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Subject:Han Jade Vase
Posted By: Russ LaRose Mon, Sep 03, 2018 IP:

In our family collection is a vase that has always been called a Han jade vase that we would appreciate comments about. It stands 12.2” high and is rectangular, 3”x 5.1” at its largest cross section. It is made of white weathered jade, called burial jade, with dark flecks here and there that are reputed by my father-in-law to be blood spots. The surface is embossed all over and appears to be weathered with the embossing barely visible in most places. There are two clinging geckos on the sides. This vase is part of my wife’s grandfather’s collection that has been in her family well over 100 years. My wife’s father always treasured this vase, referred to it as his Han burial jade vase, believing, as his father told him, that it came from the Han Dynasty. Any observations and comments would be appreciated.
Russ LaRose

Subject:Re: Han Jade Vase
Posted By: Ernest Wilhelm Wed, Sep 05, 2018

You tell interesting stories.Take those items to a museum, or Jade specialist, the only way to correctly identify what you have.
Both items were most likely made by the same person,The Stone looks familiar, but at the moment I cannot identify it. First, make a scratch test on both, use a strong needle, and with enough pressure make a 3-4 mm scratch, then tell us if those tiny scratches are white or black.

Subject:Re: Han Jade Vase
Posted By: Russ LaRose Thu, Sep 06, 2018

There is but one item, not two. Although I posted this one first with 3 pictures and the second one minutes later as a continuation with 3 more pictures, somehow they are reversed on the forum. As far as the scratch test goes, a needle does not, can not scratch it. Although we have no factual provenance on it being from Han, my grandfather-in-law was a very wealthy collector in Hong Kong and my father-in-law respected his description of this piece as correct. Nevertheless, dating something like this is very problematical which is why I have posted it.

Subject:Re: Han Jade Vase
Posted By: Ernest Wilhelm Fri, Sep 07, 2018

You did not do the scratch test correctly. With enough pressure there is always either a white or black scratch, always.

Subject:A burial Han Jade Vase? Very unlikely, IMHO
Posted By: Super Fri, Sep 07, 2018

Please understand that it is not my intention to disrespect Russ's story about his grandfather-in-law's belief that this "jade vase" was a Han dynasty burial jade piece since is extremely difficult to almost impossible to truly appraise any jade carvings based on a few low-resolution pictures.

However, based on what were posted in this or the other message, I am having strong difficulty in believing that this can be an archaic jade piece, probably not even an antique one.

My reasoning are as follow:
(1) Difficulty in locating and “carving” large jade carvings in ancient China - It was extremely difficult if not impossible to find too many large jade carvings that are either archaic (at least 1000 years old or at least Han dynasty or older) or Neolithic due to the difficulty in locating such large sized jade material, then having the right tools to remove them (no metal tools or only bronze tools were available), then be able to carve them with manual carving tools. But most difficult of all, the polishing of such large jade carvings would take years to polish. Even during the Qing dynasty, before polishing with high-hardness grit was invented (i.e. using diamond or corundum), it would take a year or longer to carve small jade carvings. Can one imagine how much labor it would take to carve this “jade vase” during Han dynasty?

Another reason for one not seeing a lot of large jade carvings in ancient China is because during most of the Chinese dynasties, Hetian jade material were transported from Hetian (or Hotan, Xianjiang) and there were always revolts there and Xianjiang was not a part of China till the Qing Exmperor Qianlong had demolished the rebels. Also, there were a lot of attacks made at China by foreign tribes, especially during the Song dynasty where import of quality jade material was in shortage due to wars. Also, jadeite became a jade material in the middle Qing dynasty and due to Qianlong’s love for jade, that is why during the Qianlong era, the quality of jade carvings had blossomed.

Also, one simply do not see a lot of jade bowls or jade vases or any large jade carvings that need to be hollowed out were being made in ancient China.

