Participating in antique exhibitions in Hue Festivals is a joy for antique collectors in Hue
In the old days, Nguyen Emperors often commissioned porcelain from kilns specializing in producing objects for kings and mandarins in China to display in palaces, royal tombs and temples, as well as for everyday use by the kings, the royal families and the mandarins. The royal court also had representatives to China to buy phap lam objects (painted enamel objects), glass paintings, bronzeware and other luxurious objects from China, Korea and Western countries for display and contemplation. The hobby of collecting antiques has taken form in Hue since then.
From the imperial city, the Kings’ hobby of collecting and contemplating precious fine art objects “following” kings’ relatives and mandarins, spread to the general populace. Antiques began to appear in princes’ and princesses’ residences or mandarins’ houses. Many of the precious objects were souvenirs granted to princes, mandarins, … by the kings, or bought and commissioned from China when they were sent to China on duty.
After the Nguyen Dynasty ended, those precious objects became antiques and heirlooms, kept by descendants and passed down to younger generations. Those who were not lucky enough to possess those antiques are now trying to collect them for their contemplation.
Besides the official antiques of the Nguyen Dynasty being kept and displayed in the museums in Hue, Ho Chi Minh City and Ha Noi, there are many antiques which are sold, bought and exchanged on the market. This forms an elegant hobby in Hue.
The collection of tea and betel sets of antique collectors in Hue on display at Thua Thien-Hue Museum of History on the occasion of Hue Traditional Craft Festival in 2011
Before 1975, along with Saigon, Hue was the place that provided antiques for this hobby in South Vietnam. Hue had antique collectors, antique shops and valuable antique collections. The antiques in Hue are mainly those of the Le -Trinh periods (17th -18th centuries) originated from the North, the commissioned antiques in the Tay Son Dynasty (late 18th century) and most of them in the Nguyen Dynasty’s era (19th-early 20th centuries). Besides commissioned porcelain, the Chinese, Japanese and Western porcelain (mainly from France) can also be found in Hue. They are well liked by collectors and contemplators.
It seems that almost all phu de (princes’ and princesses’ residences) in Hue possess tea sets, commissioned porcelain bowls and dishes during the Nguyen Kings’ era. They are souvenirs but also considered as property that ancestors left for their younger generations. Descendants therefore keep them not only for contemplation but also as heirlooms.
After 1975, due to the difficulty in economy, many heirlooms originally kept in residences in Hue had to ‘leave’ to ‘find’ other owners throughout the country and even abroad. It was the time when the hobby of collecting antiques declined. Hue became the place where antique dealers came to hunt for antiques to sell for interest.
However there remain many Hue people so dedicated to antiques. They find ways to retain precious objects not only of their families and clans, but also of their neighbors who encountered misfortunes and were forced to sell their heirlooms. They are N.X.H. with his large collection of commissioned porcelain in the Nguyen’s era, which is of historical, cultural, artistic and economic value; N.V.C and his son N.A.H. own a collection of Vietnamese and Chinese ancient coins, which is ranked first or second in Vietnam now. L.V.K with his collection of commissioned porcelain, painted enamel objects and decorative trees with gold branches and gem leaves, etc.
Since early 2000s up till now, the hobby of collecting antiques in Hue has revived strongly. Antique collectors in Hue are not confined to the wise and noble elderly only like before, but include also lots of young people. In addition to commissioned porcelain, bronzeware, painted enamel objects, they also collect Vietnamese pottery in Ly-Tran-Le Dynasties, commissioned porcelain in Le-Trinh Dynasties, prehistoric pottery; pottery picked up from the Perfume River bed (of different periods within more than 1,000 years), Western, Chinese and Japanese ceramics, Cham antiques, the royal attire of the Nguyen Dynasty, horizontal lacquered boards, parallel sentences boards, glassware, crystal ware, ivory ware, furniture, antique coins, assorted badges and medals, Buddhist paintings and statues, etc.
Today, antique collectors in Hue often come together and form into groups or a club so as to exchange their antiques, learn experience and share their mutual passion. They also collaborate with one another and with collectors from other places in the country to organize antique exhibitions in Hue Festivals and other periodic festivals on the land of the Perfume River and Mount Ngu Binh to introduce antiques of Hue and antiques of Vietnam to the public. It is also a way to introduce and spread the elegant hobby of Hue people.
Story and photos: Tran Duc Anh Son