Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - A Clue About the Dexing or Decheng 德成 (Teh Hsing Ch'eng, Teh Hsin Cheng 德興成) Cloisonne景泰蓝 Workshop

Recently I acquired a small box containing a rumpled paper flyer from the “Teh Hsing Ch’eng” shop in what is now Beijing.  The Chinese characters translate as “De Xing Cheng Fa Lang Zhu” - Dexing Cheng Enamel Workshop? [Later: Transliteration expert "rat" at the Asian Art forum corrected the last character to read as "zhuang" = shop. Makes better sense.]  At the time the flyer was printed – 1935 – the city was known as Peiping, as the Nationalist government had moved the capital of China south to Nanjing in 1927, thus making the old name Peking (Northern Capital) inappropriate. 
I’m not sure what to call the motif – Artemisia leaf, or vine scroll? – but it seems to be a perennial favorite Chinese design.  Another example can be seen in the 1923 bowl gifted by the warlord Feng Yuxiang.

Box with paper on left, comparing workmanship with another smaller box from the same collection, as well as a similar cigarette case from a different collector.  The wirework on the small box and case is very fine and precise and the polish is impeccable, whereas the larger box displays pits in the enamel.
The top side of the cigarette case features a fine dragon.

The My Dad the US China Marine blog shows a picture of a business card dated to 1945-47:
Hatamen Street ran alongside the eastern edge of the Legation Quarter, where foreign diplomats resided.  
Postcard of the Tung Tan Pailou (arch) on Hatamen Street (now Chongwenmen Street).
After steaming the paper to flatten it, the following text could be read (missing text is indicated in red):
The cloisonné ware is known as one of the famous Chinese art products.  It involves a variety of processes all of hand as follows:  (1) to have a brass plate made into the shape of desired ware, such as vase, box, jar, etc.  (2) To set on the brass ware a lattice-work of silver or copper wire in certain design.  (3) To fill coloured enamel into the lattice-work.  (4) To bake the ware for several times in kiln.  (5) To polish it, when the ware is taken out of the kiln.  When these processes are gone through, the result is an article of exceeding beauty.
The cloisonné ware was first produced about in 1449 during the reign of Emperor Ch’ing Tai of Ming Dynasty; hence the name “Ch’ing Tai Lan.”
After 1810, with the death of the great Chien Lung of Tsing Dynasty, the art was completely lost to China.
About 1860, the lost art was found again by the founder of our store, Mr. Chia, in the following manner:
Mr. Y___wa Chia, a native of Shantung and a maker of [shirt? hat?] buttons for [high] officials in Peking, saw, by accident, some [colored?] pieces of stone, which was left by a bankrupt artist to an old woman [to dispose] of.  Indeed, these stone pieces were the material for making the [cloisonné?] ware, but nobody knew about that. Mr. Chia was struck by their beauty and bought a few pieces of them more out of curiosity than anything else.  Thereafter, on the poor woman’s request, he bought all of the rest for a small price.  On returning home, he secluded himself in his workshop and began his effort to delve into the secret of the making of the cloisonné ware.  After a considerable time, he succeeded.  As at that time, the cloisonné ware was very rare on the market, Mr. Chia sold his product for a good price, especially to the high officials who used to take them as the old curios of Ming Dynasty.
Upon his success, Mr. Chia founded our cloisonné store, known as Teh Hsing Ch’eng, at Yang Mei Chu Hsieh Chieh, Peking, about seventy-five years ago; and since then many of the European and American customers have ordered the products with great satisfaction.
We manufacture the large and small pieces of cloisonné ware, such as: vases, beads, flower-jars, smoking sets, incense burners, etc.  Besides obtaining different prizes from the national and provincial exhibitions, we have also been awarded with gold and silver medals, together with diplomas, from Kaloniale Tentoonstelling, Samarang in 1914; Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915; Liege International Exposition in 1930; etc.
Last year, our store, Teh Hsing Ch’eng, was removed at 20 Hatamen Street, Peiping (Peking).  Your inspection at anytime is warmly welcome.
       July 1st, 1935.         [number 20 struck out, “52” written in ink alongside]  20 Hatamen Street, Peiping

Printed the The Yu Lien Press

A couple of things struck me in this account.  First, the legend about the founder re-inventing cloisonné in his workshop.  1860 saw the end of the Second Opium War, with the looting and burning of the Summer Palace by the French and British.  The display of this war loot in Europe caused an intensification of interest in Chinese cloisonné, as Susan Weber relates in her chapter in Beatrice Quette’s book, Cloisonne: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan,Ming, and Qing Dynasties:

The sacking of the Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860 marked a major turning point in the collecting of cloisonné in Europe.  Prize pieces were among the war booty that the French and British army forces divided between them.  The English portion of the Summer Palace loot went to Queen Victoria and her generals, but by 1862 goods plundered by individual officers were being sold throughout Europe.  … Prices at any sale that included Summer Palace objects were high, as collectors vied for pieces made for the imperial court rather than for the Western export market.  Many of these objects eventually became part of British and French public collections, particularly the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool, and the Musee des Arts decoratifs in Paris.

The Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion left the Qing government in financial disarray, and the imperial cloisonné workshops were closed.  The flyer’s account might indeed have been based upon workshop materials and unemployed artists turned out onto the streets of Peking.  Cloisonné enamels do start out as lumps of colored glass, which need to be finely ground and mixed with water to produce the enamel pastes.  Perhaps some unemployed craftsmen might have been hired to assist the company founder in his efforts to re-discover the secrets of cloisonné manufacture and invent new enamels?

Beatrice Quette recounts on page 28 of her book:

During the Guangxu reign [1875-1909], there was a return to high-quality production, notably for the foreign market.  Enamel colors became fresh, delicate, and varied, and thick layering made a comeback.  The enamel powders used in this production came from minerals collected in Boshan County in Shandong Province  [Note: Boshan became, and still is, an important glass production center].  Mixed colors were widely used, notably in skillfully rendered passages of shading.  … The layer of enamel is thinner and the objects are lighter…

[and from page 16 in Quette’s book:]

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, marks began to identify names of manufactories.  The name Decheng is stamped into the metal base of a vase from the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum and the same name appears on a paper label glued onto the back of either a disk or a circular plaque in the collection of the Phoenix Art Museum.  This label, written in Chinese and French and possibly made for an international exposition in Paris in either 1889 or 1900s, gives the address of the Decheng Manufactory [Chinese characters] and warns against imitations: “The only true manufactory, Teuo-Tcheng, is located in Beijing outside the Tsien-men gate near the middle of the Yan-mei-tchou-sie-kiai [note similarity to the flyer’s “Yang Mei Chu Hsieh Chieh, Peking” address] road (north side).”  This suggests considerable concern about quality and forgeries and was meant to authenticate the object’s origin.

What appears to be another example of this label showed up on this piece from an online auction:
The second thing that struck me is the boast about foisting off the workshop's products onto “high officials” as Ming dynasty artifacts.  Ironic, considering that “only true manufactory” warning statement about imitations on the 1889 labels.

Also striking is the gap between exhibition dates – many in the 1900-10s, only one in the 1930s, and that one the Belgian Liege exhibition which apparently wasn't much of a success.  The 1930s were an awful decade of economic depression and war destruction.  Presumably the older cloisonné craftsmen from the late 19th century were by this time retiring or dying off, and workshops likely were in trouble both in supply of raw materials and craftsmen.  In 1937 Japan invaded and took over the city of Peiping.  The biography of cloisonné artist Jin Shiquan recounts how he fled back to his village and had to abandon cloisonné work for 15 years until the re-organization of the tattered Beijing workshops in the mid-1950s.

The flyer in the box is dated 1935, but when was the box actually made? Was it old stock from the 1920s, or was the workshop still struggling to produce pieces for sale despite the havoc of the 1930s?  There were other cloisonné objects gathered by this collector that seem to date to the 1920-30s era – did the flyer accompany this particular box at the time of purchase, or another piece or pieces?  Also, might other pieces in the collection come from different workshops, such as Lao Tian Li's?  We know the Lao Tian Li workshop was still operating in 1922, as Jin Shiquan started there as an apprentice at age 11.

One final question - because this blog is mostly an attempt to resolve when the various types of Chinese cloisonné beads were made - consider the mention of “beads” in the flyer, and “jade beads” in the ad.  Were cloisonné beads sold?  Or just jade beads?

Puzzling evidence.


  1. Hello. Saw your theme. I have a vase, signed 德興成造. Asked the question here http://asianart.com/phpforum/index.php?method=detailAll&Id=88582&PHPSESSID=m46bkv4mi1g59pnb2q9993tub0 If you are interested I can send more photos. Maybe you have the answer to my question.

  2. Your vase seems to have some serious structural damage as well as loss of the enamel. Restoration work is expensive. Last year I contacted the Restoration Services company about some cloisonne restoration work:


    They replied promptly, and after I furnished them with more details, courteously gave me an estimate. I haven't yet sent the piece in for restoration, however.

    Dexing products, while of fine workmanship, don't seem to be even close to the same auction price category as earlier Qing or Ming pieces, but you could of course check auction offerings and sales to see if I'm wrong about that. My personal opinion is that anything less than 150 years old listed as "restored" can be counted upon to fetch a price half, at most, of what an intact piece would sell for. Someone with more sales expertise could perhaps tell you differently, however.

    1. Thanks for the advice,you may be right. My vase is very beautiful, a pity that in such a state. Went to the site on your link, there is shown an example of the restoration of the vase, written Japanese antique vase http://restorationservices.com/japanese-antique-cloisonne-vase/ , isn't it China? Buddhist swastika.

    2. Yes, the vase displays Chinese rather than Japanese characteristics. I wonder if the owner submitting it for restoration was the one who said it was Japanese?

  3. The motif you talked about on above pic is 忍冬紋 or Honeysuckle Pattern.