THE EDGE MARKET- Alternative Assets: A good time to buy Peranakan ceramics

THE EDGE MARKET- Alternative Assets: A good time to buy Peranakan ceramics

This article first appeared in Personal Wealth, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on February 4, 2019 – February 10, 2019.

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It is an opportune time for investors to buy and hold Peranakan ceramics for the longer term. Prices in this segment are stable for the time being due to an oversupply in the market, according to private collectors.

Tan Thean Jin, a private collector of Peranakan ceramics, says there were only a couple of auction houses putting up these collectables for sale a few years ago. But today, a lot more of them are doing so. “They include Henry Butcher, Masterpiece Auction House, MNP Auctioneers and even some Chinese companies.

“There were a few auctions last month. However, due to the slow economy, not many people are buying. We saw this [phenomenon] especially at the end of last year. This has caused the prices of Peranakan ceramics to stabilise. I do not think they will go up anytime soon. So, it is a good time to buy for long-term investors and collectors.”

Alvin Yapp, a private collector of antiques and the owner of Intan, a Peranakan home-museum in Singapore, says there has been a growing appreciation for Peranakan antiques in recent years and this has contributed to the higher investment values. The resurgence of interest was sparked by the efforts of various parties, such as tourism boards and private collectors, to promote the Peranakan culture.

“The investment values and appreciation for the culture go hand in hand. The more awareness there is for Peranakan antiques, the higher the demand and, thus, the higher the price. However, there are new challenges. Due to their popularity, there are some irresponsible parties selling counterfeit goods to earn some quick cash. This is the risk the market is currently facing,” he says.

Peranakan ceramics can come with a hefty price tag. A small green kamcheng (porcelain pot with lid and finial) can fetch up to RM50,000. So, Yapp says investors should be careful when purchasing these antiques and do the necessary due diligence to avoid being a victim of a scam.

“First, investors who are just starting out should read up on the topic and learn as much as possible. They should spend time looking at public and private collections to be acquainted with what genuine pieces look like. No one will tell them if a piece is fake. So, when they go to antique shops, they should handle the pieces and feel the difference,” he adds.

“They should only buy pieces they love and can afford. A smaller piece is better than two broken pieces because the broken pieces will always remain broken. Remember, collectors are particular about their collections — even a hairline crack would reduce the piece’s value significantly.”

As an investment, Peranakan ceramics have a very low correlation with other asset classes. Usually, those who buy these antiques consider themselves collectors first and investors second, says Yapp.

“This means that even in a slow economy, they will continue to make purchases. They can pull back their other investments, but they will not pass on a chance to own a beautiful kamcheng or vase,” he adds.

“Most of the people I know are like that. I have seen some of them sell their stocks or other assets to add to their collection. They will keep doing this until their collection turns into an investment.”

Among the Peranakan antiques, the kamcheng (picture) remains the most popular collectable for its variety of colours and sizes. Typically, the white and green pieces are more reasonably priced as they are more widely available. Pink and blue pieces are more desired because of their rarity.

Other antiques from the Peranakan culture with investment value include jewellery and furniture. However, there are limitations to these assets, says Tan. For one, the jewellery cannot be worn and are difficult to store. Peranakan furniture, on the other hand, take up too much space and does not blend well with other types of furniture in a modern home.

Other Peranakan items, such as embroidery, beadwork, and silverware, may be less attractive or less refined compared with ceramics. However, it is equally exciting and could potentially offer some form of returns to collectors. “That is what I did, and it paid off for me,” says Yapp.

He started collecting Peranakan antiques when he was barely 18. At the time, ceramics were out of reach due to his limited resources. So, he collected batik tok wi (altar clothes) instead, which is far cheaper and easier to store. His collection did not go unnoticed. In fact, it was certified by experts for holding so much historical and cultural value and it is now displayed at the Peranakan Museum in Singapore.

“I may not have the largest collection of the most sought-after ceramics, but I have created something permanent. It is exhibited at the museum and even commemorated in a book. To top it off, it was credited to my parents,” says Yapp.

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