Collection History/Provenance: Documents from 1981…
The jade collecting life of yours truly started with purchasing from jade galleries: McBride, Whisenant, and Manheim – in New Orleans and the private dealers, Wm. & Robert Arnett, in Atlanta. This was primarily in the ’70s. During this time we didn’t sell or trade pieces in order to help finance upgrading and further growth. This occasional selling of pieces purchased in the ’70s began in the early ’80s when we started buying in England and Hong Kong, especially Hong Kong, where we made jade collector friends such as Angus Forsyth, Malcolm Barnett and Susan Chan (Ms. Ho) and began ‘socializing over jade’ and occasionally trading and buying and selling among ourselves.
During the 80s we also began ‘testing the market’ with sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York. Since these big international auctions are known to all today and the vendors in the USA mentioned above are long gone and known to few today, we will begin with the early track record of token sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, then introduce and document dealings with the long gone dealers and mentors, such as Abe Manheim, said to have had the finest jades in the Western Hemisphere when he accompanied Nixon’s history meeting in Beijing as a representative American businessman, eager to do business in a ‘New China’.
Also, please see purchase and personal documents chronicling this collector’s experiences. Please read to the end.
Major Auction Token Sales from Our Collection
This rhyton attributed to Song by Christie’s in our 1989 auction (see above) is particularly interesting due to the uppermost border consisting of an interlaced vegetal pattern, more Central Asian than Chinese when the rest of the vessel’s design, the engulfing monster mask and the feline dragon with head over the vessel’s mouth, were distinctly Chinese; this was pointed out to me by Renee d’Agence’ when he examined it at the International Conference for Jade Research.
1990 Christie’s June
This was an unusually large bullfrog. It sold for $30K +, well over estimate and considerable for that time. It was purchased from Wm. & Robt. Arnett, Asian Art dealers in Atlanta, GA. in the ’70s and ’80s, before Robert changed his business interest to African then African American Art. The Arnetts acquired most of their outstanding jades, including this bullfrog from the Hugh Schmieder estate. Schmieder was an engineer who worked on a major railroad project in China, which uncovered many early burial sites in the early 20th C. We were fortunate to acquire several major pieces such as this quite large bullfrog from them. Robert would always make the annual Asian Antiques Show at the Convention Center in New Orleans and would be a guest in our home there. He was a vegetarian and spiritual practitioner of his blend of Eastern religions.
This bluish colored, bird form pigment grinder shown below sold at this Christie’s auction in 1990, and sold again at Sotheby’s in 2015. Next to it a rare sculpture of a sitting dragon also sold in this auction.
Christie’s Resale of Pigment Grinder, Sept. 2015, 25 years after initial sale.
1990: Christie’s November
Collector’s Personal and Early Purchases Documents
1970s Manheim Galleries
One of the earliest sources of the larger and more expensive jades for the Stones from Heaven collection was the Manheim Gallery located in their historic location in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Abe Manheim looked like a Hollywood casting choice for a senior, debonair, international dealer of important art. And that he was. His father, Bernard, began the business in 1919, but Abe, born in 1910, bought their historic building in 1938 and was the driving force from then on. He and the Jade Room were an appointment-only expression of opulence, elegance and exclusiveness. Ladies, similar to my mother, Pauline M. E. Bishop, would go to the beauty parlor and wear their newest dress before being greeted with flourish and fanfare by Abe for their visit to the Jade Room.
By the time we came under mentorship of Abe’s eloquently expressed expertise of Chinese jade, he and the Jade Room were long synonymous.. and famous. Abraham Manheim, and Dallas department store magnate Stanley Marcus became the first U.S. businessmen to visit China in 1972 with the President Richard Nixon delegation.
Signatures above of A. G. (Abe) Manheim and Edward (Eddie) Weitz, his son in law.
The visit recorded below of Abe and his entourage was his second visit in a 14 month span after the historic trip with Nixon.Abe was 63 years old at the time, having built his name as an expert in Chinese art and culture, especially jade, since 1938 (my entire lifetime).
Document date: 1982 (account receipt)
Manheim’s jade selections far exceeded Gump’s, which also had a famous ‘Jade Room’ in those early years. I don’t know which came first, but Manheim took over the business from his father in 1938. When I had my account, he was grooming his son-in-law, Edward Weitz, to take his place, but Abe was a one-man show and after he died, his extraordinary jade business died with him and the inventory was divided among his heirs after extensive litigation.
1984: Birmingham Museum of Art
John Seto was the curator of Asian art when I first took pieces from my collection to be reviewed there. My sister had married a physician who practiced medicine in Birmingham, and I became aware that there was a consortium of doctors, under the guidance and leadership of Dr. Bruce Sullivan, who had interest in Asian art and used purchases and donations to the museum not only for civic approval, but for tax deductions as well. Dr. Sullivan enlisted Sue Vallenstein from the Met in NYC as one of their advisors and New York dealer, Robert Sistrunk, associate of Robert Ellsworth and protege of Alice Boney, brought many fine pieces of jade and other Chinese art for the doctors to purchase.
Those were halcyon days for museums to receive tax deductible donations – before the government ended the favorable terms for tax deductions. John Seto exhibited some of my Mayan jades there and then, when he left BMA for the Huntington Museum, I agreed for him to take them there to be exhibited.
