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Collector’s Edition: Shopping in 1920s Shanghai

Shanghai in the 1920s was affectionately known as “the Paris of the East” or the “New York of the West,” depending on your perspective. It was one of those golden ages, when art and culture converged in a city teeming with new life. Jazz, cinema, theater, and opium dens thrived. Under British rule, merchants set up shop, attracting buyers from the West in search of carpets, furniture and ceramics.

Five Drawer Offering Table, c. 1850

Five Drawer Offering Table, c. 1850

This collector was one of those Western buyers. Based in Chicago, he first came to Shanghai on a business trip, sourcing merchandise for his family’s department store. Throughout the 1920s, he returned for business many times. As he built relationships throughout the region, he came into contact with objects of extraordinary beauty and history: a 19th century offering table crafted without nails or screws, a pair of Hu Vases decorated by a master painter, an embroidered silk Qing Dynasty robe, and a pair of gilt buddhas finished with gold leaf and lacquer.

Embroidered Silk Lady's Butterfly Short Robe, c. 1850

Embroidered Silk Lady’s Butterfly Short Robe, c. 1850

He purchased many pieces for his private collection, bringing them back to his home in Chicago. Over the years, his relationship with those objects deepened, and they grew in meaning and value. The table, once used to hold incense and offerings for Chinese ancestors, became a reminder of the endurance of craft. The gilt buddhas quietly, consistently pointed to the pursuit of enlightenment. The ceramics never ceased to offer new details in their color and complexity.

Pair of Gilt Sakyamuni Buddhas with Steles, c. 1900

Pair of Gilt Sakyamuni Buddhas with Steles, c. 1900

PAGODA RED is delighted to present this collection for the first time. It is the story, not just of each object, but of the person who brought these pieces together. And now, the collection awaits its next incarnation, in the home of someone who senses the lifetimes of stories within.

Hero Image: The Bund, Shanghai, 1920s, Source: Wikimedia Commons.




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