February 9th, 2012
06:37 PM GMT
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London (CNN) - You may never look at your aunt’s old armchair quite the same way and, once you’ve read this, grandpa’s grandfather clock may seem worth keeping after all.

Why? Because some of the world’s most coveted customers are literally crazy about your historical heirlooms.

A burgeoning middle class in China is flocking to London to stock up on English antiques that are fetching a veritable fortune back home.

I witnessed this trend first hand the other day in an auction house tucked away in the leafy suburbs of West London.

As the room filled up, numerous Chinese buyers flooded the room - as they do most weeks - eager to snatch a pair of Queen Anne chairs or a Georgian chest of draws.

Tom Keane, the owner of Chiswick Auctions, says their numbers have been building up steadily for a year now.

The business coming from Beijing is so big that he recently visited China himself and was astounded by the amount English antiques were fetching there.

"Items which sell for just a couple of hundred pounds here can go for 10, 20 or even 30 times that price in China," he says.

The surge in demand has also had a positive - though more muted - effect on prices in Britain.

Keane shows me a chest of draws which he says 18 months ago would have fetched the equivalent of $150 to $300. Today it would go for $700 to $800 instead.

"We’ve got some wonderful antiques here in the UK but because we grew up with them we don’t appreciate them. The Chinese appreciate the workmanship that goes into them. They like the history, the culture and the heritage that these items have.’’

James Wang is one such collector. With business interests in China and the UK he often travels to London for work. And when he does, he stops by the auction house to pick up an item or two.

Wang and his wife Alice have a 5,000-square-foot apartment in Beijing and a budget of $95,000 to spend on furnishing it with…you’ve guessed it: English antiques. One hundred meters from the auction rooms they show me their 40-foot container which is so far half full.

"I’m a regular here," says Wang.

"I come often. I see a few things I like and I wait until the right thing comes up."

On the day we meet, two high Victorian chests have caught his eye but he’s also considering bidding on an ornate, French ‘bureau de dame’ which is around 200 years old.

"You can’t buy these things in China. It doesn’t matter how much money you have," he says.

Wang and his wife favour Georgian and Victorian items. When he bids, it’s always with his personal card bearing the Chinese lucky number 888.

Across the room is another buyer just as keen on securing a slice of British history.

Lin Fan doesn’t just collect English antiques, she trades them as well back in China and her list of clients is growing.

She says she never goes home from an auction empty handed and often buys as many as 20 items at a time.

"Now the Chinese are rich and they want something different. We love the history."

Britain is awash with antiques changing hands week by week in auction rooms across the country.

Many of these items have survived world wars, woodworm and the worst of the British weather and now they’re heading for a new life thousands of miles from its shores.

With the Year of the Dragon well and truly upon us, England’s once moribund market for antiques is now finding what’s old is worth gold … and long may that continue.

soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Leo

    Not a big deal. Some antiques in UK are stolen or robbed by UK from other countries.

    February 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  2. Harry Hobson

    The same thing happened in Taiwan and Hong Kong in the early 1990's

    February 10, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  3. gupsphoo

    You're right, Leo. The Chinese have spent millions of dollars at UK auctions to re-acquire items that the British stole from China in the 19th Century.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  4. William

    But gupsphoo, it was OK to pilfer from weaker societies at the time. We have to view it through the cultural filter of the time.

    February 10, 2012 at 2:55 am |
  5. rsoles

    Very easy to say that Brits stole antiques 100 year ago. In just the same way, they will be able to claim in 100 years time that Chinese stole antiques now.

    February 10, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  6. That'snotTrue={


    Ummm.....they're buying it back, can't say that idiot.... Buying =/= Stealing! =.=

    February 11, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  7. 54321

    That's not true={ But think about it, not very many grandfather clocks, Ropeback sofa's or chaise longues looted from China during the opium wars. However there were millions upon millions of tea services, plates umbrella stands, tulip vases, soup tureens, laquer screens and paper mache, bronze and brass statury bought by the middle classes of europe over the 200 years of trade between 1700 and 1900. Paid for by masses of iron, steel and agricultural and industrial equipment sent in the other direction. The number of stolen items is tiny in comparison, vanishingly small in fact, rather like the items removed from Germany during the allied advances in 1945 (East and West). What the chinese are buying are antiques and no one in Britain or the rest of europe has a problem with it. For some reason you do, maybe that is your problem?