See Sotheby’s 1989 catalogue reference above to the sale of the very rare Mayan hunchback carving in the round and the standing Mayan figure. After these were sold, we changed the collections focus completely to Chinese jade.
After a curator named Douglas (?) Highlands replaced John Seto for a short time, Don Wood arrived from having worked for John Bullard, the Director of the NOMA. I knew John well in my contacts with the museum there, and although I knew Don not well there, during the last 20 years or so he has been in Birmingham, I have known him, and in 2002 we negotiated a sizable donation/sale. The museum had a Chinese scholar, Yuling Huang, who had contacts at the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, to assist in vetting these pieces.
Of the items from the above Sale/Donation, this Qing-Ming rhyton was notable and difficult to part with.. but we had other, better ones as rhyta have always been my favorite vessels. We were always ready to sell or trade one in order to acquire one better – until we reached the ‘there is none better’ acquisition of the priceless W. Han Nanyue comparable (but larger and better) rhyton, the frontispiece of our website
1984: New Orleans Museum of Art
John Bullard and I had been acquainted socially for a few years, but in 1984, he became my friend after going out of his way to help me retrieve a group of jades I’d purchased in Hong Kong and Macao. An inexperienced, over zealous customs agent at LA International Airport had decided the jade was not antique, and I was curio merchant who should fill out import documents and pay import taxes, which would cause me to miss my connecting flight to New Orleans if I tried to stay longer to convince her that they were non-dutiable antiques for my personal collection and not for retain sale.
John Bullard had learned of my passion for collecting and had requested that I let him see the collection some time. I thought of phoning him and telling him of my Customs problem in LA. Before I even finished telling him the details, he impulsively responded, “I’ll call them you’re an associate here at NOMA, the jades are definitely antique and they should send them to them in care of me, the Director. They arrived without further adieu. And that gesture led to our planning a long term loan of the collection to NOMA and an exhibition.
He said he would need, of course, an expert from academia to vet the collection. He then asked if I could make a modest contribution to help defray the cost of the expert’s flight and visit. I agreed. And I was pleased to hear that Dr. James Watt, a Hong Kong Chinese scholar employed at the Boston Museum and the key scholar for the International Conference on Jade Research, in which I’d participated the year previously. James Watt’s visit went well. John Seto, from BMA even came down to join Watt in the vetting process.
1981: Jade Hill, Inc
Ken Hill was the owner of Jade Hill, Inc., located in Chicago and NYC. I met him through Ken McBride, owner of McBride Galleries on Chartres St. in the New Orleans French Quarter. Ken Hill had consigned two spectacular jades vases he claimed were obtained from the Woolworth heiress, Barbara Hutton, who was my mother’s age, and once one of the wealthiest women in the world. I bought one of them and later traded it to Abe Mannheim for another piece. Another excellent piece I purchased from Ken was the Tang (Watt said Yuan) Dynasty ‘Messenger’ (see pic) that was traded to Weisbrod, then bought by the Dongxi Collection, and finally resold recently at Christie’s.
1982: Friends Of Jade
Robert Deans and Robert Frey began this publication, and shortly before or after it began I got to know Bob Frey through correspondence about jade. I later visited him in London where he and his lovely Chinese wife lived in a stately old home. She was a jade lover and collector and had inspired the quest to learn as much about the subject as he possibly could. He was traveling on business in Asia in ’87 when I informed him I was in Beijing doing research on my collection at the Central Academy of Fine Art, and detoured his business trip to meet up with me there. I remember he was excited with news that the National Geographic was doing a feature on jade and had asked Friends of Jade to be one of their consultants.
1983: FULIKA LTD.
This was one of many jade dealer shops in Ocean Terminal (now also known as Harbor City) on Canton Rd. on Kowloon side of Hong Kong. In the ’80s, these came to rival the long established shops of the Hollywood Rd. and Cat St. area (now ‘SoHo’ for south of Hollywood Rd.). Charlotte Horstmann and Gerald Godfrey Ltd. was one of the earliest and most upscale of these shops selling jade.
1983: WEISBROD & DY LIMITED
Michael Weisbrod: when I first met Michael in the late ’70s, he was managing his father’s Chinese art business on 5th Ave. in NYC. His father was a medical doctor with a practice in Toronto. He presumably partnered with a Chinese art dealer named ‘Dy’ to form the Weisbrod and Dy business. Michael was a natural trader and, as with Manheim and others I traded as many pieces with him as I bought. On one occasion he visited me in New Orleans and brought a wonderful jade camel (see image below) to show me. I wound up trading him a large Ming bronze for the camel. I later sold the camel via Christie’s and Theo Wang Tow and years later saw that it had returned to China and was published in a book on jade carvings there.
Another fine piece of a jade ‘messenger’ (see image below) I’d bought from Ken Hill as Tang, James Watt attributed to Yuan. I traded it to Michael and he sold it to the Dongxi Collection as Tang and, finally it was sold via Christie’s NYC as Ming-Qing for $95K +. James Watt’s reasons for a Yuan attribution, especially the head-dress, seems to have been the best to me. This piece had among the most beautifully carved hands, even finger nails, I’ve ever seen done by a Chinese artisan.
This camel was apparently purchased by someone from China, as it later appeared in China, featured in a book in Chinese language. So from China to Canada and Weisbrod to me to Christie’s then back to China again. I’ve seen other such examples, showing how well and portably ‘Jade Travels’.