Nov 2, 2013

are yixing teapots more expensive today?

Are yixing teapots more expensive today than 3 years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago?

Short answer: of course!

Long answer: depending on the way of calculation and your benchmark... 

Last week, a few Chinese tea friends and I discussed how much things were back in 1980s in China. In fact, I couldn't recall many details. Back then I hardly spend any money except on food and books :-p But I do remember things were much cheaper then, and of course people made much less money too. According to some other people, back then, 30 rmb (about US$7) would be more than enough for a month's basic life expense in a large city like Beijing - this doesn't include rent though, but back then most people didn't have to pay a rent anyway.

The discussion was triggered by a "price list of Jiangsu Yixing Purple Clay Art Factory (aka. Factory #1) in 1989 - Grade A" provided by a collector friend. A quick glance told us that back then, prices for most of the top grade yixing teapots range from about 5 rmb (US$1.2) for smaller, simpler teapots to 40rmb (US$10) for larger teapots or teapots with more sculpturing work. There were 4 grades based on quality. Prices for Grade B would be 80% of the listed prices. Prices for Grade C would be 60% of the listed prices. Grade D... barely anybody mentioned them, but there were tons of them :-p

The market prices would be about 15%-30% more than the listed factory prices. The famous artists' prices are made based on each piece of work. According to the recollection of an early-days merchant, he got a Gu Jingzhou teapot for about 160 rmb (US$35) and some other artists' teapots for 30-80rmb each (US$7-17). And more complicated designs of famous artists' teapots would be up to 400-1000 rmb (US$ 90-220). But to buy famous artists' teapots from the factory, the buyer would be required to buy a few dozen commercial grade teapots along with them.

Roughly speaking, in late 1980s, 100rmb (US$22) would be a decent monthly salary. One could easily buy 10 Grade A yixing teapots from Factory #1 (top grade among the commercial level teapots) - although most people of sanity wouldn't spend all salary on teapots, of course :-p

Today, one would need to spend about 1000 rmb (US$160) on a good commercial grade old Factory #1 teapot of around 1990 (that's in Chinese market, not overseas market). But meantime, I don't know if 10k rmb could count as decent salary anymore in today's large cities in China. Between late 1980s and now, in Chinese large cities, people's salary increased for about 10-500 folds (roughly based on people I know, but not a societal statistic). Between late 1990s (real estate privatization didn't start yet in 1980s) and now, housing prices increased for roughly 10-100 folds. As my tea friends and I talked about these changes, none of us could afford either a Beijing apartment or a famous artist's 1980s teapot. But somehow with all the context, it looks like yixing didn't get more expensive at all, after the monetary discounting.

As for tea, it seems that most (probably puerh shouldn't be included) top grade teas have got cheaper, after the monetary discounting of the past 20 years... It does sound somewhat odd!


Unknown said...

The guy gave glowing reviews to The Mandarin's Tea Room. Would'nt be surprised if he somehow works for them. Seems that he has scurried back into the hole he came from.

Gingko said...

Hi Cloud, Thank you for sharing my indignation. I think that guy should be responsible for his own behavior and fraudulence and I wouldn't blame anybody else for it.