    February 13, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  8. That'snotTrue={


    Ummm...what? I think you're trying to put a lot of word in my mouth, that I didn't say. Buying is willing exchange, stealing is not, that's what I was trying to put out to rsoles. You need a dictionary?! @.@

    February 14, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  9. 54321

    apologies if I misunderstood or misdirected, my point was exactly that willing exchange is differrent from theft, and also that the supply of chinese goods to western europe and Britain was exactly that in the overwhelming comparison for over 200 years. There were some "spoils of war" but almost all the exchange was commercial. Some of the above comments, and frankly yours imply, that the only form of exchange between Britain and China was some sort of huge invasion of China followed by constant looting of the defeated chinese which is completely wrong. Bear in mind that only a few thousand British troops ever entered mainland china in all of the years that the UK was involved militarily in the far east and apart from during the Boxer rebellion they never really left the international cantons and never in all of history has the general population and military strength of China not exceeded that of the UK, let alone the far eastern armed forces, by a factor of 10,

    February 14, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  10. Smartie2

    Wow – people don't like the UK at all, do they? Even an innocent article about the antiques market can trigger the same old tired anti-colonialist rants.
    Wake up guys. It's the 21st century. Time to get over Rome, Austria Hungary, the British Empire, Nazi Germany etc. It's called history and unfortunately it can't be undone.
    Shouldn't we be more worried about what's going on now? There's quite a lot to worry about in case you haven't noticed.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  11. RealTorr

    Indeed, some don't miss a chance to put up their anti-white post-colonial revanchism glasses. Hey, you're not a slave, I am not a slave seller. Neither were our respective parents or grandparents. At the same time absolutely everybody has many killers, looters and adulterers in their genes. Get real and read more about the history of humankind.

    February 17, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  12. Tudor Rose

    Believed by many to be one of the best antique shops in Petworth, Tudor Rose Antiques – a sixteenth century building – covers two busy floors. We try to sell the most beautiful antiques in the UK at realistic prices.http://www.tudor-rose-antiques.co.uk/

    May 2, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  13. Junior

    You cannot shop for food olinne unless it's specialty food and the shipping is expensive. if you want regular store bought items then yo might need to wait for sales. SOme places offer items for sales like amazon but i'm not so sure how fresh it is. I live in NYC and we hae some supermarkets that allow you to order olinne but I';m not sure if you have that option? Check out amazon. I buy some Asian products olinne but not meat. Only meat you might find is steaks or seafood they overnight but you'll spend alot of money for nothing. mx

    May 15, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
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  18. Mariella

    Very well.I would love to deal with them,as i have some beautiful and unique pieces of furniture .If some one is interested i will forward the pics thank u.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
  19. Jess Bitner

    Antiques are usually objects which show some degree of craftsmanship, or a certain attention to design such as a desk or an early automobile. They are most often bought at antique shops, or passed down as an estate. Some valuable antiques can be bought from antique dealers and auction services or purchased online through websites and online auctions. Antique dealers are often members of national trade associations, many of which belong to CINOA, a confederation of art and antique associations across 21 countries, representing 5000 dealers.`

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    If antiques is your passion and you want to learn more the internet is a great resource of information, in fact, the antiques market has been growing in a phenomenal rate since the internet started catching on, people can trade and present antiques on Ebay and other auction sites. There is always a place for more people and more items on this market, and you may find out that its not that difficult to start doing things in the antiques market soon enough.,.;'

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    Online auctions were taking place even before the release of the first web browser for personal computers, NCSA Mosaic. Instead of users selling items through the Web they were instead trading through text-based newsgroups and email discussion lists. However, the first Web-based commercial activity regarding online auctions that made significant sales began in May 1995 with the company Onsale..^:-

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