First on all, to make jade bowls, jade tea pots, jade vases would waste a lot of jade material and even with today's modern tools, it would not be easy to hollow out the inside of these jade pieces. That is why a pair of regular sized Hetian jade bowls made during the Qing Emperor Qianglong era, just material alone would cost 5,000 teals of silver. At today's silver spot of US$ 14.23 a troy oz. (31.10 g), each tael (37.79 g) of silver will be worth about US$17.30. Therefore material alone for this pair of Hetian jade bowls would be around US$ 86,500, not including labor cost for making them.

It is for these reasons, it is very hard to find any jade bowls that were made of nephrite jade, more difficult if they were made of white Hetian nephrite jade. Most of the “jade” bowls or tea pot or tea cups today were not made of nephrite.

(2) Material – if one would take a look at the material used in making archaic or antique Chinese jade carvings, one would see that almost the majority of them would be made of quality Hetian nephrite jades (or equivalent), either mutton-fat, white, milky white, celaon or yellowish-white or they were made of bi-yu (dark green Hetian or Xianjiang dark green nephrite jade). Some of them could be made of local jades, such as xiu-yu (bowenite or serpentine), Nam Yang jade, Dushan jade, etc. However, only the best quality local jades (i.e. cannot be scratched, with great luster, without any impurities, etc. that would have the five virtues of a gentleman) would be used. A lot of time, due to the urgency of burial, some of the burial jade pieces could be made of local jades, however, almost most of the burial pieces were made of quality Hetian jade.

The material of this posted jade vase (more like a jade urn, missing a cover) appears to be a type of local jade, possibly Dushan jade since I did find some of the local Chinese jade could not be scratched. However, if one would check its density, it may not be higher than 2.86. The problem though even it cannot be scratched or even its density is high enough to be called jade, you have to excuse me for saying that nobody in ancient China or today would spend a lot of time in “carving” this piece because its material, IMHO, is simply inferior and it was full of all these impurities (dark inclusions and not blood spots, again IMHO) But the most telltale sign is its surface that totally lacks luster, therefore simply cannot be an archaic or even antique jade carving. Sorry!!

(3) Purposes of burial jades
According to this link: (worth watching)
“Deceased kings were often interred in coffins whose surfaces were painted in lacquer and inlaid with jade planks and circular bi disks. Their heads were rested on pillows of jade, and their ears and noses were stuffed with small columns of jade to prevent their vital essences from escaping. It’s likely that jade articles were also placed in their mouths, hands and anuses for the same reason.”

In short most burial jade pieces would be jade burial suits, jade pillows, or jade pieces to cover the eyes of the deceased or jade plugs to plug the mouth, nostrils, ears and anus of the deceased.

Can anyone show me a large jade vase that was a burial piece in Ancient China? I couldn’t find one.

Furthermore, most larger jade carvings that were sometime used in ancient burials are jade carving that were made for worships (to worship Heaven and Earth) such as jade bi, jade congs (zongs), jade huangs, etc. and not jade vases. Usually one would find large potteries buried with small jade pieces.

(4) Quality of carvings
Like I had said before, the labor cost to carve even small jade carvings, even today, is astronomical. To “carve” a quality Hetian jade carving today, may still take a year or longer, and would cost even more than some Qing dynasty Hetian jade pieces. Can one imagine how expensive it would take to carve a jade vase this size during Han dynasty? That is why one simply do not often see archaic or antique jade carvings that were made of poor material or carved badly, albeit large ones. I look at this jade vase, though I readily admit that I am no jade expert in carving quality, but based on its material, lack of luster and carving, it simply cannot convince me that this can be an Han dynasty burial jade. That said, sometime with better pictures (taken in natural light) or to be examined in person may sometime greatly alter one’s opinions.

