

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