Please understand that these are simply opinions coming from a jade novice and therefore no disrespect was intended and you should take it with a grain of salt. Like Ernest had recommended, if you are serious about this “family heirloom”, you should really seek (or pay for) jade professionals’ advice/appraisal on it and share the result with us. Thanks for sharing and please understand that even real jade experts often disagreed on some jade pieces. Good luck! Super

Subject:Re: A burial Han Jade Vase? Very unlikely, IMHO
Posted By: Russ LaRose Mon, Sep 10, 2018

Thank you for a reasonable and thoughtful analysis of this piece. If what you say is correct, that in the Han period there were no tools capable of carving this very hard nephrite piece or hollowing it out, including the undercut geckos, then it could not be Han. Its history then becomes an enigma. If you could recommend any jade expert in southern California to examine it we would be grateful.

Subject:Sam Berstein & Co. - San Franciso - jade appraisal
Posted By: Super Tue, Sep 11, 2018

Hi, Russ:

Please understand it was not my intention to disrespect your "jade vase". I simply tried to express my personal opinion on it based on my experience as a jade novice and you should indeed take them with a grain of salt.

Please understand that I did not say "there were no tools capable of carving this very hard nephrite piece or hollowing it out". Some of the Liangzhu congs (zongs) were being hollowed out and the carvings found on them (e.g. taoties and layers) were spectacular, even there were no iron tools at the time but they probably had diamond or corundum grits used with non-metal tools (such as bamboo) Therefore, they could have indeed made a large jade vase like yours in Han dynasty but for what purpose?

Also, I do not really believe your jade vase was made of "nephrite" since I had tested quite a few pieces of jade/stone carvings, jade/stone slabs, jade stones, etc. and I could not recall ever coming across any nephrite material like yours. Of course, yours can indeed be a very unique nephrite jade material. But if you are serious about finding more about it you should further test the density/specific gravity or refractivity of its material to confirm that it is indeed nephrite. You may also want to test its hardness on different areas using MOH hardness picks (using hardness 5, 6 and 7). Until then it is hard to tell if it was really made of nephrite.

In previous jade discussions posted in this board, we had often mentioned Mr. Sam Bernstein who is a known expert in jade and does provide appraisal services for jade:

and Mr. Bernstein had once graced our board:

This was what he said on April, 2009:

"Thank-you for your kind words. As is usual and customary in my field, I refrain from expressing informal opinions. I am engaged professionally in providing appraisal of objects on behalf of museums, private collectors, auction houses, insurance companies,fellow appraisers and providing expert witness testimony in judicial proceedings. My firm maintains a considerable reference and research library, a research staff and an on premises translator. As you can imagine, this is costly, and I charge for my time for providing this service to my clients.

Over the course of my career I have made a sincere effort to share my knowledge and expertise with collectors and enthusiasts through my writings and numerous seminars, lectures and symposium. A complete list of my lifetime work may be found on the S. Bernstein & Co., website under 'Appraisal'
and click on Curriculum Vitae.

Sam Bernstein"

I personally do not know Mr. Bernstein and had never used his service or had done any business with him, therefore if you decide to use his jade appraisal service, you should use your own due intelligence in making your decision. His firm locates in San Francisco and I was amazed to see that the black jade buffalo which was discussed in the 2009 message appears to be still available:
Black Hetain nephrite jade, IMHO, is ten times rarer than the usually seen mutton-fat, white or celadon Hetain jade, especially such a large jade carving.

May be by looking at it and other large jade carvings (like this one: it may give all of us some ideas why large jade carvings, even in today's market, are so rare and so expensive and why no serious jade carvers/artists would bother to carve large jade carvings material of which were not top quality. I would really like to find out the price of this jade buffalo. I believe in 2009 it was between 10k to 20k (from memory, can be wrong). I would love to own it even though it is a modern piece.

Please let us know what you can find out from Mr. Bernstein and share your findings with us. Thanks.


Subject:Re: Sam Berstein & Co. - San Franciso - jade appraisal
Posted By: Russ LaRose Mon, Sep 17, 2018

Thank you for correcting my misunderstanding of Han jade tools. As you suggested, we will consider having it examined by a jade expert.
Best regards,

Subject:Re: Sam Berstein & Co. - San Franciso - jade appraisal
Posted By: Sam Bernstein Sat, Dec 22, 2018

Dear Super,

Thank you for your kind comments and accurate recitation of my previous comments on this Forum nearly ten years ago!

The large (13 inch long) black nephrite jade buffalo rendered by the
artist known as Shen Quan you refer to was sold to a collector many years ago. This past year I acquired the entire collection in which the buffalo resided. I am pleased to have the opportunity to handle "one of my children" again. as with all of Shen Quan's work I acquired all of his output from 1998 until 2012 when he retired. I agreed to acquire whatever he chose to make and let him have full artistic freedom. I thus became Shen Quan's patron. My only stipulation was that he sign and date each jade work of art.

In addition to the buffalo, Shen Quan produced in 1998 a recumbent grey green horse which is presently in a private American collection. I consider this horse his masterpiece. He captured the form and spirit of the Ming Dynasty with the horse.

Perhaps his most fabulous work is a huge 400 pound (36 inch diameter) dragon bowl rendered from a solid boulder of Khotan nephrite jade. As a side note, Shen Quan and his grandson chose each boulder in Khotan and hand carried each to their home in Jiangsu province by train, a very long journey for a 60 year old!

The dragon bowl was acquired by a Canadian lady collector who upon her death gave her jade collection and the bowl to the Greater Victoria Museum of Art where is presently resides. The interior of the bowl is inscribed:

The spirit of the dragon (Emperor) resides within this bowl!
Show respect (kowtow) and tremble before Heaven!

My relationship with Shen Quan is recounted in Collecting Chinese Art, University of Washington Press which is available for purchase from my gallery in San Francisco or on my company website at

I also published in Kindle format my latest memoir, The Emperor & the Motorcycle Mechanic- Memoir of an Art Dealer. S. Bernstein. 2015. This may be purchased on

The black jade buffalo is presently on exhibition for sale in my gallery in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

Happy Holidays to you, Super and thank you for your respectful comments.!

Sam Bernstein

Subject:Re: Han Jade Vase
Posted By: Sam Bernstein Sat, Dec 22, 2018

I wish a Happy Holiday to the everyone!

My practice has been not to give casual opinions about objects, preferring to do proper formal appraisals. Therefore the following comments are casual observations and must not be construed or relied upon by third parties as an appraisal of the object. That being said, your vase is, in my opinion, is an example of a later archaism inspired by an ancient bronze form shape. The two animals on the sides are chilong or immature dragons. The ancient shape serves as a stylistic interpretation emulating the ancient forms or "fang-gu". Jade working in China is one of the earliest art forms and is conservative in nature. This means that subjects and stylistic elements changed slowly and are reinterpreted by each succeeding generation using the shorthand of that period covering thousands of years.

The material suggests the vase was rendered from a solid boulder of nephrite jade which has been exposed to high temperature. Jade works rendered from material thus altered in nature is referred in ancient texts as "chicken bone jade" due to its color. It often has a pinkish cast and darker spots created by the high heat, such as a fire. Jade works of art worked and then subjected to high heat afterwords is referred to as "burnt jade". Your vase appears to be the former.

I cannot see the interior hollowing work technique from the photos you have provided so I cannot comment upon that. However the stylistic fretwork along the top border and the general placement of the dragons suggests a Qing dynasty (1644-1912) date for this work of art. As it is a family heirloom, the value of the piece is primarily sentimentall and is a connection to your family's past. Enjoy it!

Sam Bernstein

Subject:Re: Han Jade Vase
Posted By: roberte Thu, Feb 28, 2019

je viens juste donner mon opinion d'une personne nullement experte mais passionnée par le jade en tant que pierre à laquelle on ne peut donner de valeur tant elle est précieuse... ce vase me semble usé artificiellement par du sable, il y a trop d'angle pour que l'on puisse considérer que l'objet est polis manuellement il me semble que le morceau a été taillé dans un cube en première intention, ensuite les dragons sont plats. les pièces anciennes étaient toutes en rondeur.. je pense même que cette pièce est récente.
encore une fois c'est mon opinion et je ne possède pas la science infuse

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